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Keeping My Aging Pup Active

dogs on a waterfall

Rudi, my black Lab mix, might look tired now, but to her credit, she’d been climbing some mountains that morning.

When our pets reach a certain age and slow down, it’s easy to write off their lower activity level as a normal part of life. And while there’s some truth to that — I mean, they can’t be puppies forever! — pets actually often slow down because of pain or discomfort. Sure, that may go along with advanced age, but unlike growing older, it’s treatable!

In case you’re thinking that this is all awfully obvious, let me tell you about my recent experience. I’ve written about pets and pet health in a variety of places for years — I’ve edited articles written by experts on this very topic. And still, when my oldest dog, a Lab mix named Rudi, started to show signs of slowing down last year, what did I do? I told myself, “Oh, well, she is 7 years old — she’s probably just getting a little older and slowing down.” It wasn’t until we went to the vet for a check-up that I learned that Rudi was dealing with the beginning stages of arthritis, and after an exam and gait analysis (which was really inexpensive and done right in my vet’s office — so cool), we knew exactly which knee was bothering her the most.

black lab

Rudi in her younger (and less grey-muzzled) days. She’s always been a happy, playful girl, and we don’t want that to stop!

How did I miss that? I mean, I’m dealing with the same thing, plus I know how common it is in aging pets! So, what I’m saying is, it’s worth driving the point home a bit, because it’s not like she was limping or visibly in pain or anything. She didn’t seem to be anything but a little slower.

Now, I’m not about to give you specific advice on what to do for an aging pet — that’s something you definitely need to discuss with your vet. But! I will share what we’re doing. And if you think that our plan is to let her lounge on comfy beds* and never be active again, let me remind you what I decided to do when I was diagnosed with arthritis.

Of course, I’m not signing Rudi up for a puppy dog marathon or anything, but staying active is a major part of the plan we put together with our vet. We’re careful about not overdoing our walks or runs, but I’m trying to get her out for a mile or two at a time pretty regularly. As we walk, I incorporate some physical therapy moves — I have her step up and down the curb, do sit/stay/come, and practice sitting on an incline facing all different directions. As she’s sitting, I’ll sometimes gently pick up one front paw, then the other, which makes her engage her core. The more strength we can build all over, the more support her knee has.

I also monitor her food really carefully to make sure her weight stays down — that’s key for keeping her mobile, but also important for keeping a whole host of other health issues from taking root. Currently, I’m trying out Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind. I met with some of the folks from Purina at a recent veterinary conference and heard a few vets talking about the huge difference they’d seen in their senior dogs with this food. I haven’t been feeding it to her long enough to see much difference myself, but I will say she gobbles it right up!

In addition to all of that, I’m treating her with a couple of arthritis medications — one is a monthly injection, and the other is a daily dog-specific joint supplement. It’s relatively easy to do, and if it keeps her chasing squirrels and joining me for walks for the next few years, it’s entirely worth it.

Wonder how it’s going? Let me just say that we did some walking and sprinting around the neighborhood last night, during which I could barely keep up with her, and this morning, she woke me up by hopping halfway up on my bed to drop a toy on my face, signaling she was ready to play again. I think it’s all working.

Do you have a senior pet? What methods do you use to keep him or her active and young at heart? There are so many cool products and expert tips out there, and I can’t wait to hear what you’re all doing! Kristen

*Well, we do have comfy dog beds in pretty much every room. And she lounges on them a lot. But that’s not all she does! I swear!

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