Tips For Helping Your Senior Pet Stay Active

Senior Golden Retriever
Talk to your veterinarian before starting an exercise routine with your senior dog or cat.

As your pet ages, it’s easy to start viewing him as old and frail, limiting activity and demands on his aging body. Walks may become few and far between. His favorite tricks may seem too taxing on his joints. And he may simply demand less activity. The problem is, encouraging inactivity may actually make aging more difficult and painful for your pet.

One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of my job is euthanizing older pets who have lost their mobility, particularly those who are otherwise healthy. Don’t let this happen to your four-legged family member. By keeping your pet active, you may be adding time to his life.

Get the Green Light

Before your pet starts any exercise program, he needs a complete physical exam. Ask your veterinarian if your pet has any medical conditions — including arthritis, heart conditions, or respiratory issues — that could affect his exercise routine. Based on this exam (and possibly some diagnostic tests), your veterinarian can work with you to formulate a daily exercise routine for your pet.

Also, if your dog or cat is overweight, your vet can recommend the right type and amount of food to help your pet reach his ideal weight. Weight control is one of the best things you can do to help your pet remain mobile. Weight loss reduces excess strain on already sore joints, lightens the load on weakened muscles, and reduces the amount of pain-inducing inflammatory chemicals attacking joints. Your veterinarian will help you come up with a diet plan that is palatable, keeps your pet satiated, and still allows you to reward your pet with occasional treats.

Go Slow and Steady

Once your veterinarian approves your pet for exercise, start slowly. If your goal is to walk for 30 minutes a day, start by walking for 5 minutes, adding another 5 minutes every 5 to 7 days until you reach your goal. You can increase the duration and speed and even incorporate hills or different surfaces, like sand, to add more challenge. As your pet becomes stronger, you’ll notice the walks becoming easier for him. If your pet is strong enough, try walking him up and down stairs a few times each day. If, on the other hand, your pet is limping, lagging, panting excessively, or refuses to continue, stop the activity and check with your vet. Some pets may require pain medication to get moving in the morning or to complete an exercise routine.

Because many older dogs lose strength in the hind limbs, focus on building those muscles. A few examples of hind-limb exercises include:

Sit to stands. Ask your dog to sit, and then have him stand up, and repeat. This is the equivalent of our squat exercises. Build up to 10 to 15 repetitions twice a day, and reward your pet every few reps to help keep him engaged.

Three-legged stands. With your pet in a standing position, gently pick up one limb and hold it for 10 seconds, eventually working up to 20 seconds. This forces your pet to shift his weight onto the remaining three limbs, improving strength and balance.Work your way around all four limbs.

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