Pet Talk: Senior dogs need exercise
The thought of a hot cup of coffee is the only thing that gets me through my 6 a.m. Monday morning workouts. I don’t like being awake at 6 a.m., let alone sweating in the gym. I pretty much hate working out, but I do it. I have a physical job, so I need to protect my body, and I don’t want to get osteoporosis. My goal is to keep my foundation strong so I can stay active many years from now. Use it or lose it. It’s not easy, but it is simple.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true for our animal friends too. I see many geriatric dogs in my practice. Some are tagging along with their owners to skin up the mountain at age 14, and some are obese and arthritic at age nine. Of course there is a genetic component, but that is also a giant excuse. Why take responsibility when we can blame genetics?
Dollars to doughnuts, the fat, arthritic 9-year-old dog has not had enough exercise for much of his life (except for the occasional dog who may have had way too much exercise). These guys also generally have poor, course hair coats. There are 2 primary reasons for poor hair coats in animals: chronic illness, and sub-par nutrition.
Nutrition will get a whole column of its own, but here’s a spoiler: Dogs thrive on fresh food. Gasp! Some of this is even the same food healthy people eat. A little spinach, a few bites of carrots and some green beans do a dog body good — and reduce cancer rates.
If you have a dog or cat who is fatter than he or she should be, or a little stiffer than his contemporaries, don’t despair. When we know better, we do better. Big improvements in health and mobility can be made. A diet makeover and some targeted supplementation is part of the approach. Pain management (including acupuncture, chiropractic, laser therapy and appropriate medication) is a crucial precursor to adding some exercise back into your furry friend’s life.
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Often, these dogs can’t jump right into long walks, so varying the exercise is key to maximizing benefit. Walking the pavement in the neighborhood is good for cardiovascular conditioning, but that’s about it. Sidehill walking (walking sideways along a slope rather than up or down) develops muscles important for postural support. Walking through tall grass (or snow) encourages increased flexion of the joints and strengthens the flexor muscles. Walking on uneven ground and weaving through the sagebrush improves balance, flexibility and stability. Walking on tiny little pebbles reminds the brain where each foot is and keeps the nervous system strong. Healthy nerves are required for strong muscles.
Most of us don’t want our animals to grow old, but since they do, we want them to be healthy and active for as long as possible. If your dog is young, keep laying the foundation. If he is getting old and sore, there is no time like the present to make some changes. The magic ingredients are not always easy, but they are simple: consistent, moderate exercise and a fresh, healthy diet.
Dr. Elizabeth Dooher, MS, DVM, of Integrative C.A.R.E. Ltd., is a mobile veterinarian specializing in chiropractic, acupuncture, rehabilitation, and laser therapy. She can be reached at Elizabeth@Integrativevetcare.com or 970-331-9625.