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Tips to Help a Senior Pet Stay Active

By Linda Cole

I have several dogs that are getting along in years. They move slower and are more content to sleep away the hours, but a lack of exercise and stimulation isn't a healthy way for them to spend their senior years. Older pets can develop arthritis and other joint related problems that may keep them from enjoying activities, but it's still important to keep them as active as possible. If you have a senior pet, here are some tips to help them stay active.

By the time a pet turns a year old, they are already a teenager in human years. The senior years for small dogs 20 pounds or less begin at the age of 7 to 9, and larger dogs are considered seniors at 6 to 7 years. Cats are actually living longer because of advances in veterinary medicine. An indoor cat can easily live up to 18 years or longer and are considered senior at around 9 years. Outdoor cats have shorter life spans, around 4 to 5 years.

How to Keep Senior Dogs Active

As dogs age, they may not be able to keep up a rigorous exercise schedule. That doesn't mean you have to stop running, biking, hiking or any other activity you enjoy doing with your dog, but it does mean you may need to slow things down for your senior dog's sake. Swimming and slower walks for senior dogs, especially one with arthritis, keep their muscles strong. Exercise helps keep joints limber, keeps their bowels functioning normally, digestive system working and helps your dog maintain a healthy body weight.

As long as your older dog is healthy, there's nothing wrong with continuing an activity he enjoys. Monitor his activity and recovery time as well as how he's moving after exercising. Remember, an older dog will become chilled easier after swimming, so make sure to towel him off after he gets out of the water and encourage him to drink plenty of fresh water before, during and after exercising.

Consider getting your older dog involved in therapy work or obedience trials. A dog is never too old to learn some new tricks. Keep plenty of his favorite CANIDAE treats handy and teach him how to roll over, ring a bell to go outside or bring your slippers or the newspaper. Play a modified version of tug of war, fetch, keep away or any suitable activity that's gets him up and moving, keeping in mind his health and activity level.

How to Keep Senior Cats Active

Felines sleep about 13 to 18 hours a day depending on the cat and their age, and older cats may need encouragement to do something besides sleep. A remote controlled car or mouse can entice some cats to play. Laser lights are a favorite for some cats – just take care to keep the light out of their eyes. Anything that activates their prey drive, like a piece of string, a feather on a stick or a ball rolling across the floor, can get them up and moving.

Catnip toys will entice some cats to play. Ping pong balls are a great toy for cats. They are lightweight so that when a cat smacks them they fly across the floor. You can also put ping pong balls into the bathtub for a game of tub soccer. Toys can be dropped inside a closed box with holes cut into it large enough for your cat to poke her leg through for a game of find the toy. Paper sacks, empty boxes, a tissue paper tube or a ball of aluminum foil are fun toys that can entertain a cat.

I had a cat (Toby) that loved to go on walks. She was always ready for a walk when she saw her harness and leash in my hand. Toby wasn't an outside cat, but she liked to go outdoors, so I compromised with her and took her on daily walks around the neighborhood even though the neighbors smirked at the sight of a cat on a leash. Some felines do like going on walks, so don't rule out a walk just because you have a cat. And if you need some pointers on how to get started, check out How to Leash Train a Cat.

Senior pets may need encouragement to get up and move. You can experiment with different activities to find one your pet enjoys and is capable of doing on a regular basis. Regular vet checkups along with helping your older dog or cat stay active is the best way to keep them healthy so they can enjoy their golden years. Besides, the exercise is good for you too!

Dog photo by Mark Robinson
Cat photo by Stratman2

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