6 Exercise Tips for Senior Dogs

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Welcome to another FitDog Friday post on canine fitness.  This week, we begin our two-part series on Fitness Tips for senior Dogs.  As you may know, we are big fans of senior dogs—our last three adoptions have been dogs eight years of age or older. This week seemed like the perfect time to write this post for three reasons:


  1. August is the Blogpaws Senior Pets Month.  This is a great idea and we thank Carol Bryant and the BlogPaws communities for helping toblogpaws_senior pet month make the public more aware of how special are our senior pets.
  2. We just published an article on Dogster entitled: 5 Tips For Caring For Senior Dogs
  3. The 2013 DogTime Petties Awards voting, where we were nominated for best mobile app, has just concluded.  If we win, we have designated that the $1,000 prize be donated to Labradors and Friends Dog Rescue and specifically to help with their Agnes Fund, a fund designated to help with senior pet adoptions.

With all that said, let’s get started with Part 1 of our series on Fitness Tips for Senior Dogs!

“I may be old, but I’m not dead…”

Like people, dogs will often find it harder to get around as they age due to deteriorating muscle mass, arthritis, and sometimes simply “normal wear and tear”.  But that doesn’t mean that they should stop exercising!  To keep an older dog fit and healthy, you must simply adjust their fitness routine and diet to accommodate age and injury related conditions.

Make sure that you get a checkup if you are contemplating any change in your dog’s exercise or feeding routines.  Your senior dog should see a vet every 6 -12 months for regular checkups.  Ask your vet for specific exercise restrictions or if you dog requires any special dietary or medicinal considerations.  If your dog requires medication, make sure to understand the possible side effects and how they might impact activity and feeding patterns.

Exercise and your senior dog.

Exercise improves and maintains muscle tone and provides important calorie burning to keep the weight off, both of which can help your older dog’s quality of life.  Just because your dog is older there is no excuse for lack of exercise.  As we like to say, “there is always a work around.”  Below are 6 exercise alternatives that could help your senior stay active, fit and healthy.

Jack on the run

Jack on the run

  1. Run. Yes, I know, this is a pretty intense exercise.  But don’t abandon it without good cause.  Dogs love to run and it provides amazing cardiovascular and calorie burning benefits which can really keep your dog feeling young.  Ask your vet if it is OK to run or jog with your pet.  Assuming you have approval, be extra aware of your dog’s signals and look for signs of fatigue (e.g. excessive panting or markedly slowing pace) or disinterest (e.g. frequent stopping, looking back in the direction that you came) which can indicate that they are tired or uncomfortable. Use loop routes – routes that circle around near your house in smaller loops so that you can remain close to home if you need to cut the run short.  Go slower than you used to when they were young!
  2. Walk. Your dog can’t run? Walk instead.  This is very likely the most popular form of canine exercise and for good reason.  It is low impact, ‘easy’ to perform, and requires no special equipment. Find a pace that your senior dog is comfortable with and use ‘loop’ routes.
  3. Use Gravity.  Hills can be a great way to keep a dog in shape.  We used hills for our Tino as a way to exercise his weaker hind quarters.  The incline can be used to target the front or back legs, depending on whether you are going up or down.  In Tino’s case, we focused on uphill to more effectively engage his hind legs.
  4. Swim. Swimming is a great, low impact exercise for dogs. It can be used for both cardiovascular benefits as well as muscular development/maintenance.  The limitations of swimming include availability of a suitable body of water (e.g. pool) and the possible added hassle of having to bathe the dog more frequently.
  5. Balance Exercises.  Senior dogs need to exercise their proprioception skills or like us human seniors, our balance can deteriorate.  Try the balance drill that SlimDoggy Jack does on the cushion.  Performing the side step is another great exercise for a senior.  Both of these are low impact but high in benefit.
  6. Range of Motion Exercises.  These will keep your older pet ‘limber’ and better able to move around.  We use the reach-stretch often as a warmup.  Have your dog sit (or lay down) and (with a treat in hand), have them follow your hand as you slowly move it away from them, and then side to side.  You can even move it back towards their flank so they get a really great stretch.  To make this exercise effective, your dog needs to remain in the seated or down position.

 We will be providing some more specific exercise recommendations along with some photo examples in a follow up post but for now, keep in mind that your senior pet should train similarly to the way that a senior human athlete would train.  Warmups and cool-downs become crucial as they (we) age.  Mobility and stretching drills are also important for your dog so that their body is better prepared for movement.  And age is never an excuse to stop exercising. 

