How to keep older dogs supple

As our beloved pets grow older, the range of motion in their joints decreases, which is detrimental to the joint fluid health. This, in turn, increases the progression of osteoarthritis, which is an inflammatory degenerative joint condition.

Simple stretches, performed daily, will slowly improve and maintain the range of motion within the joints, and can be a great way to reconnect with your pet. The stretches will also keep your dog’s muscles supple and improve circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation within the muscles and joints.

Some important tips

  1. Before you start, get your dog’s muscle warmed up with a five- to 10-minute walk or a gentle massage of the areas to be stretched.
  2. Both you and your pet need to be calm, relaxed and comfortable, so find an area in your house that is quiet and free of any distractions.
  3. All stretches must be performed slowly and gently. If any resistance or discomfort is displayed, then stop and allow your pet to relax. If, after a break, he will still not allow the stretch, then rather stop and try a different stretch. Never force a stretch; let your dog guide you.


1. Front leg stretches

With your dog lying comfortably in lateral recumbency (on his side), place one hand on his elbow and the other hand under the carpus (lower limb of his front leg). Gently stretch the leg forward until some resistance is felt and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Now, slowly move one hand over your dog’s shoulder and put the other hand in front of his elbow. Gently and slowly push the elbow back, thereby flexing the shoulder, and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat both motions two or three times.

The benefits of this stretch include an improved range of motion within the shoulder as well as increased breathing capacity. Remember that dogs carry 60% of their overall body weight on their front legs, so we need to keep these joints healthy.


2. Hindleg stretches

Place one hand on your dog’s knee and the other behind his hock. Now, gently push the hock forward while straightening the knee, and stop when resistance is felt. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds before gently pushing the knee backwards towards the tail, thereby extending the hip. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds before repeating each motion another two or three times.

The benefits of this stretch include increased range of motion in the hips as well as improved flexibility within the lumbar spine.

3. Back stretches (get the treats ready!!)

With your dog standing square, position yourself next to him. Slowly move a treat from your dog’s nose towards his tail, thereby requiring him to bend his body in a C-shape. Hold this position for five to 10 seconds and repeat two or three times on each side. A variation of this exercise is a side bend, where you move the treat from his nose to his hip, then his knee and, finally, his hock. Hold for five to 10 seconds before repeating it two or three times, and then move to the other side of your dog.

The benefits include increased flexibility of the spine as well as increased core strength and stability.


4. Neck stretches… and more treats

With your dog in the same square position, move a treat upwards from directly in front of his nose, making him look up and extend his neck. Maintain this position for five seconds before moving the treat downwards between his elbows, thereby making him flex his neck. Hold this position for five seconds. Then repeat the entire exercise two or three times.

The benefits include improved flexion and extension in the neck, shoulders and elbows, as well as  improved balance.


Consult the vet

If you ever encounter any reluctance or discomfort while performing these simple stretching exercises, then please make an appointment with your local veterinarian or animal physical therapist. They can complete a thorough orthopedic examination of your dog and advise you which stretches and exercises would be the best for your pet.

A list of qualified, South African Veterinary Council-registered physical therapists can be found on the South African Animal Physical Rehabilitation Association’s website:


By: Dr Megan Esterhuysen (BVSc), President of SAAPRA.


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