Dogs, just like humans, change as they age. They may have less energy, lose hearing or sight, or develop arthritis. It’s our job as responsible pet owners to help them age gracefully into their golden years.
Dogs become senior as early as six years of age (for giant breeds) to thirteen years of age (for small breeds). PetMD offers us 15 ways to help make your senior dog’s life easier.
- Install Stairs and Ramps
For dogs that may have trouble getting on/off furniture or in/out of the car, try ramps or puppy stairs. This can be helpful for dogs with joint issues or that have trouble seeing, and will help prevent injuries.
- Prevent Slips and Falls
Senior dogs lose some traction on their foot pads, and can more easily slip and fall on hardwood floors. Make sure your home’s area rugs are secured with gripper pads so that your dog remains stable when walking. It may also be helpful to trim the hair between the paw pads to prevent slipping.
- Check for Vision and Hearing
Older dogs may have decreased vision and hearing, making it harder for them to navigate. Even if your pet has been trained to stay within the boundaries of the yard, an older dog may wander off and is at higher risk of getting lost or being hit by oncoming cars.
- Buy (or Make) Comfy Beds
Soft bedding or orthopedic beds can help older pets with arthritis and decreased muscle mass by providing extra support and cushioning that the floor doesn’t offer. Making sure your dog has a comfy place to lay down will make his life much easier.
- Maintain Predictable Floor Plans
For dogs with poor vision, rearranging the furniture can cause confusion and stress. Sticking to a predictable floor plan free of clutter will help your dog feel safe and more comfortable getting around.
- Schedule Regular Health Screenings
Seniors should have scheduled wellness exams and lab work every six months. Judy Morgan, DVM, and author of From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing, recommends a CBC (complete blood count, which checks for anemia, infection, cancer), a Chem Screen (which checks for liver and kidney function, blood sugar, electrolytes, pancreatic function, calcium, phosphorus), a urinalysis (checks for infection, stones, kidney function, diabetes), a thyroid test (checks for over or underactive thyroid), fecal exam (checks for parasites, blood, mucous), and heartworm testing.
- Watch for Signs of Illness
Senior pets are more prone to urinary tract infections, which may be the result of holding urine longer due to limited mobility and less of a desire to go outside. Senior dogs also have a higher risk of developing cancer, so any new or changing lumps should be closely watched.
- Make Time for Daily Activities
Senior pets should remain as active as possible to stay healthy. Strong muscles support the joints that can be weakened by arthritis. Low impact activities such as walking or swimming are best, and physical therapy can also be a great option for pets showing weakness.
- Check for Pain
“Many seniors are very stoic and do not show overt symptoms of pain,” says Morgan. The signs of pain may be more subtle – moaning when getting up, not eating as much, restlessness, or not sleeping. Close observation will help you learn the signs of pain in your pet.
- Keep the Weight Down
Obesity can make mobility issues much worse and put more stress on existing arthritis or joint issues. To help senior dogs with these issues, keep excess weight off with a healthy diet and regular exercise. It is also recommended to add a supplement to help reduce inflammation and protect joint cartilage.
- Learn Doggie Massage
There are many YouTube videos to teach owners how to massage their pups! Massages can help to ease muscle soreness and pain along with providing healthy tissue stimulation and bonding time.
- Practice Good Dental Hygiene
Dental care is just as important for pets as it is for humans, and is commonly overlooked by pet owners. Dental disease is painful for dogs, and may make eating dry food difficult for your senior pet. If your dog is not willing to have his teeth brushed, try dental treats, toys, or food additives to help keep his teeth clean.
- Don’t Skimp the Affection
As your pet ages, physical contact and companionship is more important than ever. Nothing tells your pet that you love them like a good belly rub or cuddle session. Every moment you spend with your senior pet is precious, and increasing the physical connection will strengthen your bond and make your pet more comfortable overall.
- Evaluate Your Dog’s Diet
Talk to your vet and other nutrition experts about what you are feeding your senior dog, and whether or not you should reevaluate their diet. Senior dogs have a higher protein requirement, and may benefit from a specialty senior dog food. Since “senior” dog food labeling is not regulated by any agency, beware of false advertising or marketing to senior pets.
- Talk to Your Vet About Supplements for Maintaining Your Dog’s Brain Health
Talk to your vet about the possibility of your senior dog developing dementia, a.k.a. dog Alzheimer’s. Dogs affected may show confusion and personality changes. Preventative measures can be taken to enhance your dog’s cognitive function. Consider using puzzles, interactive toys, or teaching new tricks on a daily basis.
Age can bring its problems, but maintaining good health starts with responsible pet ownership. Remember to keep your dog as active as possible, feed a nutritional diet, and visit your vet regularly.