As our dogs age, we want to continue to provide them with the best environment and care that we can. Fitness is still an important part of their health and vitality. Liz Walden from PetSecure takes us through ways to keep senior dogs fit…
I have been extremely fortunate to have a dog living in her “senior” years. My Labradoodle, Bozzie, is 17 human years now, and according to the calculator, her “true” animal age is 91, making her well and truly a “geriatric”.
She still has a happy life but, of course, we have to adjust her lifestyle (and ours) to take account of her needs.
How can you tell if your dog is ageing?
The first thing to understand is when is a dog considered “senior” or “geriatric”. Larger breeds, in general, have a shorter lifespan and so would be at the senior stage at around 6 human years, however, a smaller breed may only reach this point at around 10.
Apart from simply being aware of their age, you may notice that your dog slows down, gets a bit grey around the cheeks, they may have less energy and inclined to eat less.
There may be other signs, such as hearing loss, cognitive function and eyesight. You may notice that their joints get stiff and it takes just a bit longer to get out of bed. Your vet can help you identify these issues and provide medication to ensure your fur friend has relief.
Knowing these signs can help you manage your pet so you and your pet can enjoy life into the senior years comfortably.
Exercise for senior dogs
The need to exercise is still important as your dog gets older. It’s just that the exercise needs to be modified. Without exercise, your dog could have increased risks of conditions like arthritis, obesity and heart problems.
Keeping active will help keep your fur-friend’s joints, ligaments and muscles strong and supple, improving blood circulation which in turn assists healing as well as stimulating your pet to keep them positive and engaged.
It’s important not to overdo it though – otherwise, it could be counter-productive. Here are some tips to help you with giving your senior pooch exercise that is enjoyable, safe and will improve the quality of life.
- Daily walks are a must!
My little girl, like most dogs, loves walks. She now loves to put her nose into every garden and tree that she passes whilst she ambles slowly around checking out what’s going on in the neighbourhood.
The walks need not be long, and definitely not fast, and should incorporate plenty of time for rest breaks. But try to make it a routine and do it at least once a day.
At the same time it is important to be aware of outside conditions when you take your older pal outdoors, as this can also have an impact:
In the Summer it may just be too hot to take your older dog outdoors. So adjust the timing to when it is cooler – early in the morning, or later in the evening. Older dogs can have difficulty in temperature regulation so could feel the impact of heat or cold much more intensely than a younger dog. If your dog tires easily or quickly in the heat this is a sure sign that it’s too hot for outdoor activities.
Of course, in the winter your golden oldie may feel colder and you could consider a trendy sweater or jacket to keep them warm, or dry if it happens to be raining.
b) Stable surfaces
If your dog has issues with joints, or mobility then it important to walk them on firm surfaces that have a bit of traction – for example, grass or tarmac. Avoid slippery hills or potholes that could be uncomfortable and result in an injury.
If your dog can’t see so well, or hearing is an issue, then they can become anxious when taken to new surroundings. So as far as possible, keep the route consistent and keep the walk to familiarity territory so they are not out of their comfort zone.
d) Follow the leader
This is where tables turn and your dog becomes the boss! Let your dog lead the way. If they don’t want to go out, then don’t force them. Don’t drag them along the road – let them decide the pace. If thay are tiring, take them home to rest.
Swimming is a great low impact activity if this is something that your dog has enjoyed in earlier life – and even better it’s something you can both do together!
The support from the water eases joints and ligaments at the same time as giving an opportunity for movement without bearing weight. It can help with circulation which is great for blood flow and the heart.
Never take your dog into rough water and only do it when the water and outside temperature are warm. Be sure to dry them off as well.
- Massage and assistance
Your older dog will do anything to please you, so be mindful of the pace you set and always be kind and gentle. It’s time to reward them with a massage every now and then and give them a leg up and support when they need it.
- How to know when to stop
Your dog will give you the signals to let you know when it’s time to go back home for a rest.
a) Panting and drooling
Whilst panting is natural, if your dog is panting and drooling more than usual, it could be the weather, but may also be the signal for other issues. Check with your vet.
b) Stopping or slowing down
They’ve had enough! Time to go home and rest.
Limping or favouring one side over the other means there is an issue, and you should stop the activity. If it doesn’t resolve itself quickly, then take your dog to the vet.
d) Coughing or hacking
This could be caused by many things, including heart, lunch or as with my dog, tracheal collapse. A cough can signal breathing difficulties, so if you hear a cough, it’s time to stop – and visit the vet if this is a recurring issue.
The bottom line is that being senior doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all the fun of being a dog. You just have to do it in a different way!
About the author:
Liz Walden has a passion for all things cat and dog and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure marketing for the past 15 years and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.