How to Care for a Senior Dog
Has your pup suddenly aged on you? Does it make you feel almost powerless to the inevitable? Well you’re far from alone! While we are all aware of the unavoidability of ageing, it doesn’t make it any easier when our beloved pets begin to grow old.
You may notice some physical changes, such as slowing down or wanting to exercise less, and some behavioural changes; these may include your dog becoming friendlier or grouchier, which may be a result of frustration with their hearing and sight worsening. That being said, according to the Blue Cross, sometimes personality changes can indicate pain or illness, so if you are unsure, it is advised that you contact your vet.
Why is it Important to Help My Dog to Navigate Ageing?
Dogs ageing can be just as concerning, if not more so, for our dogs themselves than it is for us owners. So, it will bring a lot of comfort to our furry companions, as well as making their lives easier, if owners understand how to care for a senior dog.
How Do I Care for An Old Dog?
There are several ways in which you can improve your ageing dog’s life by making small changes to their diet and lifestyle. Here are some of the most important adjustments you can make…
1. Provide an Age-Appropriate Diet
Just as puppies need specific dietary requirements, senior dogs will also need a special diet as their lower energy levels put them at greater risk of obesity; foods and diets for older dogs are designed to be lower in calories so as to prevent unhealthy weight gain.
If you are uncertain as to what diet to feed your pup, or if you notice changes in your dog’s appetite or thirst, it is recommended that you talk to your vet.
2. Maintain Regular Exercise and Mental Stimulation
While your dog may want to exercise less as they get older, regular exercise is a very important part of caring for your pet. Walking your dog little and often will help them to maintain a healthy weight, while also keeping them mentally and physically active.
Moreover, since muscles help to absorb the forces that impact the joints, strong and healthy muscles both support and protect joints from damage; and, without healthy muscles, there will be a significant decline in movement. So, regular walks will preserve your dog’s muscle mass and, as a result, keep them mobile.
Walks not only provide dogs with physical exercise; exploring the different sights and smells while out and about is a way of keeping them entertained and their minds sharp. Another important way to keep their brains active is through playtime. You can: play puzzle games such as Hide and Seek; buy some new stimulating activity toys; or even give your pup a food maze bowl which your dog has to work at to retrieve his meals in a fun and challenging way.
N.B. Keeping an eye on your dog’s gait and breathing during walks is a must to ensure that you are aware of any problems that may be developing.
3. Update your Grooming Routine
While all dogs need regular quality grooming, older pups may need some extra TLC. Here are some things to consider:
- Monitor the length of their nails. As senior dogs are less active, their nails will inevitably have less wear, meaning they will be more likely to grow longer and cause discomfort or even pain. So, monitor their nails regularly to see whether they need to be clipped. If you don’t feel comfortable clipping them yourself, take your pup to the vet who can do it for you.
- Take special care of their skin and fur. Older dogs may suffer from brittle coats and dry, flaky skin which needs to be cared for properly. As well as regularly brushing your pup to avoid matting, it is best to only use organic, nourishing shampoo bars or liquids.
- Soothe their sore paws and noses. Walks and general activity may cause your senior dog’s paws to become tired and sore, so using an organic paw and nose balm will instantly soothe their cracked paw pads and dry noses.
- Check for abnormalities. Regular, gentle grooming will also give you, the owner, the chance to check your dog’s body for any unusual lumps, as well as any tender or painful areas that may need to be discussed with your vet.
4. Protect them from Weather Extremes
Like with people, as dogs get older their bodies will find it much more difficult to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, it is important that we take special care to protect our ageing companions from both the heat and the cold.
During hot weather:
- Always have fresh, cool water available;
- Limit outdoor access;
- Chill their normal food or offer some frozen dog treats, such as pupsicles;
- Buy a Pet Cooling Mat for your dog;
- When outside, provide access to shade;
- Keep walks shorter than usual;
- Fill a baby pool with a safe level of water;
- NEVER leave them unattended in a car, even with the window open.
During cold weather:
- Keep your dog warm with clothing, blankets or extra bedding;
- Get them a dog coat or dog jumper for walking outside;
- Keep them toasty after having a wash, with a dog bathrobe or dog pyjamas;
- Maintain normal exercise levels;
- Buy a self-heating pet pad for dogs to keep cosy, warm and comfortable;
- Prevent your pup from getting wet outside and dry them immediately after bath time with a microfibre dog mitt, glove or towel;
- Don’t go for walks in very cold weather;
- NEVER leave them unattended in a car, even with the heating on.
5. Make Special Accommodations at Home
If your dog develops arthritis or other age-related health problems, their movement will be affected, making it more difficult for them to jump onto a sofa or bed, as well as climbing the stairs. So, making adjustments to your home, just as you did when they were a puppy, is vital to keep your pet happy and safe.
- Provide ramps around the house. Provide a ramp up onto your sofa or bed so that your dog, in their old age, doesn’t run the risk of injury when attempting to jump up. While it is highly recommended that old dogs avoid climbing the stairs, for those who cannot avoid them, consider introducing a dog stair ramp.
- Create a stimulating and fun back garden. As your dog will spend less time out on ‘walkies’ as they get older, they may spend much more of their active time in the garden, so it is a good idea to kit it out to make it an interesting environment for them. Some suggestions: hang ropes or toys from trees so they can play tug-of-war; add boxes, tyres, tunnels and small logs to act as an obstacle course.
- Ensure they sleep comfortably. Providing your senior dog with a thick and warm dog bed, along with extra dog blankets and even an extra dog cushion, will not only guarantee they get the quality rest they need to recover from each day’s activities, but it will also help with supporting their joints and to comfort the natural aches and pains of ageing bodies.
6. Regular Vet Check-Ups
Given that senior dogs are more prone to illnesses and age-related injuries, it is recommended that you visit your vet approximately every six months, unless your vet states otherwise. General wellbeing check-ups may include: a physical exam, an eye exam, urinalysis, blood pressure checks, x-rays and blood tests.
If you notice anything physically or behaviourally unusual about your dog, call your vet as it could be a sign of an undetected illness or injury.
- Spend Valuable Time with Your Dog
There’s nothing a dog will appreciate more in their old age than love and comfort from their owner. Moreover, many senior dogs easily become anxious if they can’t sense their owner nearby, so being by their side as often as you can is a big part of keeping them happy and calm.
Spending valuable time with your beloved pup will also give you lovely memories to cherish; continue to treat them as a beloved friend every day, just as you did when they were a puppy.