The Golden Years: Senior Dog Care
Dogs are living longer than they ever have before, and we have the best of everything to keep them healthy and comfortable for a long time. Caring for the older dog is not a lot different than a younger dog, but there are important considerations to keep them at their best.
Keeping an Older Dog Comfortable:
As a dog ages, there are certain things that happen to his body that we cannot change like arthritic changes in his bones and joints and the inability to regulate body temperature like a young dog.
Luckily, there are wonderful products available to assist with pain and inflammation. Consider supplements to his diet that contain ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). Glyco-Flex, Cosequin, and Arthramine are examples of popular and readily available products.
Warmth helps to both reduce joint inflammation and to help keep your dog’s body temperature at a comfortable level. For dogs with little hair, non-double coated breeds, and dogs with little body weight, consider fleece coats and sweaters. Older dogs love these so much that they often don’t want to take them off!
Warm dog beds placed throughout the home are also a good idea. Orthopedic beds, beds that retain a dog’s body heat, or dog beds that you can electrically heat are all good choices to help him stay warm.
If your dog is accustomed to jumping on furniture or in and out of the car, consider small stairs to make climbing on furniture easier and a portable ramp for easy access to the car.
Keeping an Older Dog Healthy:
It’s important to keep your dog’s body at its healthiest, and there are a few things we can do. First, plan to visit the vet more frequently. Most vets recommend visiting twice a year for a checkup instead of just once. This way any changes that register on a blood test can be dealt with swiftly.
In addition, keeping up your dog’s grooming routine as he ages is imperative. An older dog will not wear his toenails down very much at all, so plan to cut his toenails frequently. Thorough brushing, both his coat and his teeth, should be high on the to-do-list.
Brushing his coat and feeling his body at least once a week will help quickly identify any changes in weight, small body growths and lumps, or any skin discoloration. Become very familiar with what is normal for your dog.
Upkeep of his teeth is one of the most important things you can do for your older dog. Unclean teeth lead to not only tooth decay and gum disease, but it also harbors tons of bacteria that move throughout a dog’s body. This bacteria help to weaken your dog’s organs and immunity.
Keeping an Older Dog Happy:
As a dog ages and tends to sleep more, we sometimes forget that he still needs toys, playtime, and exercise. We can keep his body healthy, but his mind needs routine maintenance too!
Exercise must remain a priority. A senior dog might not be able to travel as far on a daily walk, but regular exercise keeps his body in good shape but also gives him mental stimulation. Any other activities he once enjoyed should also be maintained at an appropriate level. For example, if your dog was a hunting or agility star in his youth, try to tailor similar activities at a more do-able level so he doesn’t feel left out.
If exercise is becoming more difficult for your dog, consider water therapy with a pet physical therapist. Underwater treadmills provide excellent exercise for your dog while being easier on the body and joints. Many dogs that cannot handle a daily walk can do well with this exercise, and it helps to reduce muscle wasting.
Senior dogs can learn new tricks, so keep training a part of his life. There are plenty of new things he can continue to learn and will probably enjoy as well.
Lastly, an older dog enjoys toys just as much as a young one, but especially with chew toys, purchase items made especially for him. Kong toys come in softer rubbers, and all sorts of chew toys are tailored to seniors, like Greenies Senior. Rawhides and other hard chew products are usually too tough for an older dog’s mouth leaving them a tad frustrated.