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Movement is Medicine for Senior Pets – Part 1: Getting Started

February 1st, 2023 by Ima Admin

Humans, canines and felines have more in common than you might think. We know that core strength and exercise offer mental and physical health benefits for senior humans. As the field of geriatric veterinary medicine evolves, we’re learning that the same applies to pets! Benefits in mental health, as well as cognition, result even from physical exercise alone, and specific exercises offer interventions to improve the quality of life for aging pets.

“Research shows that an exercise program that blends flexibility, range of motion, balance, strength and endurance will improve a pet’s quality of life,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice.

Dr. Brush serves on the board of the International Association for Animal Hospice & Palliative Care. The organization supports and shares information from veterinarians specializing in geriatric medicine. One presentation that hit home for her was by Dr. Brooke Loewenstein, DVM, CCRT, and CVAT, an innovator in therapeutic exercise.

To get started on home routines for senior pets, we’ll address these aspects in the next three installments of Pet Tips: Getting Started – Foundation Work, Cavaletti & Canine Core Exercises, and “Catercise” for feline aficionados.

Foundation Work – Canine

Basic Walking: Begin with 5 minutes of leash walking twice daily on flat, easy terrain, and build in 1-minute increments every other day until 15 minutes of walking is achieved twice daily.

Training for Paw Lifts: A fundamental skill you may need to train for is individual paw targeting (IPT) – meaning your dog lifts each of his four paws individually on cue. You can further advance this foot movement to mean to lift and “stick” the foot onto a target – such as your hand, a flat target, or an inflatable – for duration.

Perform 3 paw lifts of 5 seconds with each paw once daily. Increase the hold time by 2-3 seconds every week as tolerated, up to 15 seconds. Once this is achieved, slowly increase to 5 repetitions.

Once you help your pet build these skills, you may need to start training on backing up, side-stepping, and stretches, to eventually work up to a balanced routine like the following:

Sample Goal Routine:

  • Paw Lifts
  • Backing Up

  • Cavaletti exercise
  • Passive and active stretching
  • Unstable surface walking
  • Side stepping
  • Sit-to-stand transitions
  • Figure 8s
  • Indoor “circuits” for bad weather

In the next segment, we’ll discuss how to use or create Cavaletti gear, describe the “Cookie Stretch,” and more! Stay tuned.