Think back to your dog's younger days, when he would race after Frisbees and chase down a tossed ball. You just knew he was happy and healthy. No matter how old he is, when a dog is active and stimulated it's good for his overall well-being: physically, mentally and emotionally. In fact, exercise is the very thing a dog needs to maintain his quality of life as he ages.
What if he's out of shape?
If your dog has been off the "training circuit" for a while, he isn't going to be ready to walk all the way downtown and back. Understandably, extreme exercise is not healthy (or desirable) for a dog that has been sedentary for a long time.
If he's overweight, it's especially hard on his aging body - that extra weight is tough on stiff joints and sore muscles. Or he may have developed arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or hip dysplasia. Regardless, check with your vet before introducing him back to regular exercise.
Commit to a daily exercise routine, but since he's older, start off slowly. Take him for two short walks each day, starting with one or two blocks and add on as he gets more comfortable with it. Warm him up for 5 minutes, walking at a leisurely pace, then walk briskly for 15-20 minutes and cool him down for another 5 minutes. This length of time does however depend on the type of dog. A short legged dog or toy dog cannot handle the same amount of exercise as a larger more naturally athletic dog. Also, keep in mind to be cautious about the temperature for Brachio-cephalic breeds.
Don't push him too hard. He'll tire more easily now that he's older. Plus, he'll want to please you and keep up with your pace, even though he might start to feel pain or get overheated and dehydrated. So keep an eye on him and watch for signs of discomfort, like favoring a leg or paw, being excessively out of breath or slowing down or stopping. If so, give him a break, along with some water, love and encouragement.
Dog-friendly paddling is his kind of exercise.
Swimming is probably the best exercise for most aging dog's. Canine swim therapy is a popular option for dogs with joint or heart conditions, because it provides a good aerobic workout with a full range of motion while supporting the body and putting little weight on the joints.
Games? Toys? Kibble?
Another good option is to get him moving in the comfort of his own home. Take him down to the Rec room and get him playing with one of his at-home toys. Play "Fetch-lite", "Treasure Hunt" or "Keep Away". Or fill one of his Kong toys with kibble and let him work away on it so that he can stand, exercise his jaw muscles and have a tasty treat at the same time. Fun at home will keep him active and he won't resort to just lying around when he's bored.
As your dog ages, you’ll likely notice changes in your best pal’s energy levels, routine and even muzzle. Older pets may require adjustments to help them get around, exercise and live their best life as a senior. One important aspect of caring for a dog entering their golden years is diet.
When it comes to diet, every dog has unique, individual needs, regardless of age. So, there's no one easy answer to the question of soft food versus hard food. Both types of food can provide your dog with the nutrition they need — as long as you feed your dog a high-quality dog food that’s nutritionally balanced and complete.
Signs Your Senior Dog May Benefit from Wet Food
If your dog has very specific health concerns, such as aging joints or weight issues, consult with your vet for more information about what type of food best addresses your dog's needs. That being said, there are a few reasons why you may consider switching your senior dog to soft food.
As your dog gets older, their teeth may become more sensitive, which can make chewing kibble more difficult and even uncomfortable. Switching to a soft food can help to alleviate your pet’s oral discomfort when eating.
However, if your dog is experiencing serious pain at mealtime from a condition like tooth decay or gingivitis, switching to soft food won't remedy the problem. Make sure you talk to your vet about oral care and dental treatment.
Digestion begins in the mouth with saliva, so if your dog has a tendency to scarf down meals, they may not be adequately chewing the food or adding enough saliva to it. Soft food can aid with digestion because it's more easily chewed.
It’s no surprise that wet food has a higher moisture content when compared to dry kibble. If your senior pup is prone to urinary-tract issues or simply needs a little help staying hydrated, canned dog food may be a good choice.
Aging dogs tend to have a slower metabolic rate compared to their younger years, which puts them at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many nutritionally balanced wet dog foods offer high protein content with fewer carbs than dry food, which can benefit older dogs with slower metabolism. Always talk to your vet if you have concerns about your pup’s weight.
While wet food may be less than appetizing to humans, the opposite is true for dogs! If your aging best friend has started turning their snout up to dry food, wet food tends to be more appealing to picky eaters. Mixing wet food and kibble offers your pup a variety of flavors and textures; try adding wet food as a topper on dry food for a real treat!
Whether you choose dry food, soft food or a mix of both, ask your vet before making any transition. And when it's time to switch your dog's food, remember to do it slowly — even if it's the same brand and flavor — to help prevent stomach upset and allow your dog time to adjust.