As our pets approach their senior years, things begin to change for them. Their vision and hearing can become impaired, weight can become an issue (too heavy or too thin), and their activity levels seem to slow down (often times due to arthritis or degenerative processes). From a rehab therapist’s perspective, it is very important to not let these changes negatively impact a pet’s mobility and independence if we can help it. Keeping our senior dogs on their feet and moving is one of the most important things an owner can do for the aging pet. Once an older dog (especially a larger one) goes down and decides that they do not want to get back up, it can a difficult situation for everyone. So how do we avoid this problem? Keep them healthy and moving!
Keep Them Moving!
Exercising a senior dog does not have to be complicated. If we keep in mind some basic goals and expectations, then we can turn a daily routine into an enjoyable home rehab therapy session. What should our goals be? To keep the geriatric pet up and moving at a level that is comfortable for them. Combining activities that challenge body awareness (Where are my feet?) and support strengthening are an ideal senior exercise plan. To put it in simple terms: older pets need to find a low intensity activity that engages their mind, gets them walking with changes in direction (circles and turns are important), and has them stepping over stuff.
Many of our older dogs still have a huge play drive and desire to go-go-go, but what we need to do as pet parents is to channel this energy into a more structured and controlled play time. It is better to be able to participate in that loved activity such as swimming or ball play for a shorter/less intense time every few days then to go all out with high-drive fun in a single day and then be sore for the next few days or weeks. On the other hand, some senior dogs could care less about going for that walk or being active. These pets are a challenge because we need to find what motivates them and then use it to encourage productive activity.