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We recently adopted an "8-year-old" dog and when we took him to our vet, he said the dog is probably closer to 10 years old and is most likely a border collie/retriever/lab mix.

We were aware of several tumors on the dog's abdomen but the vet also found one on one of the hind legs, as well as arthritis in both front legs. He prescribed some OTC and prescription medications for the arthritis. Interestingly, he also suggested that more activity would keep the dog's joints lubricated and would help with his arthritis.

We've been walking the dog maybe half a mile to one mile a day most weekdays and maybe up to a mile or two on Sundays (a few times around the block throughout the day). Other than that, he just sits around.

I've never personally had a dog before, and a few articles I read mentioned some generic activity levels in terms of minutes, but not distance. Other articles that I read a while back recommended less activity for older dogs with arthritis, but on the other hand the vet suggested trying to raise is activity level to help his joints and to help him shed a little weight. Sometimes he walks fast and other times he walks really slow, so I don't think it makes sense to measure his exercise in minutes. How far should I try to walk my new friend each day, and is there a good way to tell if I'm walking him too much or not enough?

Update: sadly he suddenly started limping a couple weeks ago and now tries not to use his left front leg at all. The vet said our dog already had severe arthritis and allowing him to go for the long walks that he so enjoys probably aggravated his condition. The vet recommended cutting back his diet to help him lose weight, and cutting back his activity and putting him on anti-pain and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as glucosamine chondroitin for his joints.

Interestingly, the vet also said the glucosamine chondroitin in any "joint health" treats and food starts to oxidize as soon as you open the package, and there probably isn't enough of the additive to make a difference in the first place.

Update 2: more sad news. We asked our vet about water therapy shortly after the last update and he said it couldn't hurt. We took him to a different vet who does aquatherapy with an underwater treadmill, but upon closer examination that vet said he isn't able to use his front left leg because of a neurological condition. She said one of his many tumors is almost certainly pinching off the nerve for that leg. Shortly afterward, we noticed that leg and paw looked really big compared to his other front leg. We took him to our normal vet again and he said the tumor was now pinching the blood vessels to that leg, so it's getting bloodflow in but has inadequate bloodflow out therough the veins, causing the bulging.

It's hearbreaking to think that we have such a wonderful dog but there's no amount of exercise that will heal the poor guy. He's able to get around on his 2-1/2 good legs but he tires quickly so now we push him around in a cart when we go for walks. The vet said at this point, all we can do is try to keep him comfortable and happy, and let him eat whatever he wants for the short time that we will have him.

  • have you tried water sports? A guy with a 16 yr old lab mix at my job takes his dog to an aqua-therapy class to give her exercise that's not too joint intensive. – Veg Jun 9 '15 at 20:50
  • Actually, we did look into aqua therapy but when we took him to a vet that has an underwater treadmill, she gave us a heartbreaking diagnosis. I'll add more details to my question. – rob Jun 9 '15 at 21:06
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A dog of that mix is not particularly elderly at ten. Collie x lab crossbreeds are often fairly longlived and may get to 15 or even older.

I would however disagree with the previous answer which recommends high-impact exercise using a chuckit and tennis balls. That sort of very energetic exercise can be pretty hard on the joints, so not ideal for arthritic dogs. It also puts a lot of strain on the cruciate ligament (I speak from bitter experience here: I was fostering a 9 year old collie cross dog for a rescue: he loved playing fetch, so we played lots of exciting chuckit games with him. He damaged his cruciate and required expensive surgery followed by hydrotherapy. We no longer play such energetic games with our foster dogs).

I would walk a dog like that morning and evening, building up gently to maybe a couple of miles, and probably give him some offlead or long-line time where he'd have a choice of running, sniffing, and exploring. Labradors often enjoy swimming, so if you have a local pond or river that is safe for dogs to swim in, that would offer a form of exercise that's fun but safe for his joints.

Keeping the weight down is important for arthritic dogs, so if he's a bit overweight, I'd also start measuring his food and counting his treats.

  • It seems you're spot on, and unfortunately we're learning the hard way. He started limping a couple weeks ago and when we took him to the vet again more recently, he said allowing our dog to go on long walks may have aggravated the dog's arthritis. Needless to say, we feel awful now, but at the same time our dog was so happy and still wants to go on longer walks even though he tries not to use his from left leg. The vet did suggest trying to take our dog swimming and cutting back his food to a certain number of calories to help him lose weight. – rob Apr 30 '15 at 23:24
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Border Collies do well with a lot more exercise than the average dog, and more than the average human wants to do. The idea of "walking" a Border Collie always makes me smile. (I used to raise BCs.) Of course, some of this depends on his temperament and his previous level of activity.

Border Collies are a working breed, and often run many miles/day.

If your dog likes to chase a tennis ball, an easy solution is to buy a new chuck-it, and a box of used tennis balls (don't bother with the chuck-it balls) off of eBay or a similar site. Take him to a park that is empty, stand in the middle, and chuck balls to all the extremes of the park. Go easier at first, and always keep a bottle of water and a small bowl he can drink from nearby. As he picks up energy, you can do this until he starts getting tired - he'll lay down between balls and pant. Then make a loop to pick up all the balls (I use a 3 gallon bucket). Always mold exercise depending on temperature and surface.

When my dogs were younger, we did this twice a day every day, and the vet was very happy with the shape my dogs were in. My dogs are older now and we're down to three or four times a week. My 10 year old has mild arthritis, but she would do this three times a day if she could. I also walk then several times a day.

Oh, and border collies are happy with other jobs as well. Teaching them tricks is as interesting as exercise to them (good to know on a rainy day.)

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