Next week we will provide more specific tips on alternative exercises for senior dogs. Do you have any to add?

fitDogFriday_avatarPlease enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts Peggy’s Pet Place and To Dog With Love. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!

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  1. Great Tips as usual. Like that you focused on the senior dog as well. These dogs still need their daily outing like their younger counterparts – they just have shifting requirements. You cover them well. Plus you continue to give me ideas to mix up my exercise routine with my dog.
    Paws and Pedals (Kate & Scooter) recently posted…10 Dog Photo Tips – How to Best Capture your Action Dog (Part 2)My Profile

    • Glad to help. We learn from our seniors all the time, so we’ll keep those tips coming.
      mkob recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

    • Thanks. It is very important that Seniors get their exercise. As they age, it is even more important for them to keep trim so that their joints don’t have to carry around any excess baggage.
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  2. I think the photo of Jack running should be in the senior pet month logo instead of that sedentary dog in a rocking chair! Tynan was at the top of Mt. Hood 43 days before his second cancer diagnosis took him from us. All seniors (human and canine) should be so lucky (and fit!)
    Bethany recently posted…The Dogs Deserve A Night OutMy Profile

    • I do believe you’re right!
      mkob recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

    • Great idea. Jack is a very fit and strong Senior and since he keeps active, he stays strong fit and young.

      Glad to hear about Tynan. That is what I call living a full and active life!
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  3. Great timing on this post. I have some senior dog posts coming out this month and this was just the reference I was looking for. Keeping Chester active well into his golden years is the name of the game,
    Jessica recently posted…Is Your Couch Dog Approved?My Profile

    • Great minds thing alike ;-). Old age is no excuse for being old! Chester is a stud.

      We will have some more exercise instructions in a future post so stay tuned for that.
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

      • Yes they do…because my upcoming post is basically says “it’s possible to stay active when you are old”. I left out the part about Chester being a total stud…but he is 🙂 I can’t wait for your other posts.
        Jessica recently posted…First Adventureweiner Camping Trip – Deception PassMy Profile

  4. We are so excited for senior month since my sister is a senior and has some arthritis issues. We keep her active and that is certainly very important as is keeping a good weight.
    emma recently posted…Busy Times | GBGV | Follow Up FridayMy Profile

    • Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis. So good job in keeping Emma’s sis active and fit.

      Same holds true for humans. Get off your butt, workout with your mutt!
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  5. Excellent senior dog post. Congrats on your accomplishments. I hope you win the petties!
    joann stancer recently posted…Follow-Up FridayMy Profile

    • Thanks Joann. We sure love our Senior’s and they sure don’t act like Seniors!
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  6. Great posts on senior Dogs. Have a wonderful weekend Thanks Talent Hounds.

  7. Sugar over at Golden Woofs is going to be 12 and she is so active I hope to be like her at that age! Its so important to keep us active right from the start and not wait until we are OLD! Love Dolly

    • You are right about Sugar! You are also right about being active from the start. Being healthy and active is really a lifestyle and it is great if your dog (or yourself) can get in the habit of regular exercise at an early age. That said, even if your dog (our yourself) has led a sedentary life up until now, there is still great benefit from starting an exercise program. No matter the age!
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  8. I’ve seen my senior dogs slow down but never did they lose their spirit and desire to keep moving…It was on me to modify our activities to prevent injury cause they would never stop on their own
    GizmoGeodog recently posted…Let’s Go Geocaching for Geodog Day!My Profile

  9. Hi Y’all!

    Neat stuff. I showed it to my Human ’cause now that I’m middle aged I thought learning these exercises might give me a head start on stayin’ fit and limber. Besides, anytime we learn somethin’ new it is stimulatin’, don’t y’all think?

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  10. Great post. As all our dogs are seniors, we are going to need all the advice we can get. The girls are young enough to still be very active (8), but Kobi (12) has slowed down a lot, just recently, and has issues with his hind legs. However, he still loves his walks, even though we’ve had to make them shorter. He starts out as spry as a puppy but by the end of the walk he slows down a lot. We have some short hills in there so I’m glad to know that is a good thing.

    • Thanks, glad we could provide some useful info. Stay tuned as we will be showing some more exercises for Seniors in the coming weeks.
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  11. We always learn stuff from your posts! The range of motion exercise sounds like a great idea and that’s one area we don’t really address in our exercise routine – at least we haven’t yet.


  12. Sounds like some great recommendations. I looks forward to the follow up with pictures.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Follow-up Friday 8-2-13My Profile

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