You asked, we answered! We’ll continue our #VirbacVetTalk aging pet series with different topics each month.
During today’s Q&A, learn more about how to best incorporate exercise for your aging pet with Dr. Kara Wolf, DVM, Technical Services Staff Veterinarian for Virbac Corporation.
1) Why is exercise important for my senior pet?
Exercise is extremely valuable for a pet as it ages. Regular exercise keeps the joints limber, helps manage weight, and improves mental acuity while providing the pet with the “feel good” benefit from endorphin release. Exercise allows the pet to explore new or changed territory and engages the senses amongst the intriguing smells, sights, and sounds of outdoors. It’s also a great bonding moment for pets and owners!
2) What type of exercise is good for my senior pet?
There are many ways to provide exercise for your aging pet. An easy-paced walk on level ground is a gentle way to get your pet moving. Walking up hills can be a challenge for pets with hip or hind limb issues. Swimming is an especially good activity for those pets who need less impact on their joints, like those with arthritis. This can be done in a body of water such as a swimming pool designed for pets, a shallow plastic kiddie pool, or even your own bathtub if your pet is small enough. It is encouraged and recommended that pets wear a life jacket when around a dock or deep body of water such as a pond, river, or lake. Indoor exercises are a bit more challenging and require creativity. An easy way to promote exercise indoors is to set up various obstacles and use a treat or favorite toy to tempt your pet to wind around the path.
Have you ever noticed your pet stretching when getting up from a night's slumber or following a nap? Stretching is a natural-born instinct. A fun way to incorporate more stretching to work your pet's spine is have your pet reach around for a treat while standing still. Have the pet sit or stand, and slowly trace a treat toward their tail so they will reach around and stretch their spine trying to grab the treat. This provides a nice stretch from head to toe, or nose to tail! Remember to repeat so both the left and right sides of the body benefit from the stretch.
3) How do I know if I have over-exercised my senior pet?
Sometimes our elderly pets may get overstimulated and exercise too hard. One obvious way to know if your pet has had too much exercise is if it is still lethargic or tired about 24 hours later. Some pets may show signs of limping or even a decrease in appetite. It is also important to gauge your pet's response throughout the activity. If heavy breathing or panting, lameness, or little more space between you and the pet on the other end of the leash are noticed, then you may want to discontinue the exercise until the next day. Always call your veterinarian if symptoms persist.
4) If I have over-exercised my senior pet, what should I do?
Providing time to recuperate is vital. Make sure your pet has a comfortable area to rest and adequate food and water to replenish nutrients. Always call your veterinarian if you don’t see improvement.
5) Is there a particular time of the day I should exercise my senior pet?
If your area is prone to extreme heat during the summer, it’s best to exercise the pet in the early morning or evening to avoid hot parts of the day. Also remember that high outdoor temperatures can create hot surface areas that may burn or cause discomfort to your pet's paws. During colder months, it is equally important to provide the proper protection for your pet. Many pet owners will dress their pets in sweaters, vests, booties, etc. to protect them from the cold. Arthritic pets are quite sensitive to the cold, so walking when the sun is out, temperatures are warmer, or even in cold protective clothing is helpful. This is a good time to practice the stretching exercise discussed earlier or even try simple laps around the house for an added challenge.
Our senior pets deserve the best of care, and it is up to us as their caretakers to make sure they are getting their exercise. Exercise provides joint and muscle health as well as mental health for longevity. Get moving today with your senior pet and enjoy life's moments!