Physical rehabilitation offers many benefits for these dogs, physical, mental and emotional. Mentally, physical rehabilitation has been shown to help delay or deter the onset of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (see November 2012 for a full blog on how rehab helps this), a condition that is a bit like Dementia for dogs. From an emotional standpoint, physical rehabilitation engages you and your dog in an activity together, something that may have fallen by the wayside as your companion grew older and less capable of doing the activities you did together in bygone days. This helps rekindle a bond between you and your dog and provides positive interaction.You will hopefully look back at those golden years with fondness and good memories once your beloved buddy is gone. And, of course, the physical benefits of increased mobility, increased flexibility, increased strength, increased endurace and less pain!
There are precautions though when working with these old "pups." Be careful to adjust your expectations.Your senior dog isn't going to strengthen at the same rate. The body takes longer to adapt. Your dog won't recover as quickly after a session of exercise either. The exercise needs to be less intense, less strenuous, and there needs to be an appropriate amount of rest time for recovery. There are other concerns too. Older dogs are more likely to have inefficient kidneys, making the risk of dehydration much worse. Older dogs have less efficient cardiopulmonary systems too - the heart and lungs don't adapt as quickly to the demands of exercise. Go slow. Monitor closely. Older dogs are more likely to have other medical conditions too, sometimes undiagnosed, conditions that could affect the older dog's ability to respond to exercise. Balance is sometimes quite poor in older dogs and so if the exercise or rehabilitation program is too demanding it puts your dog at risk for injury. All geriatric rehab plans should involve core stability and balance exercises with the goal of obtaining core stability at a level 2. This is considered essential for your dog to be able to do activities of daily living and prevent falls and injury.
While old dogs are the best, they have special needs when it comes to exercise and physical rehabilitation. It takes longer to see results and the results will not be the same as it would be for a young adult dog. But physical rehabilitation can be very rewarding for both you and your dog in your dog's golden years!