Our pets are living longer and longer – in fact the current world record for the oldest dog is held by Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog who lived to the ripe old age of 29! The increase in life expectancy can be explained by an improved quality of care provided by owners, and advancements in veterinary medicine providing our companions with everything they need to grow old gracefully.
The Signs of Ageing
There are some physiological changes that occur alongside the ageing process, which can include:
- Reduced eyesight
- Reduced hearing
- Reduced joint mobility
- Reduced muscle strength
- Reduced cognitive function
These often go hand in hand with behavioural changes such as:
- Reduced mobility
- Changes to normal sleep cycles and patterns
- Reduced exercise tolerance
These changes can be gradual and therefore tricky to pick up. Activity monitors and regular visits to the vet for senior pet health check-ups can help identify and manage alterations to your dog’s needs.
The Benefits of Exercise
A common misconception is that an older dog does not need as much exercise, however it is important to remember the health benefits of exercise are equally applicable to the senior dog! Regular exercise is a simple way to slow down the ageing process by:
- Keeping joints and muscles active
- Keeping your pet mentally stimulated
- Keeping your pet in good body condition
- Improving blood circulation throughout the body
One of the first things to establish when thinking about an exercise regimen for your elderly dog is what your dog is capable of and comfortable with. It’s important not to push them to do any more than they are able to as this can be detrimental to their health. A good starting point would be to identify the current level of activity of your dog which can be done using products such as the Felcana Go and chatting with your vet about the appropriate levels of activity to achieve.
Always keep the exercise regular and gentle, starting off slowly and building up duration and intensity gradually.
Ways To Exercise Your Senior Dog
Even the most reluctant elderly dog will need regular walks. Walking not only keeps their joints and muscles active; it is an opportunity for social interactions, exploring scents and preventing boredom. Stick to familiar routes, easy surfaces and pleasant weather conditions to prevent unnecessary strain for your old friend.
Hydrotherapy and swimming is an ideal way of reducing stress on joints and increasing resistance against muscles in a low impact environment. The warm water of a hydrotherapy pool is also a great way to soothe any joint swelling and inflammation. If you’re taking your dog for a swim elsewhere (such as open water), remember to make sure it is safe environment where you have control.
Keeping the mind active is an important way to slow progression of degenerative ageing processes. It’s also the perfect way to prevent boredom and frustration in an older dog that may not be as capable of long periods of physical exercise. Laying out scent trails for your dog to follow can be done indoors or outdoors making this an ideal option for most dogs.
Other Tips and Tricks
There are few other ways to get the most unwilling dog moving more…
- Try increasing the distance between your dog’s resting/sleeping area and feeding area to encourage more movement around the house.
- Encouraging social interactions and playtime with other dogs not only encourages a higher level of activity, but boosts mood and satisfies the need for social interactions.
- Teach an old dog new tricks! Taking up a new hobby together at a comfortable pace, such as agility training, can be fun and rewarding way to increase activity levels, encourage mental stimulation and strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
Monitor Your Dog’s Progress
You can track your dog’s progress using an activity monitor such as the Felcana Go. The accompanying free app analyses real time data generated from your pet, keeping track of every milestone achieved! Seeing improvements in your dog’s health is incredibly rewarding - just remember to keep collaborating with your vet to set appropriate goals for your elderly dog.
Now that we’ve tackled the topic of exercise, check out our blog on other things you can do at home to keep your dog happy, healthy and comfortable!
This blog post was written by Ilakiya Guruswamy from The Royal Veterinary College.