Exercise is often the best part of the day for our furry friends. If your disabled dog is healthy (and interested) enough to enjoy a walk, few things will entertain him quite as much as a long stroll outdoors, where he can give free reign to his sniffing instincts, and even come across other pooches to socialize with. If the weather is inclement or your dog is of an age or condition to exercise indoors, however, fear not; there are many activities you can carry out at home, which will keep him stimulated and, in some cases, help him recover greater mobility so he can once again experience life in the Great Outdoors.
Always Consult Your Vet First
Depending on your dog’s disability, your vet may prescribe very specific exercises that should be carried out to the letter. The exercises in this post are meant for dogs who are generally happy and mobile, including those who happily walk and run in their wheelchairs. Whenever starting a new exercise regimen for your pooch, however, receiving a prior okay from your vet is recommended.
Exercises Your Dog will Love
This gentle exercise, when carried out in controlled, supervised conditions, helps dogs use a full range of motion, gives their heart a workout, and improves muscular tone. It is important to create very safe conditions; your dog should be wearing a life jacket with a handle for lifting. Gently place your dog in a kids’ inflatable pool or the bathtub, lifting him with the life jacket handle and supporting his belly with your other hand, slowly guiding him through the water and making sure his head (and ears) stay dry.
Hide and Seek
Rehabilitation exercises are not all about work! Games, too, can provide dogs who are agile (i.e., who do not have major mobility or heart conditions) with an energetic cardiovascular workout. Some of the funnest activities dogs can enjoy at home include hide-and-seek. Train your dog to wait in one room while you hide in another. If your dog uses a wheelchair, make sure that the house is clutter free, and that there is plenty of space for him to race to find you.
You can also play indoor ball games, rolling your dog’s favorite ball to the opposite size of a big room. Some dogs can even be taught to play soccer. If they can resist chewing the ball, you can teach them to gently kick it every time it is passed to them. Do the same when he ‘passes’ you the ball.
For this game, you will need another human. Each of you should be on opposite sides of the room or garden. Call your dog, give him a treat, and let the other human player do the same. Before you know it, your dog will have covered a long enough distance for the activity to count as his daily aerobic workout.
While your dog is lying down, gently massage his major muscle groups, starting with the top of the body and moving down to the back legs. Pressure should be light, so stay in tune to signs that your touch may be too deep. The ultimate aim should be for your dog to fall asleep, since this type of massage is deeply relaxing.
Special Considerations for Dogs with Heart Disease
If your dog has heart disease, is easily tired, is older, or is fighting another serious illness, the best exercise for him is a short walk. Excessive activity can trigger irregular heartbeats or contribute to heart failure.
If your dog is newly disabled, it is important to have a good talk with your vet and possibly a pet physiotherapist. Together, you can come up with a plan to keep your dog active. Often, dogs with handicaps need the same or more exercise as their non-disabled furry friends. Mobility and flexibility need to be strengthened in certain conditions.
In the case of dogs with heart disease, on the other hand, keeping exercise short and light is key. Be patient and creative. Above all, do plenty of research into how to make your life as active for your dog as possible!