There’s something so special about a senior dog; maybe because there is so much history together or maybe because of the increased attention they need from us. Whatever it is, these older dogs hold a special place in our hearts and today I’d like to talk about some things we can do for them to keep their quality of life as high as possible for as long as possible.
When is a Dog Considered a Senior
While there are certainly no hard and fast rules here (and different breeds vary a bit) the general consensus is that once a dog reaches seven years old, he/she is entering the senior years. Of course, many dogs will live well into their teens.
We use the word senior simply as a general term; as opposed to ‘puppy’ or ‘adult’. Reaching seven years old does not automatically mean health issues nor anything else negative. It’s just a useful term to describe a stage of life. The ‘senior’ label is a useful reminder that, just like people, dogs do need extra special care and attention as they get older.
4 Ways to Help Your Senior Dog
The good news is, there are many ways you can help your dog, and here are five low/no cost things you can do today; these are great to do as preventatives before you see any signs of issues, but can also be effective if your older dog is already showing signs of aging such as joint stiffness, limping, etc.
Jumping can put an unhealthy amount of pressure on your older dog’s body and can damage hips/joints/ligaments, etc. It is especially important for high impact movements like jumping out of a car or off of a bed or couch. One way is to simply not allow your dog to be in situations where he/she can jump, but that is not always possible nor feasible (I would never prohibit my dog from the couch!).
One of the best solutions is to utilize a purpose made ramp (or steps) and train your dog to use them. These can be used for cars, beds, couches, etc. and contrary to what a lot of people think, most dogs will easily take to them if presented properly. It is never too early to begin using ramps/steps. In fact, jumping can cause such significant damage that many people are introducing and using ramps/steps for dogs who are much younger as a preventative.
Maintain Physical and Mental Activity
Often, dog owners see their older animal slowing down a bit, and they react by drastically reducing physical and mental exercise. While it is important to alter the duration/intensity of activity to be appropriate for your dog, it is extremely important not to abandon it all together.
One of the best things we can do for our dog’s cognitive and physical well-being is to provide daily mental stimulation and physical exercise. Without this, your older dog can actually become depressed and will spend more and more time being immobile, both of which are unhealthy.
Of course, the appropriate amount and type of physical activity for each dog is different. The point is to keep it up. Walks around the block, hikes, play sessions in the back yard and even games in the house are all great ways to keep your dog limber and healthy.
It’s also important, especially for senior dogs, to give mental stimulation. Puzzle toys and treat dispensers are two of our favorites for this.
Just like the human health industry, there are a lot of unfounded ‘supplements’ marketed towards pets. One that is proven to provide a great benefit is glucosamine. It is a great supplement for older dogs and it goes a long way to help hip/joint health.
Plus, it is easy to give. For food-obsessed dogs such as Labradors, it is as simple as handing them a glucosamine tablet which they happily eat. For more finicky pets, quality glucosamine comes in other forms including powder which can be mixed into food.
All glucosamine supplements are not created equal and it is important to note the daily dosage. I’d recommend asking your vet for the daily dosage (in milligrams) and then make sure that the product allows for the glucosamine to be absorbed by the dog – we can help with that.
More Understanding and Patience
It is important to understand that our older dogs will, at some point, begin to have a decline in cognitive and physical health. It can be very subtle at first. I just want to share this as a reminder. Here are some examples where some knowledge and patience on our part can go a long way to giving your senior dog the understanding he/she needs:
If your older dog is seemingly being stubborn or seems to be ignoring you more than usual…it could be that his/her hearing is not quite what it used to be. Don’t be angry. Try interacting in a more visual way.
If your older dog begins to balk or hesitate at going up or down stairs, understand that it is probably because it is scary for him/her because their vision is declining or that it hurts their legs or hips. Don’t force them and try not to get frustrated at them.
If your otherwise healthy (but older) dog begins having accidents in the house every once in a while, avoid getting angry or reprimanding them. It is very possible that their bodies are giving them less ‘notice’ and they have much less control as they get older. In some cases, they may be ‘forgetting’ that they are supposed to go outside. In these cases it is especially important to show extra love and understanding as they will most likely show embarrassment immediately afterward.
There is a sweetness about senior dogs that can fill us up with so much love, and in some ways sadness in watching our best friend age. But it is also our opportunity to show them just how much we do care for them. Some of the products mentioned above are extremely important. But the most important part of keeping your senior dog’s quality of life as high as possible comes free…love, knowledge and understanding.
I hope this helps. We'd love to meet your senior dog. Come in for a visit anytime!