Lack of mobility is a common cause of euthanasia in senior pets. It can also be easily avoided by helping your fur buddy live a healthy lifestyle.
Young dogs easily remain active but older buddies can stay fit and strong too. By helping senior dogs stay strong and flexible, you improve their overall mobility.
“Maintaining an active lifestyle through daily physical exercise may be the No. 1 thing pet owners can do to promote muscle strength, joint flexibility and overall health in senior pets,”
~ rehabilitation specialist Dr. Kara Amstutz in DVM 360. (1)
How much exercise does your adult dog need?
To prevent muscle atrophy (wasting away), a minimum of 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week is necessary. However, build muscle mass and strength, more is required.
What about senior pets though?
It’s true that senior pets may not exercise with the same energy and vigor they did as pups. We can help prevent loss of mobility with giving them some age-appropriate exercises. These may help increase your senior buddy’s lifespan — and the fun time spent together with your pet.
5 steps that help if your older dog is slowing down
Noticed your senior pet isn’t as sprightly as he used to be? This is the time to take some action and help keep additional losses in mobility at bay.
Dr Amstutz recommends the following to improve your senior pet’s health. You can also use these steps for dogs of all ages, long before any loss of mobility occurs
1 Make Sure Your Pet Is a Healthy Weight.
Obesity in pets is the worst offender in poor pet health. It leads to osteoarthritis, intervertebral disc disease and cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries in the knee joints. All of these make getting around more difficult for your pet. It also places so much extra strain on joints and muscles, that it exacerbates injuries and pain.
Losing even a small amount of weight can make a major difference in your dog’s mobility. This will encourage more active play sessions and exercise and create a happier pet.
Among obese dogs with osteoarthritis, even a modest weight loss (6 – 9% of body weight) led to a significant decrease in lameness and noticeable improvement in gait. (2)
Your veterinarian can tell you whether your dog is a healthy weight. Some telltale signs that your dog may benefit from weight loss include the following:
- He has an oval shape when you look down on him from above
- You cannot feel your dog’s ribs
- You cannot feel the bones near the base of your pet’s tail (his pelvis)
- You can see excess fat on his abdomen, hips and/or neck
2 Start Physical Activity Gradually.
If your senior buddy isn’t accustomed to vigorous exercise, don’t expect him to start running around your yard on day one.
Instead, start slow!
Start with a five-minute walk a day. Increase your distance gradually until he can comfortably walk for 30 minutes daily.
REMEMBER: Watch out for signs of pain, such as lagging behind or refusing to walk any farther. Checked with your veterinarian if you think pain is an issue.
Once he’s mastered the walk, add in some new challenges like walking up hills or on a different surface, such as sand. As your pet gets stronger, walks will become less challenging. This will be a sign to add more physical activities to his days, a little at a time.
3 Strengthen Hind Limbs.
Many dogs lose the ability to climb stairs or jump onto the couch. This may be due to loss of strength in the hind legs.
Exercises known as Step-Ups are a great way to encourage hind limb strength.
“Encourage your pet to put both front feet up on one step. Doing so will shift his weight to the hind legs.
Hold this position for up to 60 seconds.
As your pet becomes stronger and more comfortable with this exercise — and if his size allows it — see if he can reach the next step up with his front legs to increase the level of difficulty.”
~ Dr Amstutz (3)
4 Challenge Your Pet’s Mind.
It’s important to exercise your dog’s mind along with his body.
A bored dog will have far less incentive to get moving than one presented with new challenges and experiences.
For midlife dogs, teaching your dog to run through obstacle courses (agility training), is one such option. It can trained for fun or at a competitive level. This is an excellent way to keep pets moving as they age. Many dogs enjoy this sport throughout their senior years.
You can even create an obstacle course for your dog in your own backyard. Use items such as a chair (to run under or jump over), a modified cardboard box (to crawl through) or a garden hose (to step over).
Obstacle courses offer dual benefits. They stimulate your pet’s brain while also strengthening his physical body.
Other options for dogs that need something fun to try include tracking and rally events. Nose work is fantastic for older dogs that may need a less fast-paced activity, but still need mental stimulation and daily movement.
5 Stay Positive.
Even dogs already struggling with mobility can regain strength and flexibility. It may take time and patience, so don’t give up. Your pet will thank you.
Most exercises and play sessions can be adjusted to fit the needs of senior pets with and without mobility issues. The more activity your pet gets, the greater his strength (and your bond) will become.
If your pet is unable to exercise due to injury, rehabilitation therapy is super beneficial. Joint mobilization, therapeutic stretches, laser therapy and massage, may be necessary. Ensure you have an excellent joint supportive supplements and natural pain management (Sashas Blend assists with joint management, pain and inflammation). You may discuss these with your integrative vet.
Best Exercises for Mobility
In addition to Step-Ups, Dr Amstutz recommends the following simple exercises to keep your senior pet moving: (4)
While your pet is standing, gently pick up one limb for 10 seconds, gradually working up to 20 seconds.
“This forces your pet to shift his weight onto the remaining three limbs, improving strength and balance. Do this with each limb, working your way around to all four limbs.”
~ Dr Amstutz
Sit to stands:
Ask your dog to sit, then ask him to stand.
Repeat the sequence, gradually building up to 10 to 15 repetitions twice a day. (Healthy treat rewards during this exercise will help keep your dog motivated.)
Your rehab veterinarian may also help with the following 3 strengthening exercises to support healthy mobility in our senior buddies:
- Passive range-of-motion (PROM) exercises can benefit both incapacitated and physically healthy pets.
- Balance and proprioception (spatial orientation and movement) exercises help older pets remain flexible while also encouraging improved balance and physical stability.
- Targeted strengthening exercises are designed to work the big muscle groups that help with standing, walking and running.
Suspect your dog is having mobility issues? Be sure to get him checked out by your veterinarian.
Sometimes lack of mobility is the result of a progressive disease like arthritis. In these cases additional supportive care will be necessary.