Running and hiking, fetch and frisbee – while all fido-favorite exercises, they can be a bit “ruff” on the joints, especially for overweight or aging dogs. However, all dogs deserve to have a quality life filled with plenty of exercise and energy-burning activity. The good news is, if your dog is experiencing aging, weight gain, or general joint pain, they can still get their required amount of daily exercise with a great alternative – swimming!
Read on to understand what happens to dog’s joints as they age or put on weight, and how swimming can help offer some relief while providing them with a fun way to burn off energy and maintain their health.
What Happens to Dog’s Joints as They Age
Just like humans, dog’s bones and joints change as they age due to a loss of fluid and elasticity in the bone cartilage. This causes their joints to shrink, resulting in decreased, and sometimes painful, mobility. As such, playing fetch – or doing any activity that involves sharp movements like twisting, jumping, and stopping shortly – can cause a lot of unnecessary stress on your dog’s joints. If done repeatedly, the damage can worsen over time.
If your dog is experiencing inflammation and arthritis in the joints, you can help them feel more comfortable by minimizing the stress on their joints to prevent further damage during exercise with options like swimming!
Why Swimming is Good on the Joints
Whether your dog is a senior or not, swimming offers a joint-friendly cardiovascular exercise to help them burn off excess energy. In fact, just one minute of swimming equates to four minutes of running, while providing heart and lung strengthening benefits.
Swimming is also a fantastic stress reliever, and can be therapeutic for senior dogs, in particular, because water makes their body buoyant, which makes it easier for them to move around. But just because it’s easier for them to move around doesn’t mean they aren’t getting a good workout.
When a dog swims, they move their limbs against the resistance of the water, which requires the use of every major muscle group. As they swim, they’re strengthening their joints and muscles, improving overall tone and strength, and reducing pain – a win-win-win for dogs with arthritis and joint and muscle pain.
… and Good for Weight Loss
Keep in mind that swimming isn’t only good for older dogs. In fact, regardless of your dog’s age, it can be a great exercise to aid in weight loss. Overweight dogs already have overworked joints and muscles, so having water act as an aid to support their weight during exercise is a great way for overweight pups to burn calories and improve their metabolic rate – without the risk of pain or injury.
Before you hit the lake, it’s imperative to be aware of the precautions to take to ensure your dog swims safely. Before you head to any water source (the beach, dog-friendly pool, or lake), make sure the water has been tested for bacteria and contaminants. Dogs drink the water they swim in, so you don’t want them ingesting anything harmful.
For those just starting out swimming, this means keeping swims to 5 – 10 minutes maximum, with plenty of breaks to allow your dog to rest and catch their breath. And finally, if your dog doesn’t enjoy swimming or seems hesitant, don’t force it. This can be detrimental to your relationship and trust levels with your dog, along with causing them unneeded stress and anxiety.
Regardless of your dog’s age or joint condition, swimming can be a great exercise for any pup, but it’s always a good idea to consult with your vet first if you have any concerns (and maybe pick up a lifejacket to help them ease into it!).