Things People Don’t Know About Canine Fitness Part 3
Senior dogs need exercise
Just because a dog reaches their senior years, doesn’t mean that they should stop exercising. Much like with humans, older dogs can still benefit, if not thrive, with regular exercise. In fact, I would argue that as dogs (and humans) age past their prime adult years, exercise is even more important than when they are younger.
As a dog reaches their senior years, their body’s ability to maintain muscle mass will diminish. As a result, a senior dog that gets little exercise will experience a noticeable change in their body condition and a marked reduction in strength. Regular, strenuous exercise is the only way to slow down this process. Although there is no way to completely forestall the process, regular exercise can markedly slow the process thereby allowing senior dogs to maintain an active and high quality life, well into their geriatric years.
Of course, an older dog will not be able to physically do all of the things that they did when they were younger and a senior exercise program should reflect this fact. For starters, seniors will need more recovery time then in their early years. One way to accomplish this is to alternate low intensity days (e.g. leisurely walks) with more intense (e.g. runs or hikes) days. Second, a senior dog will most likely not be able to handle long duration exercise sessions. Reducing the total exercise time is a simple way to keep an older dog fit and injury free. When it comes to higher intensity exercises, like running or agility, I suggest cutting back versus cutting entirely. Maybe your older dog can’t run 5 miles anymore like they used to. But that doesn’t mean that a short ¼ mile run or walk/run intervals are necessarily off limits. Pay attention to your dog’s signals (their demeanor and overall behavior) for signs that you are pushing them too hard. For senior dogs with specific injuries or medical conditions, ask your vet about safe exercise alternatives that the dog can perform.
Dogs use fat as their first source of energy
If you are a runner and are getting ready to run a marathon or a half-marathon, one of the things you are supposed to do is carb load before the race. This strategy is meant to infuse the body with the fuel it will need to tackle these long distance races and prevent the dreaded ‘bonk’. For humans, carbs are the first source of fuel that the body will tap into when it needs energy.
Dogs are different. Their bodies will tap into fat as their first source of energy when their bodies are under stress from physical activity. For this reason, canine athletes require ample amounts of fat to prevent them from ‘bonking’ during an activity or event. Protein and fat should make up a majority of a dog’s diet anyway. For the canine athlete who engages in longer duration activities, higher amounts of fat can keep them well fueled and able to sustain a high level of performance throughout.