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Just like you, your four-legged friend can benefit from an exercise routine. Regular exercise improves muscle tone, joint flexibility, digestion and cardiovascular fitness. Exercise also helps prevent obesity, which has been linked to numerous health problems in dogs.

Besides making your dog healthier, exercise also makes him happier. He'll be more relaxed and less destructive. You will need to tailor your dog's exercise program to his age, size and breed.

Getting Started

Before beginning a fitness plan, take your dog to your veterinarian for a physical. She will evaluate your dog's overall condition and check for heart, lung and joint problems that exercise could aggravate.

Ask your vet how much and which exercises are appropriate for your dog. If your pet has health problems, including arthritis, heart disease or obesity, your veterinarian can recommend the best types of exercise for him.

Building a Routine

A healthy older dog can start with two short exercise sessions a day. Possibilities include a 10-minute walk, a short game of fetch in the backyard or an easy swim. Just be sure not to take on any strenuous activities.

If you choose to walk with your dog, keep him on a leash. The local wildlife can be a big distraction and you don't want your pet to get away from you.

Health Factors

When you exercise your dog outdoors, pick areas with soft grass or dirt. Exercising your pet on hard or slippery surfaces can damage his footpads or lead to falls.

To prevent heatstroke, don't exercise your dog on hot days. Make sure he drinks plenty of fresh water during the day and stop if you notice excessive panting or fatigue when he's exercising.

Also, avoid working out your dog within an hour of his eating a large meal, especially if he's one of the larger, deep-chested breeds that are predisposed to bloat. Bloat is a serious disease in which the stomach fills with air. In serious cases the stomach can twist, trapping the air and causing shock and even death.

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

Your older dog needs frequent and controlled movement, but his exercise routine shouldn't stress him out.

For the average older dog, 20 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking twice a day, is sufficient. This guideline applies to most mixed breeds and purebred dogs.

More active dogs, such as the sporting, herding and working breeds may need one or more hours of exercise each day. By contrast, small toy breeds may get most of the exercise they need inside an apartment.

Once you've worked up to the fitness level your veterinarian recommends, monitor your dog's activity level. Does he move freely and with ease? How much energy does he have?

Don't overdo it! Your canine companion can't tell you when he's had enough exercise, so it's your job to look for signs of weariness, including an altered gait or heavy panting.

Go For It!

Use your dog's exercise session to connect with your longtime canine companion. He'll not only keep moving and feel better, he'll appreciate the attention from his best friend.

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