Importance of Fitness for Senior Dogs

Introduction:

Fitness plays a crucial role in improving the lives of senior dogs, helping to maintain their strength, flexibility, balance, and overall health.

Regular exercise can help senior dogs maintain muscle mass, bone density, and joint flexibility, reducing their risk of injuries and age-related conditions while promoting healthy aging.

Fitness can also play a crucial role in improving a senior dog’s mental well-being and cognitive function.

For senior dogs, I prioritize the following:

 


Body Awareness

refers to a dog’s ability to understand where their body is “in space” and how to move it effectively.  Prioritizing body awareness can help prevent accidental injuries, especially in senior dogs as their senses may decline with age.

In a study published in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity Impaired, researchers found that impaired proprioception leads to less accurate detection of body position changes increasing the risk of fall, and to abnormal joint biomechanics during functional activities so, over a period of time, degenerative joint disease may result (1).

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Posture

refers to the position in which an individual holds their body.  Overtime, poor posture can lead to muscular imbalances and strain on the spine, which can result in chronic pain.  By encouraging proper alignment, senior dogs can reduce their risk of developing musculoskeletal issues and discomfort.

In a study published by BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, researchers found that habitual postural patterns are associated with musculoskeletal pain, and improving a maladaptive posture requires postural awareness in order to lead to clinical improvements (2).

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Core Stability

refers to the ability of the dog’s muscles to support their spine, scapula, and pelvis during static postures and dynamic movement.  A strong core can help to reduce a dog’s risk of injuries and help them to maintain balance.

In a study published by A.T. Still University, researchers found that deficits in core neuromuscular control require greater force to maintain stability and have been shown to be a risk factor for increased susceptibility to injury (3).

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Muscular Strength

refers to the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert force against resistance (including gravity).  Retraining healthy movement mechanics can help a senior dog perform their daily activities with ease, such as standing up from a down, drinking from a water bowl, using stairs, and more.

In a study published by the Australian Physiotherapy Association, researchers found that moderate physical activity reduces the risk, or prolong the onset of physiological changes and various diseases. Physical activity can also enhance functional fitness amongst the elderly. Functional fitness is having the physiologic capacity to perform normal everyday activities safely and independently without undue fatigue (4).

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Mobility

refers to the ability of a joint to move through an appropriate range of motion.  Mobility exercises help to prevent stiffness, improve joint health, enhance range of motion, and improve movement quality.  Active range of motion exercises can help improve flexibility in senior dogs, allowing them to move more freely and comfortably.

Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy: Second Edition states that, ROM exercises are useful to diminish the effects of disuse and immobilization.  To maintain ROM, the joints and muscles must be periodically moved through their available ranges (5).

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Mindful Petting/Massage

refers to basic, gentle massage techniques that owner’s can implement with their own non-compromised dogs.   

A study done by the University of Virginia determined that therapeutic touch significantly reduced the report of chronic musculoskeletal pain in an elderly population (6)

Massage has many beneficial mechanical, physiological, and psychological effects for numerous health conditions that research in humans has shown are valid. Although massage techniques can be taught to a layperson, a professional massage therapist is the expert sought after… (7)

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Mental Wellbeing

In addition to the physical health benefits, fitness also plays a crucial role in maintaining mental well-being among seniors. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and improve mood and overall mental health.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers found that [human] seniors who participated in a structured exercise program experienced significant improvements in cognitive function and memory retention. The exercise group also reported lower levels of anxiety and depression, highlighting the positive impact of fitness on mental health (8).

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Conclusion:

In conclusion, fitness plays a crucial role in the lives of senior dogs, offering a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits. By prioritizing regular exercise and physical activity, senior dogs can maintain their health and overall well-being as they age.

 


Sources Cited:

  1. Ribeiro, F., Oliveira, J. Aging effects on joint proprioception: the role of physical activity in proprioception preservation. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act 4, 71–76 (2007)
  2. Cramer, H., Mehling, W.E., Saha, F.J. et al. Postural awareness and its relation to pain: validation of an innovative instrument measuring awareness of body posture in patients with chronic pain. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 19, 109 (2018).
  3. Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013 Nov;5(6):514-22. doi: 10.1177/1941738113481200. PMID: 24427426; PMCID: PMC3806175.
  4. Ferreira M. L., Sherrington C., Smith K., Carswell P., Bell R., Bell M., Nascimento D. P., Máximo Pereira L. S., Vardon P. (2012). Physical activity improves strength, balance and endurance in adults aged 40–65 years: A systematic reviewJournal of Physiotherapy58(3), 145–156. 10.1016/s1836-9553(12)70105-4
  5. Millis, Darryl & Levine, David. (2013). Range-of-Motion and Stretching Exercises. Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy: Second Edition. 431-446. 10.1016/B978-1-4377-0309-2.00025-9.
  6. Yu-Shen Lin, Bsn, Msn, Ann Gill Taylor, Faan, Effects of Therapeutic Touch in Reducing Pain and Anxiety in an Elderly Population, Integrative Medicine, Volume 1, Issue 4,1998, Pages 155-162, ISSN 1096-2190,
  7. Lisa Corti, Massage Therapy for Dogs and Cats, Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, Volume 29, Issue 2, 2014, Pages 54-57, ISSN 1938-9736,
  8. Bherer L, Erickson KI, Liu-Ambrose T. A review of the effects of physical activity and exercise on cognitive and brain functions in older adults. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:657508. doi: 10.1155/2013/657508. Epub 2013 Sep 11. PMID: 24102028; PMCID: PMC3786463.