Sadly, my Australian cattle dog cross is getting on in years. She’s not so sprightly as she once was, and at 14, isn’t nearly as keen to run around as she used to be as a young dog. I don’t mind at all- of course I love her anyway- but as she started to get less active she began to put on weight and also have problems with arthritis in her legs.
For many older dogs it’s a vicious cycle. As they age their joints begin to trouble them and they are less keen to run and exercise than they used to be, so they put on weight. Because they get heavier, the arthritis gets worse and it hurts more, so they get even less exercise and put on even more weight…
Proper diet can help and so can medication but what made the biggest difference to my dog was regular swimming. She’s always loved chasing sticks into the local rivers and lakes, but as my dog became less interested in the great outdoors and more interested in her nice warm cushion she naturally saw less of the water. My mother- the local vet- told me to get her back into it.
Swimming is great exercise but it’s also low impact. When walking and running, a dog or a person must bear their body weight on their leg and foot joints. When swimming, the body is supported by the water and there is far less strain on any one part of the body. For that reason it’s ideal for injury rehabilitation and exercising older dogs. It doesn’t take much to make a difference either. A few half hour sessions per week made all the difference to my dog’s weight and also added immeasurably to her quality of life. She’s still arthritic but much lighter on her feet and much happier.
Some dogs are reluctant swimmers but almost all can swim. You can encourage them into the water by throwing sticks to fetch (close to the water’s edge at first, then further out) or by taking them along with a dog that already loves to swim. Actually getting into the water with your dog isn’t recommended. They tend to try and climb your shoulders, which isn’t much fun and can be scary if for anyone who isn’t a strong swimmer.
Those who aren’t lucky enough to live by a natural swimming place should ask their vet- indoor dog swimming venues are popping up all over the country. I’d recommend it to anyone have trouble managing their dog’s weight, especially if joint problems are involved.
Our Guest Blogger: Jess Spate lives in Cardiff, UK, and edits Outdoor Equipment Online, a price comparison site for climbing equipment and outdoor gear. She also works as a green business consultant for FountainSpirit.com and numerous other companies.