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The Importance of Exercise in the Senior Dog

By: Dr. Becky Sweeney

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A regular exercise routine is an essential part of any dog's healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition, grooming and regular visits to your veterinarian are equally important. Ideally, an exercise plan should be established when your dog is still a puppy and continue throughout your pet's life.

As a dog ages, exercise tolerance and requirements generally change. Of course, if your pet is elderly when you adopt him, you may not know his complete health history and previous exercise routine. Always consult your veterinarian before you change an existing program or begin a new exercise program for your elderly dog. Your veterinarian will want to perform a complete physical exam on your pet and discuss exercises that are appropriate. Some types of activity may not be beneficial for a geriatric dog if physical limitations are present.

Why is Exercise Important for Senior Dogs?

Exercise is important for your elderly dog for many reasons. First of all, exercise helps maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight may lead to a number of health problems. It places excess stress on your pet's heart. When the heart doesn't function properly, other organs may suffer including the brain, lungs, liver and kidneys. Over time, these problems may become severe enough to cause life-threatening conditions.

Osteoarthritis is degeneration of joints. This problem may develop during a pet's geriatric years causing pain and discomfort. Excess weight on these joints can speed up the disease. Believe it or not, moderate exercise can help to delay the continued degeneration of joints that are affected with osteoarthritis.

Your elderly dog's mental health may also benefit from exercise. Activity keeps oxygen and other nutrients like glucose (blood sugar) at optimum levels in the brain. The brain is like every other organ in the body in that it requires good nutrition.

Do's and Don'ts

As mentioned above, DO discuss your dog's exercise program with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can let you know if your pet has any health problems that might be exacerbated by some types of activity but not others. You need to know what type of exercise is safest for your elderly dog; you also need to know how frequently and for how long it should be done. If your dog currently follows a regular exercise routine, DO consult your veterinarian if your pet displays any change in behavior such as tiring more easily, coughing while exercising or having trouble breathing. You know your pet better than anyone. Even subtle changes in behavior can indicate a serious problem. You may even prevent a serious problem from developing by early detection and treatment.

DON'T let your elderly pet exercise for long periods of time outdoors in hot and/or humid climates. It only takes a few minutes of activity in this weather for heat related problems to develop. If your dog appears tired and reluctant to continue exercising, DON'T force it. DO be patient. Many elderly dogs try to keep up with their owner while running or walking and don't know to rest when they've reached their limit.

Finally, exercising with your elderly dog can be fun for both of you. If done appropriately, this can be a time that you both enjoy together on a regular basis. Moderate activity may help your pet live a long and happy life. You and your best friend deserve it.

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