Canine Fitness for Senior Dogs

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
person standing next to lake with senior dog

How to (Safely) Get Active With Your Senior Companion

Sharing dog fitness activities is beneficial for dogs of any age, including senior dogs. If you’re considering getting more active with your older dog, or looking for ways to stay active, here are some helpful answers to questions about canine fitness for dogs ages 7 and older. 

What Makes Senior Dogs Different Than Younger Dogs? 

As dogs get older, their metabolism slows down. According to Purina veterinarian Dr. RuthAnn Lobos, their ability to take the protein from their food and make it into proteins in their bodies also decreases.  

In addition, senior dogs may develop medical conditions that can affect your senior companion’s ability to engage in dog fitness activities at more intense levels.  

What Should You Keep in Mind Before Starting a New Activity With Your Dog?

Dr. Lobos says, “If somebody is in their sixties and they've never run a 10K before, starting out tomorrow and running five miles is probably not a good idea.” The same advice applies to senior dogs.  

That’s why it’s important to visit your veterinarian to make a realistic determination of your dog’s fitness level before you start a new activity. Ask your veterinarian to include an orthopedic exam to assess the condition of your dog’s knees, hips, and elbows.  

If your dog needs to increase their fitness level, start slowly and build gradually as they increase their strength and endurance.  

Another thing to keep in mind is that senior dogs with more active lifestyles need nutrition to help fuel those activities. This is why Pro Plan offers an Adult 7+ formula to its line of Sport formulas. Made with active senior dogs in mind, Pro Plan Sport Adult 7+ formula provides glucosamine and EPA for joint health and mobility, along with concentrated nutrition for increased endurance and brain-supporting nutrients to help promote cognitive health.  

What Are Some Safe and Fun Ways for Older Dogs and Their Owners to Get Active Together? 

Dr. Lobos recommends regular walks for senior dogs. “Motion is the lotion for the joints,” she says, adding that walking, even just down your street and back, helps with stiff joints and more. Getting your dog outside to look and sniff around is good for mental stimulation as well.  

Senior dogs with a higher level of fitness can enjoy casual hikes. As with any fitness activity, watch your dog for cues that may indicate they are tiring or not feeling good, so you can give them a chance to rest.  

Swimming is another way to help your senior dog enjoy a low-impact activity that is aerobic and helps with joint mobility. If this is a new activity for your dog, Dr. Lobos suggests that you start slowly. Use a life jacket at first, until you know how your dog reacts to water. Some communities have canine fitness centers with underwater treadmills—a perfect way for senior dogs to enjoy a low-impact walk.  

Another option that combines lifestage-appropriate activity and socialization for senior dogs is an age-specific play group, which local dog daycare centers may offer.  

How Does an Active Life Benefit Senior Dogs?

The benefits of physical activities for senior dogs go beyond fitness. Getting your dog out for a stroll in your neighborhood or even a ride in the car (which helps engage core muscles for balance) also provides a change of scenery that engages them mentally as well as physically.  

In addition, active senior pets are more likely to maintain healthy body condition, which can translate to a longer, better-quality life. Just as important, every activity you enjoy together also strengthens the lifelong bond you share.  

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