Cancer Care

When Treatment Starts, Play Doesn’t Have to Stop

How to keep your dog engaged and moving during cancer treatment when they may be feeling down

silhouette dog with stick on grass at sunset

Article Highlights

  • Your dog may lose energy with cancer treatment—you can help by staying involved.

  • Engaging activities like playing and hiking can improve their quality of life.

  • Puzzle games and hide and seek can stimulate your dog’s brain and encourage movement.

With cancer treatment, your dog may experience a decrease in energy. Finding new ways to play with your dog will help both of you. Play and laughter are good for everyone and it will improve your dog’s quality of life.

Play with Them

Join them in their favorite games. Engagement with you will interest your dog, helping them to get moving again. Consider incorporating this when trying any of the methods below. They will enjoy your companionship and seeing you celebrate with them when they succeed.

Gentle Tug and Play

It is okay to tug a rope with your dog. You may need to be gentler, but there are ways to modify the game to ensure safe play. When they are laying down, place the toy or rope in front of them and pull away or move it around in different directions. You can repeat this action with words of encouragement, moving the toy closer and farther until your dog engages. Take your cues from your dog and keep it gentle. This may just be enough to get your dog mobile again.

Hide and Seek

Turns out kids and dogs like hide and seek. Many dogs like the reward of finding a treat after having to search for it. Try to lure your dog with treats around the house and then hide the treats in a different room so they must find them. This could not only get them moving physically, but get the gears turning in their brains, too. For extra fun, go with them to offer support and praise when they find the treat. Being with them on the journey will be rewarding for both of you as you see them moving and they see your excitement when they succeed.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Learning new tricks is always enriching for dogs and of course they enjoy the reward when they succeed. You can engage them with a familiar “sit” or “paw” to get their attention. Introducing a new trick will stimulate your dog’s brain and encourage activity. You and your dog will find joy in the satisfaction of learning a new trick and keeping each other on your toes!

Puzzle Treat Toys

Try to change up mealtime with a puzzle feeder. These feeders make dogs work to get their food, challenging their brains and bodies to move. Veterinarians recommend puzzle feeders to satisfy their natural instinct to hunt and slow down the consumption of food. Slowing down their eating may help prevent your dog from getting sick when their diet changes. It may be difficult for your dog to figure out at first, so be patient and stay with them while they learn. Including a special treat will encourage your dog even more, especially if the scent is appealing.

Invite them to Family Game Night

Incorporate your dog into family movie night or game night. Allow them to snuggle up on the couch with everyone and get lots of affection. You can even take turns with tugging games or fetch during the movie or game. This keeps your dog connected with everyone, and it is especially important for them to feel that comfort now.

If you go on a hike or go to the park, bring your dog along, but be prepared. Bring plenty of water to keep your dog hydrated and be aware of their limits. You don’t have to go far for a new experience–check out what is going on around your town and remember that your dog might be excited to just get out of the house again. Fresh air is always good for everyone. New places and activities for you and your dog will bring joy and shared experiences strengthen the bond between you.