Exercising your senior pet

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By Kim Gilliam

Pets, just like humans, need to stay active as they get older. Their aging bodies lose muscle tone, balance and fluid movement without regular exercise, and a lack of exercise promotes faster aging and increased risk of injury.

It’s important to keep them active in order to avoid this vicious cycle. Additional benefits of exercise include improved cell repair and regeneration, reduced stress and increased energy level. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes each day to activate your senior pet’s mind and body.

Three groups of exercises help senior pets stay active and pain-free: those specifically designed to maintain strength, flexibility and balance; short, frequent walks to maintain heart health; and massage to relieve aches and pains.

Your pet may not be able to do the same exercises it did when it was younger, so you may be tempted to take it easy on them. Consider instead trying something different, for example:

Treat reaches: This exercise helps with flexibility, improved balance and physical stability. Start with your pet in a standing position, then have them reach for a treat without taking any steps.

Offer the treat from various angles to encourage stretching in different directions, and then reward them when they reach the desired position. Make it more challenging by requiring them to hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.

High stepping: This will help with balance, stability and flexibility. Place two to four obstacles in front of your pet a half-body length apart and lead them over — don’t let them hop; they should purposely step over and place each leg. Use sticks or broom handles balanced on paint cans, small boxes, bricks, etc. — start at ground level, then wrist height, then just below the knee joint.

Canine massage: Manipulate the soft tissues of the body to bring about positive changes in muscles, tendons and ligaments while encouraging relaxation, pain management, range of motion and overall health. Start by making large, gentle sweeping motions toward the heart, beginning at the joint closest to the spine then work your way down to the toes — always stroking toward the heart.

Passive range of motion: Gentle movements of the joints through flexion and extension performed with your pet lying down, one joint at a time. Use a light two-finger touch to gently, smoothly move the joint. Do not force the movement; your pet will let you know what is comfortable.

Side stepping: With your pet standing in a square position, apply gentle even pressure at the hip and shoulder area until they lift their feet off the ground and step off to the side. Your pet should never be falling over or losing their balance.

Figure eights: Place chairs two body lengths apart in a line. Starting at one chair, slowly walk in a figure-eight pattern with your pet on leash, or you may use a treat for them to chase. Increase difficulty by performing this exercise with a side step.

Backing up: Line up your pet parallel to a wall and ask them to walk backwards; use a leash or a treat placed between the front legs to initiate this. This targets the hamstring muscles, which are important for the function of the rear legs. Increase the difficulty by having them step over an obstacle while walking backwards.

Push-ups: Perform these at the end of a walk or after a warm-up. Ask your pet to sit and then walk forward to get them to stand. If they are able, you can also ask for slow transitions between the sit and down positions.

Recognize your limitations and those of your pet; seek the expertise of a veterinarian or therapist if you see signs of stress or discomfort.

These exercises should be fun and a good bonding experience, so if your pet is not enjoying them take a break or try something else.

The writer is the co-owner of Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in the Eisenhower Valley.

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