How Exercise Can Help Older Dogs Live Longer

Exercise decreases risks of arthritis, heart problems, cancer and obesity in dogs but easy activities like walks or swimming may be best for senior dogs.

Older dogs tend to slow down a bit in later years, sometimes due to aches and pains of arthritis, or simply because failing eyesight and hearing make the world seem less interesting. But exercise is just as important for aging dogs as it is for younger pups, meaning that owners of older dogs need to see that their pet stays active and healthy into its golden years.

Why Older Dogs Need Exercise?

Much like humans, dogs can experience aches and pains, changes in metabolism, and other conditions associated with advancing years. They tend to play less and sleep more, which can, over time, bring about muscle weakness and weight gain. A dangerous cycle begins when weight gain brings its own set of problems, such as an even greater decrease in activity along with an increase in risk of diabetes and kidney failure, congestive heart failure, liver disease, pancreatitis, surgical risks, respiratory difficulties, heat stroke, and some cancers.

While excess weight creates more stress on joints and skeletal structures, causing or aggravating arthritis, exercise actually delays the degenerative effects of arthritis. Exercise results in better overall health by increasing blood flow, sending more oxygen, delivering more nutrients, and removing more toxins in tissues. Exercise also benefits cognitive function and the digestive and elimination process, builds muscle, controls weight gain, relieves stress and boosts mood.

Bluey, documented as the longest living dog ever, was a working sheep herder and cattle herder. The Australian Cattle Dog lived from June 7, 1910 until November 14, 1939. His active lifestyle surely played a role in his longevity.

How Can I Exercise My Older Dog?

It’s always best to start out slow and easy with dogs who are more accustomed to snoozing at your feet than to hiking mountain trails. A short, casual walk a couple of times a day will allow the older dog to build strength and endurance. Swimming is a fun exercise that is easy on aging joints, as long as a few precautions are observed. Older dogs have a harder time regulating body temperature and will be more prone to hypothermia or heatstroke. Always provide protective gear, plenty of water, and appropriate breaks.

Other games like hide and seek also provide mental enrichment while getting your dog up and moving. If your dog is up to it, ask the veterinarian if jogging or playing Frisbee or fetch is appropriate for your older pet. Don’t allow your dog to overdo. He may not always know when to stop. On the other hand, don’t push him if he seems reluctant.

Some owners of geriatric dogs get a younger dog to keep the older one active. However, this should be considered carefully as each individual situation is different. Some older dogs perk up with a younger one to play with while others are only annoyed and stressed by an active youngster in the house.

How Much Exercise Do Older Dogs Need?

Ask your veterinarian for an idea of how much and what kind of exercise is best for your individual dog because exercise needs vary according to breed, age, health condition, and how much activity the dog is accustomed to. Once you’ve started an exercise plan, report to your veterinarian any coughing, breathing difficulties, or changes in body or behavior.

With all the health benefits it offers, an active lifestyle is certainly worthwhile for both you and your pet. The proper exercise regimen can actually add years to your senior dog’s life as well as your own.

Updated: January 4, 2020

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