Senior dogs are more likely to have health conditions or other problems that might limit how much they can exercise. They tend to slow down a little or rest more, but it's still important to keep them active so they stay healthy.
As dogs age, they may develop age or breed related health problems which stop them from doing certain activities or affect their day to day lives. These can include:
- Arthritis, joint and mobility problems
- Loss of sight
- Heart problems
- Dog dementia (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome).
If you notice your dog having any problems with getting around or they don’t seem to enjoy the idea of exercise anymore, pop to your vet as there may be things they can to improve their quality of life and ease any aches and pains stopping your dog from enjoying getting around.
There are a few tips to follow that will apply to almost all senior dogs:
- Keep exercise regular and gentle. This will keep your senior dog active and help their muscles and joints. Little and often is best as joints get stiffer when they've not been used for a bit.
- Don't stop walking. Your dog might not be able to go on longer walks anymore but they still need the opportunity to get outdoors every day to sniff, stretch their legs and get some fresh air. Make sure you keep to a fairly short route in case your dog gets tired.
- Keep in mind the conditions. If you are exercising your senior dog outdoors keep an eye on the weather. Older dogs don't cope as well with very high or low temperatures. You may need to walk during cooler times of day if it's hot, or buy an appropriate dog coat when it's cold.
- Try to keep to familiar routes and places if your dog has problems with their senses. As dogs get older, much like people they can start to lose their sight and hearing. Keeping to somewhere familiar to them will stop them becoming anxious and confused.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If your dog’s sight or hearing is getting worse, sudden movements (such as cyclists coming from apparently nowhere) can take them by surprise and be quite stressful. When you notice something your dog might not, help them by stroking and reassuring them.
- Go at your dog's pace. Don't rush them or try to make them exercise for longer than they are able to. If they stop chasing a toy or lie down on a walk, they need to rest.
- Indoor exercises will benefit your senior dog. If the weather is too hot or cold outside, it's a great idea to provide some exercise sessions inside until the weather is more suitable for them. Puzzle toys and indoor games are a great way to keep your old dog happy and enjoy quality time together.
Always check with your vet that the level of exercise that they're getting is okay and isn't going to cause them any problems.
Good exercises for older dogs
There are still plenty of exercises you can do with your older dog, you just need to remember to go at their pace and stop if they look like they are tired or struggling.
- Walking – no matter how old they get, dogs will still look forward to a walk. You may have to take a shorter route and make lots of rest stops.
- Swimming – if your dog enjoys being in water, swimming can be a great exercise as it doesn’t put as much strain on sore joints. Remember to dry them off as soon as they come out of any water so they don’t get cold and only let them swim if it’s safe to do so. Pools or lakes may have high sides which an older dog may struggle to get out of, so do be careful where you take them swimming.
- Scent games – as long as they have a good sense of smell, dogs will benefit from scent games regardless of age. It’s a great way to keep not only their body but also their brain in good condition.
- Playing – although their pace might have slowed down your dog can still enjoy playing. Some dogs never seem to lose their fun-loving puppy nature and will still love to play with you. You can still play their favourite game, even when they get older. Try to keep games low and a little gentler so they don’t try to jump or twist for toys.
- Socialising – dogs are social pets. They might not be able to keep up with younger dogs as well and often get frustrated with puppy antics, but they’ll still enjoy seeing and hanging out with dogs their own age that they get on with even if they don’t end up playing.
- Training – old dogs can still learn new tricks. Training is a great way to keep an older mind active. They’ll enjoy the extra opportunities to get their brain working.
Mobility aids for your senior dog
If your dog’s activity is being affected by their mobility for any reason, it’s still important to keep them as active as possible and keep a close eye on their quality of life. There are lots of things that can help so have a chat with your vet to see what options are available.
- Give them lots of brain games to keep their minds healthy and active.
- Ask your vet about physiotherapy, hydrotherapy or massage techniques that might help them.
- It can be difficult to physically help a larger senior dog that’s struggling because of their size. You might want to consider getting a support harness or sling for when they are walking.
- You may want to use ramps around the home to help them get up steps to and from the house/garden or into the car.
- Tiles and wood flooring can sometimes be slippery for our four-legged pals, especially if they aren’t as steady on their feet as they used to be! Consider putting down a rug or mat to make it easier for them to walk on.
- If they can still walk just not very far, take them on shorter, flatter walking routes so they can still get outside and stretch their legs. You might even want to drive them to a park they used to enjoy walking to so they can still walk around it.
Remember that older dogs who struggle to get around might start getting longer nails as they aren’t wearing them down by walking. It’s important to check them regularly and get them trimmed when they need it.