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Healthy Hounds: How Walking Helps Your Senior Dog

Your dog is getting up in years and is taking it more slowly. Does that mean it's time to ease up on the walks? Actually, no. As dogs get older, their bodies benefit even more from regular, appropriate exercise with either you - his person - or your professional walker or both. Here's why:

1. Older dogs are even more likely to be sedentary when you're away.

Dogs aren't known for their ability to get lots of exercise when you're not around -- most of the time, they doze and wait for you to arrive. But that's even more true of older dogs.

Scheduling regular walks can prevent your pet from losing muscle tone and the activity will boost the immune system and help keep your pet active for longer. Even if your older dog isn't up for a marathon run or heavy-dutyplay session, he or she can still enjoy and benefit from exercise.

2. Health issues may slow an older dog down, but they require healthy activity.

There are a couple of ailments that particularly impact older dogs and may make them seem slower.

  • Osteoarthritis. This is a progressive disease that affects the joints and may make it harder for an older dog to get moving. Surgery and medication can help, as can physical therapy and regular, gentle exercise like walking (swimming is good, too!). Walking not only helps protect the existing range of motion in your pet's joints, but it can help build muscle tone; stronger muscles better protect vulnerable joints.

  • Hypothyroidism. Just like older humans tend to see a decrease in production of thyroid hormone, so do older dogs. This can cause symptoms including dull coat, lack of energy and weight gain. Exercise alone can't cure this disease, but your vet can test for it and prescribe oral thyroid hormone supplements. Once you've got your dog on the proper medication, feeding him or her the right amount and getting regular exercise is a must to ensure ongoing health.

3. Mental health depends on physical fitness.

Like people, dogs can get dementia, and, like with people, regular walks and exercise can prevent mental acuity from eroding further. The exercise helps increase blood flow, including to the brain, and the exposure to new sights and people helps work the brain.

4. Digestion improves through movement.

As dogs age, they may have a slowdown in their digestive systems. Foods that once were no problem now cause vomiting or diarrhea. On the other hand, some dogs suffer from constipation as their systems slow down. Regular walking can keep your dog regular in his or her bathroom habits too, as exercise helps stimulate the bowels to work properly.

5. Exercise helps keep problem behaviors in check.

When your dog was a pup and didn't get enough activity or attention, he or she may have chewed, jumped, scratched or otherwise damaged your house and your possessions. Just because senior dogs are slowing down doesn't mean they lose their capacity for destructive behavior. Your dog may not be jumping the fence, but your favorite shoes may be just as much at risk of being chewed. Exercise helps keep your dog feeling mentally rested and physically exhausted, which can help prevent problem behaviors.

The key to keeping your dog active as he or she ages is to know your pet's limits and not push for strenuous exercise. Regular walks are a great way to keep your pet happy and healthy into old age.

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