Exercising an Elderly Dog

If you’re not familiar with our social media platform here at Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic, you may be interested to know that in addition to our blog, we’ve posted many of our clinic photos on Flickr, we’re on Facebook (feel free to “like” us!), you can follow us on Twitter (@fallsvetclinic), and (2015 update alert!) we’re on Instagram as “fallsvetclinic”.

Recently, one of our great dog-owners and Facebook-fans asked a question on our Facebook Discussion Board that we get quite a lot in our exam rooms when we’re working with our older dog patients:

“How much should I exercise my elderly dog? I know she needs to exercise, but I’m not sure how far I should push her.”

The answer I shared with her on Facebook, and I’ll share with you now, follows:

Good question. It brings to mind the advice my grandmother’s doctor gave her when discussing her arthritic knee. “Go to the mall, wear some comfortable shoes, and walk slow.” The point was not to accomplish a goal of time or distance but to keep her knee loose and useful.

For the senior dogs, take them for a slow leash-walk around the block. If you make it back and they’re still engaged and walking out in front of you (or at least beside you), take another lap. After a couple of days of this exercise behavior you’ll learn just how much exercise your dog can tolerate. The goal isn’t a number of miles walked, or affirmatively answering the question, “Can my dog make it to an hour on this hike?” The goal is to keep moving and stay as loose as possible.

Following this pattern will help to manage your expectations and it will establish a baseline of tolerance going forward. Why is this important? If your dog, for instance, is routinely handling a moderately-paced, 15 minute walk and then rather suddenly gets tired after 5 or 10 minutes, lags behind you, and is reluctant to go any further, he/she has just told you that there is something different. This type of change should not be ignored and should be brought to our attention.

No discussion of exercise with senior patients would be complete without mentioning that some (many?) of the elderly dogs are reluctant to exercise because of joint pain. This is an entirely different conversation, but one certainly worth having. Suffice it to say here that there are many ways we can help our arthritic canine patients. We’ll take up this topic in a future blog post.

For now, keep your senior dog active… as active as they can be. Both for their body’s sake, and for their mind’s sake. This will help you maximize the time you have with your canine friend!


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