It can feel bittersweet watching our beloved pets getting older. On the one hand, we appreciate the many joyful years that they’ve accompanied us. All the wonderful experiences and changes we’ve gone through together and their unwavering companionship. On the other hand, however, we start to see the signs that their advancing age is catching up with them. Subtle changes come about, generally without us really noticing. Until in time, we take account of the alterations in their general behaviour and physical appearance that remind us they’re getting older. 

Old dog, new tricks?

One of the changes we commonly see in older dogs is that they become more inactive. Again, it’s not something that normally happens from one day to the next; rather we notice it as a gradual change. In the beginning, they may seem to become slower on their normal walks, or less keen to run after a ball out on a romp. It might happen one day but then they’ll be fine the rest of the week. They may start to show signs like this more frequently. Owners often notice that they don’t get so far on their walks before calling it a day. Older dogs will also start to sleep more, spending more time resting and often becoming less interested in engaging in activity. They might have once been keen fetchers. Whereas now, although they’ll still jump up for a few throws, they tire more quickly. 

Is my older dog just being lazy?

Older dogs tend to need more rest. It’s not that they’re lazy, rather, that they need more time to recover after activity. They can also suffer from musculoskeletal problems with advancing age. Both of which can lead to them seeming less interested in, and less able to sustain, physical activity. It’s common to see older dogs suffer from problems such as arthritis (a degenerative change that can affect any of the joints). Or suffer secondary changes related to old injuries, and these can lead to stiffness, soreness, or pain when moving about. 

Muscle wastage and lack of tone associated with these diseases (and the reduction in activity they can provoke), may further complicate things, by impeding the amount of effective muscle mass that the dog has available to support his frame.  

Should I make my older dog exercise more?

If you notice your ageing dog getting slower or less active, the first thing to do is get him booked in with your vet for a check-up. This can give us a heads-up as to whether he has arthritis. Or perhaps another abnormal process going on, that could be causing him to become inactive. It also gives us an opportunity to check his weight and muscle tone. Depending on what this examination reveals, he may need further investigations or treatment to make him more comfortable. Or he may be referred to a physiotherapist to see if there are any activities, exercises or other modalities that can help him maintain his physical condition as he ages. 

There are often exercises that you can continue at home, which allows him the benefit of dedicated one-on-one time with you. Swimming and hydrotherapy can be beneficial for older dogs. This is because they not only provide a means of maintaining form and helping to manage certain conditions, but they also provide a mode of activity that can be mentally stimulating too. Many dogs love being in the water. It can help them to enjoy exercise again, where they may have begun to associate it with discomfort. 

It’s important not to just assume your older dog is being lazy

Remember, there could be an underlying cause for him not wanting to exercise so much. It’s important to make sure he’s physically well, and not to push him. Even if he’s given a clean bill of health, you may have to adapt his exercise regime to what he is comfortable with. And you may need to substitute his previous activities for ones that are less demanding. It’s generally good for older dogs to engage in some form of activity, even if it’s just a gentle stroll around the garden, to continue both psychological and physical stimulation as he ages.

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