Exercising older dogs safely in winter
February 6, 2019
Everyone knows that dogs need exercise. But what may be harder to figure out is how much exercise your dog needs.
How much exercise your dog needs will depend on their age, breed, level of fitness, health and even factors such as the weather conditions outside.
While an excess of exercise to lead to exhaustion and excess strain on the joints and muscles, a lack of exercise will also affect the dog adversely. Lack of physical exercise can mean that dogs suffer mentally as well as physically.
You’ll need to pay extra care coming up with the best exercise regime for your dog when it starts to get older, never push your dog to exercise if the levels of exercise are outside of their ability and agility. That doesn’t mean that you can just let them snooze on the sofa when they are old, as they will still require exercise to help with blood circulation and metabolism.
Much like people, when dogs get older, they slow down on the outside and on the inside too! They will still love to go on daily walks with you, after all, the proper exercise will help them to avoid suffering from conditions such as hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a condition which affects larger breeds of dogs the most.
It is also important to note that different breeds reach ‘old age’ at different stages of their lives. As larger dogs tend to have shorter lifespans, they can reach old age at the age of 7. Smaller breeds are thought of as old when they get to 11 or 12 years old.
Why Be Cautious in Winter with Older Dogs
Winter can be hard on us all, but it can be especially hard for older dogs. Older dogs will always need exercise, but how do you get around the cold and harsh temperatures outside?
Just as with people, it is far easier for older dogs to be adversely affected by the cold. This is due to their inability to maintain safe body temperature when outside. Exercise will elevate their body temperature for only a short amount of time for old dogs when it drops, the dog is prone to experiencing a chill – a dangerously low body temperature.
Dogs don't always know what’s good for them, so you can’t depend on their instincts to let them know it isn’t safe for them to go outside. Even if you feel guilty for only giving your dog short walks when the weather is cold, you’ll be doing the best by them by not putting their life at risk.
There are a number of ways which you can make outdoor exercise safer for your older dog, we’ve run through a few the top tips which will make sure that your older dog can still enjoy the outdoors in the winter!
Guidelines for Safely Exercising Your Older Pet in the Snow
Break Exercise up into Different intervals throughout the Day
Most dogs will require around 60 minutes of exercise each day. However, for older dogs who will struggle exercising for up to 60 minutes in the cold, you can always break this exercise up into several intervals throughout the day. This may be difficult for some dog owners who are out of the home for long periods of time, but it is crucial that your pet still gets the required amount of exercise.
By breaking the exercise up into intervals, you will make sure your dog doesn’t get tired, or bored as they will have plenty to do during the day. All exercise regimes for older pets should be consistent and carefully monitored.
Wrap up Your Dog
As we mentioned before, older dogs are more susceptible to hypothermia, so it is important that you choose a warm coat for your dog. Stay away from the designer coats which were only made with aesthetic in mind. Shop with a reputable company which has been made to withstand harsh temperatures and help your dog to regulate their own body temperature. Brands such as Ruffware are highly rated for their quick drying and breathable fabric. You can even fashion your own leg warmers for your dog out of old wool socks, however, not all dogs will be too happy to be put in a pair of leg warmers!
Other items to keep your dog warm when they are outside are dog booties which will help to keep their pads off the cold ground and help them keep traction on ice. They are also beneficial as they help to keep chemicals, salt and antifreeze which they may walk through off their feet. If they lick the chemicals on their feet, this may lead to one hell of a vet’s bill! Booties will be able to keep your dogs’ feet warm, with no risk to their circulation. To really keep a dog’s legs warm, you can always consider the tall boots which are also available.
After you have exercised your dog make sure you bring them inside immediately. If they are wet, ensure that they are dried straight away and placed in a warm environment. It should go without saying that old dogs should never be kept outside in the winter without a sufficiently heated and insulated kennel. If you couldn’t comfortably sleep in that temperature, neither should your dog.
Keep Your Dog on a Lead
Even if your dog is used to being off the lead, if the ground is covered in thick snow, keep them on the lead, even if they seem overly excited to experience the snow. It is not uncommon for dogs to lose their sense of smell and their way back to you when the ground is covered in snow. Always keep them on the lead, if they run off they may end up outside for longer than they should be out if they run off.
Remember that exercise doesn’t always have to happen outside! If the weather is particularly harsh, you can always play with your dog inside of your home getting them to play fetch etc.
The advice we’ve provided here is for older dogs not taking into account any mobility or health issues. If your dog does experience mobility issues such as arthritis, you will have to be especially careful with the amount of exercise you are giving them each day.
Arthritis is a condition which is exacerbated by the cold, and it can be excruciating for a dog. If you suspect that your dog has arthritis, take them to the vets as they may need medication to treat the problem such as a non-steroidal drug. Failure to recognise arthritis and exercising your dog anyway can lead to intense joint pain.
If your dog is currently being treated for arthritis, make sure to ask your vet how much exercise your dog needs to keep fit and healthy as possible.
There are plenty of ways to keep your old dog fit without ever stepping outside, such as doggy push-ups, however, this will only really work with dogs which respond to commands and love being trained. Make sure that you reward your dog as you experiment with exercise such as doggy push-ups, all you’ll need to do is command them to sit down sit up over and over again until you have worn them out!