Seeing your dog reach seniorhood is a huge blessing. However, seeing them as they start to slow down a little can also be heartbreaking for pet parents.
There are times when we don’t want to admit that our dog is aging. We try to ignore the graying of their muzzles and dismiss the idea of buying “senior dog food.” After all, you can still see your dog playing around and having fun. So, who’s old?
Whether we like it or not, the best thing we can do for our dogs (and ourselves) is to accept the fact that aging is an inevitable part of life. We need to be attentive to the subtle changes in our dogs’ behavior and make the necessary adjustments to improve their situation as they get older.
If you want your older dogs to enjoy their twilight years, you should start incorporating these steps into your pet care routine.
Have your dog stick to a healthy, age-appropriate diet.
Weight gain can make it more difficult for a senior dog to stand, jump, or go on walks. To avoid this, you may need to adjust your dog’s diet to lessen their calorie intake.
If you have to feed your dog less than the usual amount, his consumption of vitamins and minerals may not be enough, and health supplements may be needed to make up for this difference. Before deciding which supplement to buy, consult first with your veterinarian. Adding something that’s not really needed can be hard on your budget—and your dog’s health.
Aging dogs also benefit from food that’s easier to chew and digest, so you may need to wet his food to make chewing easier and to avoid constipation. In this case, wetting his dry kibble down with water or switching to canned food is sometimes recommended.
Provide your senior dog with regular exercise.
Exercise becomes more and more important as your dog ages, but make sure to do it in moderation. Too much exercise might worsen your dog’s bone problems, but too little won’t support muscle development.
Regular walks and supervised play times in the park help keep your dog’s muscles strong and prevent obesity. It also helps improve your senior dog’s mood and alleviate anxiety and boredom.
When going on a walk with your dog, remember to choose a collar that’s durable but comfortable enough so as not to restrict her breathing especially if your breed is succeptible to a collapsed trachea. You can also have the collar engraved with your dog’s name as an extra precaution in case she gets away while you’re outside.
Put a premium on regular grooming and dental care.
Brush your dog’s coat regularly to avoid development of mats and tangles. You can also start investing in natural shampoos and conditioners that will help nourish and heal irritated skin and coat which is common in senior dogs.
Aside from maintaining your dog’s coat, another important aspect of grooming is checking his nails for excess growth and clipping them. Nails get less wear with his naturally lower activity levels, and this can cause pain to your senior dog and make him reluctant to walk and move around.
It’s crucial to take extra care of your dog’s oral health, too. Senior dogs are at higher risk of cracked teeth and gum disease. These are painful, serious dental conditions you wouldn’t want your precious dog to go through. Start brushing your dog’s teeth regularly using a finger brush and dog-friendly toothpaste. If you notice swelling, bleeding, or any sign of pain, schedule an appointment with the vet as soon as possible.
Increase your home’s accessibility to senior dogs.
Puppies sliding across slippery floors is kinda’ funny, but this isn’t the case for senior dogs. A little slip may cause significant pain for them, so much so that they may begin to avoid uncarpeted or especially smooth flooring.
When my first dog was around 14 or 15 years old, we put $7.99 bathroom rugs from Target down on the hardwood floors to help ensure he wouldn’t slip. Otherwise, his weak legs would just collapse under him when trying to hit a sharp corner or jump off the last step of stairs. He was so confused when his back legs stopped doing what he wanted them to do, he didn’t realize he was getting old!
Some senior dogs can go completely blind, so extra mindfulness is needed to help them navigate through the house as easily as possible without getting confused. If possible, avoid moving furniture and try to keep the same doors and drawers open/closed as usual. At this point in your dog’s life, it’s important to eliminate all potential sources of accident or discomfort.
Enroll your dog in supportive canine therapy.
If your senior dog is limping or her movement seems stiff and painful, there are various alternatives to conventional pain medication that are safe and effective. One example is pet Reiki.
Reiki can even help boost your dog’s immune system. It provides relaxation and helps remove stagnation in various parts of the body, which when left untreated can lead to hip, joint, bone, and other diseases common in pets.
There may come a day when your dog will no longer see or hear you. But even though you’re no longer able to play, your fur baby will be content with your general love and attention, just like the old times.
Dogs can easily get anxious if they don’t sense their pet parent nearby, it’s important to let your dog feel loved and cared for. Instead of worrying about how little time you have left together, focus on how you can make the remaining months or years of your dog extra special—by showering him/her with unconditional love they so freely give us.
About the Writer
Dani Smith is a content creator for dogIDs. Aside from writing, you’ll find her mountain biking with her dog Crash, binge-watching her favorite series, or food prepping her next high-carb meal.