English novelist George Eliot once wrote that, “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” That’s certainly true of my own golden retriever. In an ironic turn of events, I celebrated my fortieth birthday around the same time she turned forty in dog years. But while I constantly bemoaned my fate to whoever was willing to listen, my pooch was a total princess, gracefully going about her daily activities even when a slight limp in her right back leg threatened to slow her down.
Dogs and Humans are More Alike than People Think
While a lot of humans, whether they own a pet or not, are fighting the battle of the bulge. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop unsightly physical traits such as love handles or a spare tire. What many humans don’t realize is that the older dogs get, the higher their risk of being overweight and developing conditions like coronary disease, diabetes, or arthritis, things that are similar to humans in the same situation.
I don’t know about you, but I’m all for retaining the figure I had back when I was a freshman in college. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas and it seemed like she sprang them all on me as part of the worst present ever around the time of my fortieth birthday and my poor dog was faring little better. My doctor and my dog’s veterinarian agreed that we girls needed to get in shape, and the sooner we started the better off we’d be in the long run. Here are some tips that helped my dog and I shed some of those extra pounds. Maybe they can help you and your pooch, too!
- Brisk walking. Walking is a great exercise because it builds endurance and works the heart muscle, which provides a huge boost to your overall cardiovascular system. Thirty minutes of walking of brisk walking each day can make a huge difference in the health of both you and your dog. You have to take your dog outside anyway, so why not turn it into a fun routine that you both look forward to instead of seeing dog walking as a dreaded chore that takes you away from your indoor entertainment, like television or the computer
- Dog park dancing. A local dog park routinely holds doggy-and-me classes that are free for anyone who’d like to attend. One of the most amusing to watch is a dance class. While it’s a bit impossible to get everyone’s dog to hop up on their hind legs and impress twirl a tango, modified versions of everything from the Jitterbug to the Dougie get pets and their owners on their feet and moving around for a good forty-five minutes.
- Swimming. Understandably, public swimming pools are not likely to welcome the presence of a dog. Access to another swimming area, like a lakefront beach, an area of the coast, or even a pool in your backyard will suffice for some good, clean fun with your dog. Swimming is great for older dogs because of the low-impact on arthritic joints.
- Throwing and fetching. My dog could chase and retrieve things that I throw all day long, but it’s boring for me to stand in one spot. I’ve started doing jumping jacks while she runs after the stick, ball, or flying disc that’s thrown for her to retrieve. You could also do lunges or crunches, anything that keeps your heart rate up for at least fifteen minutes.
- Doggy yoga. While I practice Downward Dog, my dog is next to me practicing Downward Human. Doggy yoga classes incorporate pets into a normal class. Although it’s not likely to help your pet lose any weight, it is a safe, healthy way to bond with your pet while you get a workout. Because very little is required of the canine, it’s another great choice for older dogs.
Dogs and their humans who are in shape have better immune systems than ones who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Having a healthy immune system boosts the cardiovascular system, releases tension in sore muscles, and even helps to prevent hair loss thanks to the lack of skin issues associated with poor immunity.
In most cases, a dog’s lifestyle will mimic that of its owner which is why it’s important to find something that you both enjoy. Once you establish a routine of activity approved by your veterinarian, stick with it. Consider not only your needs, but also the needs of your dog. Even dogs that show signs of arthritis or some kind of skeletal issue like hip dysplasia will benefit from a low-impact workout. Senior dogs, who are not that much different from senior people in basic workout requirements, need gentle exercises that will help increase their flexibility, build their endurance, and strengthen their muscles.
Regardless of the season, stay hydrated by keeping plenty of water on hand for both you and your dog. My dog wears saddlebags and we always keep an extra collapsible bowl and bottle of water for other dogs we meet that might be in need of a drink as well. If it’s very hot or very cold out, you might invest in paw pads to protect your dog’s paws from hot asphalt or freeing snow. Pets are known for helping humans stay healthier, and in that light it’s up to us as responsible pet owners to help our pets stay healthier as well.
About the Author:
After turning forty, freelance author Becky James-Muth was having trouble finding time to exercise. She is the wife of a career firefighter and also home schools their two teenage sons. Finally she began penciling in appointments with her beloved golden retriever. Now she has three dedicated afternoons a week that she and Gingerbelle head to the dog park where they spend an hour playing fetch. She often looks to websites such as http://www.ageless-beauty.com for ways to keep her skin looking youthful despite all that time in the sun. When she isn’t working or spending time with her loved ones, Becky likes to knit, research family history, and experiment with new dinner recipes.