We all love our dogs.  But seniors hold a special place in our hearts.  Their muzzle is turning grey, they’re a bit slow to get up, and can’t move like they used to.  But the tail never stops wagging when you’re around.  We know aging is a normal process, but we feel so helpless. However, there are things we can do to help our dogs age gracefully and to help manage their pain.  A well-rounded exercise program with minimal impact on aging joints can give your senior dog a new lease on life!

First, we encourage you to identify the signs that your dog is physically aging.  Remember, younger dogs will exhibit more subtle signs.  Signs of aging include:

  • difficulty moving from sit to stand, stand to sit, down to stand; reluctance to sit; sits on a hip; difficulty negotiating stairs, jumping onto couch or bed, getting into/out of the car and less time playing with other dogs at home; 
  • often you will see an increase in muscle mass in the front (due to compensating for a weak rear) and a loss of muscle mass in the rear;
  • stiff when getting up in the morning, after a walk or playing in the yard, after lying down for a period of time;
  • intermittent lameness in the front or hind limbs;
  • straight knees when walking, shortened stride length, weight shifted onto front limbs, hind legs are close together (weakness) or far apart (for balance).

The normal aging process in dogs is similar to that in humans.  With age muscles lose elasticity resulting in stiffness.  This in turn leads to a loss of range of motion (most notably in the hind end).  Not using the full length of the muscle causes muscle atrophy and weakness, leading to a lack of mobility and a decrease in activity.  Finally, you see a decline in balance and proprioception (knowing where the body is in space).  Exercises that specifically target the back legs can break this cycle.  In addition, one of five dogs suffer from pain caused by arthritis.   Because muscles act as shock absorbers for joints, strengthening muscles helps protect joints and manage pain.  Mild weight-bearing exercise helps stimulate cartilage metabolism and increases nutrient diffusion in the joints.  Senior dogs’ neck, shoulders and back muscles get tight and sore from overuse due to compensation.  Simple stretching exercises and massage help maintain range of motion and manage pain.   (NOTE:  Make sure your dog is cleared by your veterinarian to participate in a low impact exercise program.)

Grab some treats and start exercising your best friend.  You can help your senior dog stay mobile and decrease pain during their golden years.  In addition, your senior dog will love the mental stimulation of “working” with you.   With a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step, your dog will say “Thanks!”  What a wonderful gift!

Strengthening Exercises (click to see videos):

Sit to stand

Front feet up head up

Walk Sideways

Stretching Exercises (click to see videos):

Stand Posture


Head to shoulder; head to ribs

Proprioception/Balance Exercises (click to see videos):

Walk backwards

Pick up a foot

Slow circles and figure 8’s

Most dogs can perform their exercises 4-5 times a week.  However, always listen to your dog.  Some dogs need an extra day or two of rest during the week.

What can we offer your senior dog?  Senior dogs have extremely tight and painful neck, shoulder and back muscles due to compensation and arthritis.  Our certified therapists combine cold laser therapy with manual therapy to loosen tight muscles.  This improves your senior dog’s mobility and manages pain.  The underwater treadmill is a wonderful modality for senior dogs.  Water absorbs shock through aging joints while water resistance strengthens muscles.  This is an extremely successful modality that helps senior dogs gain strength which translates to improved mobility “on land”.  Give us a call to discuss what we can do for our senior dog.

When my first dog entered his senior years, he became increasingly sedentary.  I assumed this was typical and there was nothing I could do.  It’s empowering to discover there are things we can do to help our seniors age gracefully!