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Fitness and the Senior Dog: The Do's and Don'ts of Exercise for Your Aging Pet


By Aurus Sy

Published: 09/22/2017, edited: 10/28/2022

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Is exercise good for senior dogs? Absolutely! Your furbaby may be slowing down, but that doesn’t mean they should stop moving. Your older pup still needs to stay active to keep their body strong, their mind occupied, and maintain a healthy body weight. Exercise can also delay the onset of age-related conditions such as arthritis.

As your senior dog experiences changes, they won’t be able to do all the things they once did to keep fit, but there are still plenty of ways to make sure your pooch gets enough daily physical activity despite any limitations. Read on for some do’s and don’ts for exercising older dogs safely!

Don’t stop walking

Dogs love to go for walks, and this rarely changes even as they get older. Though your senior pup may not be able to walk as far as they used to, they still need the opportunity to go outside every day to sniff, get some fresh air, and stretch their legs. You’ll probably have to take shorter, flatter routes with some rest breaks, but walking is a grrreat low-impact exercise to keep your dog’s body and mind healthy in their golden years. Remember, the phrase “use it or lose it” also applies to your canine companion!

Older white and black dog wearing a dog jacket on a walk - Fitness and the Senior Dog Do’s and Don’ts of Exercise for Your Aging Pet

Do pay attention to the weather and surfaces

Older dogs are more sensitive to heat and cold than younger canines, so be sure to check the weather if you’re exercising Fido outdoors. You may need to walk your senior pooch in the morning or evening on hot days, and dress them in a dog sweater or coat during the colder months. Walking surfaces matter too. Grass is easier for your dog to walk on, while asphalt and gravel should be avoided, especially in warmer temperatures as hot pavement can hurt their paws. Paying attention to surfaces and the weather can make a big difference for your pup’s comfort, as can investing in some safety equipment such as paw boots.

Do go at your dog’s pace

How much exercise do senior dogs need? Every dog is different and you know your pup best. As their guardian, it’s up to you to tailor their activities to their needs. Can your canine companion still handle a similar amount of physical activity as they did in their younger days, or do they now need more rest during walks and playtime? Whatever the case may be, always follow your pup’s lead and watch for signs of pain or exhaustion. Take it slow, stop if they look like they are tired or struggling, and never force your dog to exercise for longer than they’re able to, as overexertion can lead to stress or injury.

Jack Russell Terrier playing a puzzle game

Do try different activities

Aside from walking, there are a number of things that your senior pup can do to stay fit and active in their golden years. These include:

  • Swimming is a puptastic total body workout that’s very easy on the joints, making it an ideal exercise for senior dogs with arthritis. Be sure to choose a pool or lake that’s dog-friendly and easy for your pup to get out of. It’s also a good idea to have them wear a life vest and dry them off as soon as they come out of the water so they don’t get cold.
  • Scent and puzzle games provide indoor exercise for senior dogs and are excellent boredom busters when the weather is bad outside. They not only help burn off physical energy, but also keep your pup’s brain sharp! 
  • Playing with your pup doesn't have to end in their older years. Many dogs remain puppy-like throughout life and enjoy playing regardless of age. Be gentle when playing with your senior furkiddo so they don’t try to jump or twist for toys. 
  • Training is a grrreat way to keep your pup’s mind active as they age. It’s also a good opportunity to spend one-on-one time with them and give them the attention they crave. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Don’t fall out of routine

Consistency is key to keeping your senior pooch healthy. Keep exercise gentle but regular—short, daily exercises go a long way and will benefit your dog much more than a few big sessions per week. To help you stay consistent, create an exercise plan for your pup. Pick a time or a couple of times each day to focus on their physical and mental health, and make sure they fit into your dog’s regular routine. Remember to stick to short intervals so your furbaby doesn’t get tired too quickly. Little and often is best when exercising a senior dog!

Tan Boxer relaxing on a massage table

Do consider mobility aids

Osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, nerve damage, and other conditions can limit mobility in older dogs. If your pup is struggling to get around, there are options to keep them as active as possible and improve their quality of life. Mobility aids for senior dogs include steps to help them get on the couch or bed, ramps to help them get into the car, support harnesses for assistance during walks and potty breaks, and dog strollers and wagons for getting around with ease. Hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, and massage techniques can be beneficial to dogs with decreased mobility too, so you may want to ask your vet about those as well.

Although your senior dog may not chase the ball as fast as they used to, they still require exercise for their overall well-being. With a little extra time and thought, and a slower pace, your elderly canine can still enjoy active moments with their best human pal.

Got more questions about exercising your aging pup? Chat with a veterinary expert today to get answers!

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