When is it OK to run with senior dogs? (A vet’s point of view)



Last Friday I wrote about my personal experience running with my senior dog Ace. I really enjoyed hearing about your own experiences running with your dogs in the comments section of that post.

Running is something Ace and I have done together for years, and it’s difficult for me to realize it’s getting harder for him.

I wanted to get a veterinarian’s perspective on running with older dogs in general, especially a vet who is a runner himself.

Dr. Tom Watson of Carolinas Veterinary Medical Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., is an active runner and cyclist. You may remember him from my post on running long distance with dogs.

Here’s what he had to say when I emailed him some questions about running with older dogs.

Running with senior dogs – when is it OK?


That Mutt: Do you believe running alongside the owner is a healthy form of exercise for a fit senior dog?

Dr. Tom Watson: Yes, especially if the dog has been running injury free for many years.

My dog Spot, a dalmatian cross, has been a runner all of his life and last year ran 12 miles as a 12-year-old. His endurance has significantly decreased this year, and now he’s good for 3 to 4 miles before starting to fall behind.

TM: Is there a general age when a dog should “retire” from running, or does it just depend on the dog? What are some signs to watch for that the dog might be uncomfortable running?

DTW: It really depends on the dog. Spot is a good example of a person who is still running well in their 80s while another person has severe arthritis in their 60s.

Dogs are susceptible to the same age-related conditions, and these types of problems will affect some dogs sooner than others.

Just like a runner must “listen” to their body for feedback, we must also look for signs in our dogs: running slower, decreased endurance, panting harder and sooner than normal, longer recovery time.

“My dog Spot, a dalmatian cross, has been a runner all of his life and last year ran 12 miles as a 12-year-old. ” – Dr. Tom Watson

TM: How does running at a steady pace compare to the starting/stopping motions of chasing a ball or playing at the dog park? Is one better than the other for senior dogs?

DTW: Running at a steady pace enhances their over-all fitness, muscle tone, cardiovascular and respiratory systems without increasing the risk of tearing their ACL and meniscus like rapid starting and stopping motions.

By the way, a torn ACL is the most common injury in the rear leg of a dog.

TM: If I want to continue running with my 8-year-old Lab mix, what are some ways to prevent him from getting injured?

DTW: The same principles apply to dogs that we use ourselves: increased fatigue equals poor form, equals increased injuries. Things to remember: start out slowly, don’t increase mileage too quickly. If your dog is lagging behind, slow down or stop and walk back home.

TM: Do dogs that go running with their owners tend to be healthier as they age?

DTW: Yes! Just like in answer #3 about fitness levels. Obesity is a big problem in dogs with estimates at 40% being overweight. Dogs that run are much more likely to have a good Body Condition Score.

“Obesity is a big problem in dogs with estimates at 40% being overweight.” – Dr. Tom Watson

TM: Do you see a lot of injuries in senior dogs related to running with their owners? What types of injuries are these and how could they be prevented?

DTW: Major injuries can happen but are rare. The most common injuries are abrasions and burns on their pads from hot pavement. Unlike people, dogs do not sweat and are more susceptible to heat stroke. Running early in the morning on hot summer days will help prevent these type of injuries.

TM: Is there anything else you think dog owners should know about running with their senior dogs?

DTW: Running will help keep their dogs stimulated and fit, which will add quality years to their lives!

Thank you Dr. Watson for sharing your expertise!

How about the rest of you?

Do you think running with your dog has added to his overall quality of life?

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  1. Emma on February 21, 2014

    I know that my almost twelve year old Katie would be much worse off it she had not had a super active life with lots of running and walking. We continue to walk as much as we can to keep her fit now that she can’t really run.

  2. slimdoggy on February 21, 2014

    Absolutely. Getting both Jack & Maggie out and exercising (even now at age 10) is critical for them. It’s totally calmed Jack down to a much better ‘zen’ attitude most of the time and it’s helped Maggie’s self-esteem grow. Best exercise ever if you ask us.

  3. weliveinaflat on February 23, 2014

    Great interview. I would like to get more consistent running with Donna. However, Donna is a worse of a runner than I am and I’m not even a runner-runner, if you know what I mean. Donna usually will start running behind me after 5-10 mins and if she not on the lead, she’ll just fall further, further behind and start to stop and sniff. Honestly, at coming close to 5 year’s old, she’s like an old lady (unless she’s playing then she’s a puppy) and she’s not even fat! Did Ace always like to run with you or did you have to slowly work him up to liking it?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 24, 2014

      Ace always liked to run, as do most of the dogs I’ve taken running. However, every now and then I come across one that for whatever reason just prefers to go at a slow pace. Usually it’s due to being overweight but some dogs just prefer walking. For example, I used to take care of a golden retriever and he’s just a really laid back mellow guy and prefers to walk slowly and take his time. Running is not his thing even though he’s fit and in great shape.

      Maybe that’s the case with Donna?

  4. Jana Rade on April 29, 2014

    With exceptions of active injury, recovering from surgery and eventually when Jasmine’s neck got bad, we always did some running together. I kept it her pace and only as long as she wanted but she did enjoy running around with me.

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