As pets age, their metabolism seems to slow down. This, along with a tendency towards developing metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, can lead to weight gain and/or failure to lose weight. Senior pets still need lots of nutrients, so increasing exercise is often times better than cutting back on their food in order to help them lose weight. Exercise also gives senior pets something to do with their time, instead of just lying around all day.
Exercise in senior pets:
Swimming – Swimming is a great exercise for senior pets. The buoyancy of the water helps take the weight off sore joints and muscles, allowing pets to exercise and strengthen muscles and joints without having to bear weight. This helps dogs (and cats, if your cat happens to like water!) build up stamina, recover from injuries and gain strength. Start out slow and let them dictate the pace. Try to limit water time if your dog is really sore, out of shape, or has an injury.
Walking – Never underestimate the power of walking for your canine (or feline) friend! A lot of cats can be trained to harness and leash, and taken outside for walks and entertainment (provided vaccines are up to date). If your senior pet is overweight and out of shape, start with 5-10 minutes of exercise 1-2 times a day and gradually work up from there. Increase by 5 minutes every week, and aim for an hour of exercise a day, preferably in 2-3 sessions.
Cats – Laser pointers are a favorite, as are string toys. Often times cats need a bit of encouragement to play and move around, so hiding their kibbles in different locations around the house can help make them active and stimulate the hunting instinct. Using food toys and slow feeders also encourage cats to eat slower and be more active in searching for/working for their food. As with dogs, start out slow and steady, and gradually increase the amount of exercise. Make sure pets don’t get too frustrated with food toys and that they are still eating.
Annual exams and blood work are important to any pet, but especially in seniors. As always, consult your veterinary team if you have any questions about health and weight loss in your senior pet. Remember, exercise is great for any pet, no matter what their age!
Written by Dr. Teigen Bond DVM