Watching your playful pup transform into an older, wiser senior dog can be extremely rewarding. You’ve formed a bond that will last a lifetime and can still find ways to have fun — even if playtime doesn’t last as long as it used to.
However, aging dogs often face mobility issues that may inhibit their ability to chase after balls and swim in local lakes and rivers. Rather than ignoring your older dog’s needs, you should adapt your approach to play and exercise to suit the needs of your older pooch.
Like humans, dogs benefit from plenty of regular exercise. However, as your dog gets older, you may need to modify the amount of running, walking, and play you do on a daily basis. The RSPCA recommends that you adapt your approach to walking using the following guidelines:
- Reduce Your Mileage: Older dogs shouldn’t be exhausted after a walk. Instead, opt for shorter, more frequent walks to help your pooch get their steps in.
- Warm them Up: As your dog ages, they may struggle to keep themselves warm. Consider buying a vest or coat to keep them warm and dry during winter walks.
- Use Your Senses: A senior dog may struggle to notice sensory details about their surroundings. Be your dog’s eyes and ears and keep them well away from dangerous areas like bodies of water.
- Rest Up: Older dogs take longer to recover from walks and exercise. Give them plenty of nutritious food and switch out their old bed for a softer, more comfortable alternative.
Every dog is different and has different needs. A 12-year-old Australian Shepard may still be able to walk for miles every day, while a senior Shih Tzu may not need anything more than a quick walk around the block in the morning and evening. This type of exercise is important for you as a caretaker too. Short walks can be good for your health as a quick stroll can boost your energy, improve your immune function, and support your mental health. Ultimately, the best approach is to pay attention to your pup and accommodate their individual needs.
If your dog has a mobility disability, they may benefit from aids that help with walking, playing, and swimming. Speak to your vet and ask them about common causes of mobility issues like:
- Hip dysplasia;
- Muscle weakness;
- Degenerative myelopathy.
If your dog develops symptoms of mobility disabilities, it’s worth talking to your vet about how you can support them. Your veterinarian will likely suggest a series of options like wheelchairs and medication.
If you do decide to proceed with a mobility aid, be aware that some dogs won’t take to the equipment at first. Instead, bring the wheelchair into your home and have them get used to the device before trying it on. When you do put it on, pay attention to how your pup moves. You need to make sure it is a comfortable experience and should be vigilant to prevent strain or rubbing, too.
You may need to adjust your routine to accommodate your senior dog’s abilities. This could even mean some more drastic changes, like visiting the swimming pool instead of walking around town together.
Many dogs simply love to swim. Some breeds, like Labradors and Spaniels, even seem to believe they are half-fish when around a body of water. A good swim can be the perfect exercise for an older dog, too, as the water will carry the weight of their body and protect against joint issues.
If you do want to take your pooch for a dip, make sure you follow the best pool safety practices for pets at all times. Pool Safety 101 includes:
- Supervise: don’t let your dog swim alone. Even if they are a competent swimmer, they may tire quickly and get into deep water accidentally;
- Set Rules: dogs flourish when they are well-trained and obedient. Teach your dog important commands like “wait” and “out” before you let them swim for any length of time;
- Provide Water: tired dogs may be tempted to drink chlorinated water. This may be bad for their health and upset their stomachs. Instead, provide fresh water in an easy-to-reach area;
- Gates: do not let an older dog wander alone by the poolside. Instead, gate the area to prevent accidents and mishaps from occurring.
Read your dog’s body language while they swim. They can’t tell you when they’ve had enough and may panic if they start to feel tired while in the water. Help them get out before they start to struggle to reinforce a positive connection between the pool and exercise.
Your home may have provided everything that your dog needed as a pup. However, as they get older, the stairs and steps around your home can become a serious hazard for them. Modifying your house to suit the needs of an aging dog is key if you want to keep them moving for years to come.
If possible, create an accessible backyard that gives your pooch the freedom to roam your space safely. Install a shallow pool if you want to help your dog cool off in the summer months and add other sensory delights like dog-friendly foliage and play areas filled with their favorite toys.
Make sure your yard is free from hazards like slippery decking or gaps in the railings. Dogs can easily get trapped beneath high decks and older pooches may not have the strength to pull themselves out. If you have the budget available, consider bringing in a professional landscaper with a background in pet-friendly design. This will help you identify potential issues and turn your backyard into the playground that your aging dog needs to keep moving.
Keeping an older dog healthy is all about adapting to their needs. Some aging pooches may benefit from wheelchairs and shorter walks, while others will thrive with a quick dip in the paddling pool. Just be sure to supervise your canine pal at all times, as many older dogs may need help with activities that require strength and sensory awareness.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer and pet parent from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for animal rights and search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.