Senior Dogs: How Much Activity is Too Much Activity?
When I was working at the veterinary hospital we had so many patients that were brought in because they were “slowing down.” Often, pet parents were hoping to get some clarity on whether or not their dog was experiencing arthritis, and if there was anything they could do for their dog as they began their golden years, which was great!
If you are just now starting to see these changes in your dog’s activity levels and you aren’t sure what to do, I highly recommend scheduling a visit with your veterinarian and discussing potential changes in your dogs’ lifestyle. These changes can include; diet, supplements, medications (if necessary), and overall activity levels.
Often, there are a lot of adjustments you can make to improve your pet’s quality of life once they become a senior dog. If you are looking to change your dog’s activity levels, here are a few ways I have seen people make adjustments.
For some pet parents, activity change means increasing their pet’s daily activity if their pet needs to lose weight. For others, activity change might mean increasing the number of activity sessions each day, but keeping the total amount of exercise exactly the same. Or, “slowing down” might mean decreasing your dog’s overall activity.
If You Need to Increase Your Dog’s Activity
Some pet parents find themselves in a situation where their dog is reaching their golden years and taking with them a few extra pounds. As a result, it might be time to increase their daily activity. You want to avoid over-training your dog. For example, you would have a different plan for running your first marathon at 20 years old, then you would at 50 years of age. Similarly, you want to provide your dog with a strategic exercise regime that includes different types of activities. The AKC recommends the following activities and sports for senior dogs:
All of these activities provide your dog with mental and physical stimulation, that isn’t too challenging for their joints. Additionally, these activities will enrich their lives and keep them active as they age.
If You Need to Maintain Overall Activity Levels
If your pet is starting to slow down, but still needs to maintain activity levels in order to remain happy, as well as, well-behaved, you might want to consider changing the distribution of their daily exercise.
I have often heard veterinary professional make the recommendation to take more frequent and shorter walks. For example, if you walk your dog for 45 minutes every day, you might want to consider walking them twice a day for 20-25 minutes instead. (Again, I like this. Think of this similar to a running schedule, is it easier to run 2 miles twice in one day with meals, water, and breaks in between, or 4 miles all at once?)
Additionally, similar to the above category, you might want to consider adding different activities to their daily life. The Honest Kitchen recommends the following activities for senior dogs which provide enrichment, but aren’t necessarily harder on joints:
Therapy Dog Work
Walks in Different Locations with different smells and inclines
I would also add that if your dog likes water, swimming is an excellent exercise for senior dogs of any activity level because it maintains muscle mass without being particularly hard on their joints.
If You Feel You Need to Decrease Activity Levels
If you feel strongly that you need to decrease your dog’s activity levels, it might be time to visit your veterinarian. Often, you want to make sure that your pet isn’t experiencing any joint or muscle pain that you are unaware of, and if they are, your veterinarian can provide you with insights and a comprehensive plan to improve your pet’s quality of life and keep them active!
Now, it’s your turn! What changes have you made to your senior dog's activity levels?
Rachel Sheppard is the author and founder of My Kid Has Paws. She is a Social Media Manager, blogger, corgi mom, animal lover, volunteer, graduate student, and shoe collector. After graduating from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor's Degree in Animal Science & Management, she worked as a Veterinary Assistant for 3 years. Her daily interactions with pet parents inspired her to start her blog focused on pet health, pet rescue, and pet products. She has a true enthusiasm for veterinary medicine and animal science, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with pet parents.