Exercise isn’t just important for inquisitive puppies or high-energy working breeds, it’s also crucial for the health and well-being of older dogs. Your old dog may be perfectly content to spend most of their time lounging around the house or sleeping in your bed, but getting some exercise is still a vital part of their day.
Understandably, an older dog is going to face more challenges when it comes to getting exercise. Health concerns such as arthritis, weight gain, and deteriorating eyesight can potentially limit your dog’s ability to run, jump or even walk around properly.
However, even with these challenges, it’s possible to give your dog some age-appropriate activity that will keep them healthy and stimulated.
Before you change your dog’s routine, they have to be in good enough health to start exercising more. One of the most important ways to do that is to give them high-quality, healthy dog food that is appropriate to their life stage.
While younger dogs may require more calories to support their growth, older dogs will need more protein but fewer calories overall. This is because we want to prevent their muscle mass from decreasing. Dogs with weaker or smaller muscles will have even more trouble moving around.
For senior dogs, Australian dog breeders prefer dog foods with a total protein content higher than 25%. Most healthy older dogs with normal kidney function will have no problem with that much meat-based protein. Of course, you should always check with your veterinarian first before changing their diet.
Your veterinarian will also be able to ensure that your dog is ready for a new exercise routine. They will be able to make more specific recommendations regarding your dog’s ideal activity level.
Tips to Keep an Old Dog Active
1. Exercise more often
Of course, it goes without saying that you should generally exercise your dog more often if they are slowly turning into a couch potato. However, an important second aspect of this tip is that while the frequency of exercise should increase, the duration should also decrease.
Your dog likely doesn’t have as much stamina as it used to have, and it will start to get tired much more quickly. Taking them on marathon walks is just going to end up frustrating both of you.
Instead, you can opt for shorter, more gentle exercise sessions throughout the day. This will help make sure that your dog is never completely exhausted at the end of each session, and will be looking forward to the next one.
2. Teach them new tricks
Mental stimulation is another important part of keeping your old dog healthy. The old adage is definitely not true, as older dogs are perfectly capable of learning new tricks and commands. If anything, they’re even better at picking up on your cues if you’ve already trained them before (and if you haven’t you can always incentivize them with a high-value treat).
Of course, the tricks you teach your older dog should be within their capabilities. It’s unlikely they’ll be jumping through hoops or scaling walls like younger dogs can do, but simpler or more skill-based commands should be very doable.
3. Enrichment is always good
Enrichment is something that all dogs benefit from, no matter their age. It’s even more important for old dogs since it can motivate them to move around and stay active. Snuffle mats, flirt sticks, scent work and other activities are all useful in that they’re relatively low-impact and very rewarding for your dog.
Another benefit of enrichment activities is that they provide a good amount of mental stimulation, and can be done at a pace that is comfortable for your dog.
4. Consider therapeutic activities
Much like humans, older dogs may be more than willing to exercise but can be held back by pain or discomfort. Luckily, there are a number of therapeutic activities that can allow your dog to exercise with little to no pain.
Swimming or walking on an underwater treadmill can be great for dogs who suffer from arthritis or joint pain, and can even be the only way for severely overweight dogs to get any exercise at all. Hydrotherapy is available in many locations now and may give your dog a new lease on life.
What Not to Do
1. Don’t overexert your dog
Every dog is unique and will have its own level of activity that it can achieve. While some dogs may be sprightly and energetic all throughout their lives, others will start slowing down earlier.
However, what’s common to almost all dogs is that they will follow their owner’s lead as best they can – even if it may end up harming them in the long run. Our dogs are eager to please and want to join us on every adventure, so they may force themselves to do more than they should.
It’s up to a dog’s owner to pay attention to their dog for any signs of exhaustion or overexertion. If your dog looks like they’re struggling to keep up with the exercise routine you’ve planned out for them, stop and reassess how much it should be doing.
2. Don’t change the routine too often
Humans have gotten used to quick results and 7-day transformations. However, this kind of mentality simply doesn’t work for our dogs. It takes time for any dog to get used to a new routine, and once they’ve acclimated to their new schedule it can be stressful for them to change it once again.
The best approach for an older dog is to aim for the activity that is well within their capabilities, then stick to that routine for a good amount of time before changing it. Slow and steady is the key for most old dogs, instead of looking for immediate results.
The Bottom Line
When we care for a dog we’re making a commitment to them for their entire life. Ensuring that your old dog is physically and mentally active is one of the biggest tasks you’re going to have as they reach their golden years. It doesn’t have to be very difficult, but it does have to be consistent. With the right approach, it’s possible for every dog to live a rich, fulfilling life even in their old age.