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Senior Pets and the Importance of Exercise

by Heather Carter November 18, 2022

Senior Pets and the Importance of Exercise

You might not be able to teach an old dog (or horse!) new tricks, but you can introduce new activities and exercises that will help keep their senior years happier and healthier. When senior pets stay active, it can help maintain their joint health, increase their mobility, and improve their overall quality of life! The best way to keep them active is adapting low-impact exercises as well as both mentally and physically stimulating games into their daily lives.

As our pets begin to age their bodies will start experiencing a variety of age-related changes; their joints will naturally experience some wear and tear, and they’ll start moving a bit more slowly than they used to. Be mindful of their new limitations and their increased recovery time when active and adapt their exercises to help keep them active within their senior years.

Low-Impact Exercises for Dogs!

*Contact your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet’s exercise routine!*

Walking

As your dog begins to get older, they will start to slow down. But slowing down does not mean stopping! For example, you may find your senior dog no longer enjoys the same length of walks or hikes as they used to but prefer shorter and more frequent walks instead. They may also show signs of stiffness or lethargy during different times of the morning or night, so pay attention and listen to what your dog may be showing you and adjust their exercise schedule to accommodate them and keep them walking.

There are a lot of things you can do to make walking and hiking easier for your older friend, too! Take it slow, give them more breaks, and allow them more recovery time in between walks. Most importantly always listen to your dog and pay attention to their changing needs!

Swimming & Hydrotherapy

Swimming is a great exercise for older dogs, giving them freedom of movement without any of the shock to the joints that comes from walking, running, or jumping. If you own your own backyard pool this will be easy! But if not, there are still plenty of other options including dog-friendly public pools, beaches, lakes, or ponds.

Keep in mind that not all dogs are natural-born swimmers and if your dog does not want to get in the water, do not force them! That could result in injuring or worse. Exercise should be a positive experience for both you and your pooch!

Hydrotherapy is another form of exercise that has had a sharp increase in popularity within recent years due to its excellent benefits for our pets. Hydrotherapy is swimming in a heated pool, making it an outstanding choice for dogs with arthritis and other similar conditions. It is also a healthy choice for obese dogs or those recovering from surgery!

Why is hydrotherapy so wonderful? According to studies, a five-minute swim has the same benefits as a five-minute walk, without the same risk of pain and other side effects that walking can create in senior dogs or those with chronic conditions. Ask your veterinarian for more information.

Mental Stimulation

Brain health is just as important as physical health for our senior dogs. That can mean seeking out activities that will help keep their minds active. This can include modified cross training, play dates with other dogs and people, or toy and food puzzles that require coordination and focus.

Nose work is a great way to provide your senior pup with both physical and mental stimulation! Hide treats, toys, or whatever your dog might enjoy seeking out somewhere around the house and then get them to go find it. You can be as creative as you want; turn it into a game of hide-and-seek, have your pooch choose which box or upside-down cup contains their prize, or simply sprinkle treats around the house while they nap for a joyous surprise! Figure out what works best for you and your furry friend, the options are endless!

Take it slow and listen to your dog’s needs. What works for one dog might not work for another. Stay in contact with your veterinarian and get their help figuring out what will be the best for your senior pets!

Low-Impact Exercises for Horses!

*Contact your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet’s exercise routine!*

Lunging or Long Reining

Lunge work can be useful for developing and maintaining horses’ muscles without the weight of a rider. Remember that lunging can be quite a strain on some horses so always build up slowly and try to do your work in a large circle. You should not lunge five times a week or for longer than 20-30 minutes depending on your horse’s age and current fitness level, but if done correctly, lunging once or twice a week can be a useful tool in developing your horse’s fitness. Adding poles or transitions to keep their routine varied and increase their mental stimulation as well!

If your horse is out of shape, has chronic health conditions, or is simply getting on in their years and has slowed down over time, start their routine with a healthy warm up and end with a safe cool down, take lots of walk breaks, and make sure not to push them past their limits!

If your horse can long rein then this can be an even better solution to their fitness needs, as you are not limited to circles and can do more in terms of canter, lateral movements, and so on.

Hacking & Trail Riding

Hacking, or pleasure riding, can be a good source of exercise for your older horse. The varying terrain and different endurance aspects presented when on a trail ride can keep your horse engaged both mentally and physically without putting too much strain on their bodies.

Hill work is another way to increase your horse’s overall fitness that is used by show jumpers, eventers, and dressage riders alike! Going up and down hills at varying paces works all the different areas of your horse’s body and can be modified to fit with their specific fitness level.

Going downhill works different muscles than uphill. It might not offer as many cardiovascular benefits, but it requires the horse to have a lot of strength and balance to maneuver going downhill properly. Start off with a walk or slow trot, staying focused on your horse’s limits. Do not push them too hard as it can result in injury or worse!

Things to Keep in Mind!

Exercise sessions do not need to be long to be beneficial! If your horse is out of shape, try to limit their exercise to 10-15 minutes until their stamina and endurance improve.

  • Always give ample time to warm up! This helps loosen muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments, and reduces the risk of injury.
  • Choose activities based on your horse’s specific needs! Trotting may be the perfect activity for a horse that is more sedentary or has arthritis. Horses of all ages can benefit from exercises that work the muscles, such as walking or trotting in circles, spirals, or other shapes that require turning.
  • Provide plenty of outdoor time! Muscles and joints are more likely to stiffen if your horse spends too much time in their stall. Turning your horse out in a paddock or pasture will allow them the chance to move about and exercise while also preventing boredom and relieve stress.
  • Stay home on hot days! Older horses have trouble regulating their body temperatures and can quickly overheat on hot, humid days. Provide them with plenty of water and avoid working them when the heat outside increases.

Always pay attention to your horse’s behavior and take note of any changes over time. Stop or slow activity if your horse is becoming fatigued, seems in pain, sweats excessively, or begins breathing heavily. If you push them past their limits, you can risk jeopardizing their health instead of improving it!

Contact your trusted veterinarian with any questions or concerns you may have! 😊




Heather Carter

Author



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