Senior cat and dog exercise: keeping older pets healthy and happy

9 February 2024 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Dog running on treadmill while owner is on phone

While your senior pet may still be a puppy or kitten at heart, there comes a time when they can’t run around and exercise like they used to.

Age catches up to all of us, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop moving and exercising altogether – sometimes, we just need a little change.

Below, we discuss senior dog and cat exercises, how to get them moving and highlight the signs your pet will give you when they’re not enjoying it.

When is your pet senior?

Like most things, this depends on your pet’s breed. Small dogs like Chihuahuas are considered senior at around 10, while big ones like Great Danes reach it at six.

Generally, cats reach senior status at around 10-11, but some may consider them an old cat at seven or eight.

Like us, definitions of what's senior or not are up for debate, and a lot depends on your pet’s breed and other factors.

Walking and exercising an older dog

adult senior black mutt dog lying down outside with a blue harness

Finding the right exercise plan for your older pup is about balance. It needs to be at the right level. People often ask, ‘how much exercise is too much for a senior dog?' but there isn't a definite answer. We’ve seen 10-year-old Labradors outrun six-year-old Terriers, so it’s entirely dependent on your pet. 

Activity levels will vary depending on your pet’s age, breed, health and personality. Since it varies, we recommend consulting your vet for specific, tailored advice for your old dog.

However, some general advice will apply in most cases. Read them below or watch Dr. Kirsten give her tips for working out your golden oldie.

Observe your dog during a walk

Senior dog exercise means noticing when yours is tired or resistant during a walk. It's their way of telling you that your tried-and-true routine is now too much or that they have an underlying issue.

If your dog doesn’t want to go on walks anymore, it could signpost an issue with the intensity of exercise or something else – always check with your vet if this happens.

However, don't stop exercising your pet. It’s essential to keep up regular, low-impact exercise to keep them physically and mentally healthy.

The key part of walking an older dog is to be perceptive. They’ll let you know if they’re not having a good time!

Rule out any health problems

If your dog’s slowing down, get them checked by your vet. It could be just tiredness and age, but getting slower could indicate conditions like:

  • Pain from arthritis

  • Organ dysfunction, like kidney disease

  • Hearing and sight problems

Pay attention to very hot or cold weather

Outdoor temperatures will impact senior pets more, so be vigilant if the temperature gets very cold or too hot.

Older pets are at a much greater risk of heatstroke and overheating, while they may struggle more than younger pups in freezing, snowy and icy conditions.

We recommend getting your dog a nice coat and boots for colder days. This’ll keep them warm and, in our opinion, quite dapper. It’s okay to replace walks with indoor games if it’s too perilous outside; who wants to brave the cold anyway?

Modify exercise if necessary

Following a conversation with your vet, you may need to modify your pet’s exercise routine. Modifications can include:

  • Taking them on shorter, gentler walks

  • Playing more indoor games, like puzzle feeders

  • Taking them on short swims in a safe body of water as hydrotherapy is an effective form of low-impact exercise

  • Continuing to play with your older dog, but avoid any sudden twisting or jumping if you can

Remember that senior dogs don’t just need physical exercise; they need mental stimulation too. Weight management becomes more essential in old dogs as well, so getting the right exercise plan for them.

Exercising an older cat

old red cat sitting down with a beige background

Yes, that’s right – our senior kitties need exercise too. If you’re wondering how to get an older cat to exercise, we recommend short bursts of play. Read our guide on how to play with your cat if you're struggling.

Cats generally respond better to play compared to other types of exercise, so setting up things like obstacle courses and using treat-based training work.

Using toys like puzzle feeders or a mouse on a string can keep them mentally and physically happy – a good way to entertain the ruler of the house.

While cats generally keep themselves busy, don’t rely on it; their cool, solo nature doesn’t mean they want to be left alone constantly. They'll appreciate time with you. 

How to keep your pet active if they have arthritis or joint problems

Arthritis and joint problems are common in older pets, meaning they need physiotherapy and pain relief to keep them active. Again, your vet is your best friend here. They can offer your pet effective physiotherapy, like strength and mobility exercises.

Basic obedience training can also help to gently exercise your dog, strengthening areas like their abdominal wall, spine, shoulders and hips.

The main thing is finding something that works for your pet – keeping them physically and mentally stimulated may be more challenging in their older years, but it's more important than ever.

A person high fiving a dog

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