Exercise is important for cardiac health, muscle strength, and mental health. Many older dogs struggle to maintain the amount of muscle that was easily built in younger years. At work we tend to see older dogs losing muscle as a result of pain because exercising becomes increasingly difficult.
Step one has to be pain management. Talk to your veterinarian (or a rehabilitation veterinarian if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) about diagnosing and managing pain. A general place to start is finding a high quality joint supplement. Dasuquin is recommended by many veterinary professionals as the go-to joint supplement. In addition to that, the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management is an organization devoted wholly to the management of pain. There is a "search for member" tab at the top to assist in finding a local veterinarian experienced in pain management. In Minnesota alone, there are 51 members!
An alternative complimentary approach is using Low-Level Laser Therapy (therapeutic laser) as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Buzz benefited greatly from regular laser therapy. His overall comfort level improved, his mobility was better, and he certainly didn't mind spending quality time alone with me. Not all lasers are created equally, so it is definitely a treatment that should be prescribed and overseen by a professional.
Once pain is under control there are so many options for strengthening. At work we utilize underwater treadmill therapy in conjunction with specific exercises tailored to each dog. We have exercises that target specific muscle groups to engage them, or relax them, based on the needs of the dog.
An example of Buzz's exercises at home included a chest elevation stretch, weight shifting, and front limb range of motion. The exercises were prescribed twice daily, and I was pretty good about getting them done at least once daily. Doing his exercises took about 10 minutes start to finish. His exercises changed frequently based on how he seemed to feel while I was doing them, and after. A few exercises he really enjoyed, I made a point of doing regularly (chest elevation stretch and spinal traction). Before I started working at TC Rehab, Buzz saw Dr. Julia every month or two for re-evaluation.
Structured exercise is very important in keeping a geriatric dog happy and healthy. While enjoying smells in the backyard and interacting with other dogs is still considered exercise (and can be great mental stimulation), an exercise regimen can help to keep your dog more comfortable and active as they age. It is very important to remember that we want to give them enough exercise erring on the side of too little rather than over tax their bodies and make exercise painful.