As dogs grow older, they have less energy to do the things they have always enjoyed. Some develop arthritis and other joint disease, making movements more painful. Even when your older dog prefers laying in his bed to exercising, it is important to keep him active. Exercise will help keep his muscles strong and his joints flexible. It’s also essential for keeping him from gaining too much weight. The trick to making him want to do more than lie around is to make exercising fun and low-impact. Below are some suggestions on how to keep him moving.
· Walking: The Ultimate Exercise – Walking is the best exercise for humans and canines alike. It’s a great way for you to get the benefit of the activities you do with your job while giving him more opportunities to spend time with his favorite person; you. If long walks leave him sore and/or fatigued, make walks more frequent and shorter. Also, give him all the time he needs to smell the roses – and some of the other less-desirable smells that will get his interest. A leisurely walk that allows him plenty of sniff time will provide him with physical, visual, and audio stimulation that are all good for him.
· Treat Each Day the Same – If you don’t have a lot of time to spend doing activities with your dog through the week, don’t try to overdo it on the weekends. It’s easy to feel guilty for having to devote too much time to work or other responsibilities and then being too tired to be there for your dog when you get home. Instead of trying to overdo it on the weekends, consider a doggie daycare that offers a special program for senior dogs. Your dog will get the added benefit of interaction with other senior dogs. If this isn’t an option, call on a nearby friend or family member who is home during the day to take your dog for a morning and/or midday jaunt. The great thing about walking a senior dog is that it is easy enough for a senior human to do it!
· Give Him a Daily Massage – Making an evening massage a part of your normal routine will help keep your dog’s muscles and joints from getting sore. That means he can avoid the aches and pains that exercise might cause, so he is more likely to be ready to go back out there again the next day. There are lots of videos online that teach you different massage methods. If you have a pool, you can also use hydrotherapy to keep your dog feeling fit.
· Buy a Heated Dog Bed – Experts recommend keeping older dogs warm and dry to prevent aggravating arthritis. A heated bed is simpler than applying warm compresses and it will help with flexibility.
· Pay Attention to the Weather – During the summer, heat may become too much for your dog. Cold weather can cause joints to ache. To avoid summer heat, take your walks during the early morning or late in the evening. When the weather gets cold, invest in clothes to keep him warm. Even dogs with heavy fur coats can get chilled by cold temperatures when they get colder.
· Get Him Some Wheels – If your dog has an injured foot or leg that makes movement difficult, get him fitted for a cart. It will prevent him from having to support himself on his bad leg, while allowing him to get the exercise he needs. Other options include orthotic braces. Ask your vet about available services in your area.
· Take Him Swimming – Some breeds are much more water-oriented than others, but most dogs can learn to swim and enjoy time in the swimming pool. Always supervise your dog while swimming and make sure you are there to help him out if he gets fatigued. Any exercise he gets in the pool will be low-impact and it is less likely to cause soreness or pain. Cooling off during hot weather is an added advantage that you can both appreciate.
· Give Pain Medication If Needed – Never give your dog pain medications that are made for humans. They may be toxic to him. Talk to your vet about your dog’s discomfort and the pros and cons of using pain medication to control his pain. The options in your area will determine whether medications are your only option. Some areas have dog physical therapy, acupuncture, and cold laser treatments that don’t have the same potential side effects as NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
· Get Him the Gear He Needs – If your dog has stopped going up and down stairs or jumping in and out of your vehicle, the right gear can help him get where he needs to go. Harnesses allow you to help him climb stairs. A car ramp will make it easy for him to join you on car trips. Larger dogs are especially vulnerable to these types of activities and will get the greatest benefit from supporting gear.
· Keep Doing What He Enjoys – Regardless of your dog’s energy or activity level, he probably still enjoys the same activities that he always has. If he has always chased after the tennis ball for as long as you were willing to throw it, he will probably still want to do it if given the chance. Just keep your throws at shorter distances and play for shorter periods of time.
Canine family members can require extra attention when they are puppies and their most energetic, as well as when they are seniors and growing less active every day. Pay attention to the activities that seem to give your dog problems. He can’t tell you what hurts or how difficult it is to do what you want him to do.
Discuss any changes with your vet and learn what you can do to make life easier for the both of you. The healthier you keep your dog, the easier it will be to keep him active throughout his golden years.