Many of us have senior dogs at home. In our house, we have a 3 year old and a 12 year old. That means a wild and crazy one still in her puppy years, and a beloved senior gal who moves just a little slower. Ok, a lot slower, but that’s ok. Her bed just gets a better workout than the younger one’s.
While our dog’s health is important at any age, as they get older, they often need a little more support. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways we can deliver that to our older canine companions. There are lots of things we can do to keep them healthy and happy and feeling loved.
Supporting our Senior Dogs
Some people think that, because our senior dogs don’t have the energy or stamina they once did, they don’t really need much exercise. This isn’t the case at all.
No matter your dog’s age, exercise is important. The benefits or exercise for both mental and physical stimulation are crucial to ensuring your dog is living her best life, even as she ages. Daily exercise can help with weight management, which is important for keeping extra stress off the joints. And the mental stimulation helps keep your dogs brain healthy.
If your senior pup has arthritis, it’s especially important. You want to keep those arthritic joints moving to prevent stiffness and decrease pain. Instead of one long daily walk, maybe try taking multiple short, slow walks a day. Short and steady walks up and down steep hills will help rebuild muscle loss in the limbs, increasing overall strength and stability. Our old gal has arthritis, and her walks are shorter and slower. Now, rather than a quick pace, she enjoys sniffing more than anything. But that change of scenery and mental stimulation is something she looks forward to every day.
Also, always make sure that your dog can handle the exercise you’re asking of her. Some older dogs do have the energy and stamina of their puppy counterparts. Others may not, but will try to keep up regardless. Make sure you’re giving your dog the chance to take a rest when needed, and that you’re not forcing her to overdo it.
Stability and Security
Last year, our girl suffered a partial CCL tear, and this, coupled with her arthritis, made stairs difficult as she healed. So, we built her a ramp going down the back stairs. We also noticed that her stability was impacted, and she doesn’t feel as stable on the hardwood floors, so we invested in a few more rugs and mats around the house.
Making seniors dogs comfortable in their environment can really help as they age. This could mean a ramp to use outside, or when getting in the car. It could mean a few more rugs around the house. Maybe you build stairs so they can more easily get up on the couch or your bed. Whatever the case may be, a few changes in and around the house can really make things easier.
Comfort goes beyond the physical though. Two common conditions our dogs may face as they get older are blindness and deafness. Making changes to help your dog to adapt to these physical changes is important. If your dog has lost her sight or hearing, these can impact self confidence and her stability as she navigates without one of the other.
With regard to sight, try not to move your furniture too often, and perhaps use more verbal cues, rather than physical ones.
With hearing loss, those hand signals are more important now than ever. And be aware of any increased anxiety. Again, our 12 year old has lost her hearing, so fireworks and thunderstorms bother her now when they never did in the past. This is thanks to the vibrations, rather than the sound. In these situations, a cozy tent fort with lots of padding on the ground works wonders!
In both cases, make sure you’re keeping safety in mind, especially when you’re out and about. A special collar or harness alerting others to your pup’s condition is never a bad idea, or even a note on your pet’s ID tag.
Paying attention to what our senior dogs eat is important. A fresh, balanced, healthy diet is a great way to maintain your senior dog’s health.
We’re big fans of a raw diet. As dog’s age, their natural gut flora changes and they may have trouble repopulating healthy bacteria and digestive enzymes. The fact is, time can lead to a decrease in organ function, and many organs play vital roles in the digestive system. Raw food is more natural and easier for senior dogs to digest, and less time and energy is spent on conversion of nutrition. This contributes to a reduction in need for digestive tract and organ performance allowing those vital conversion processes to last/perform longer. Because of this, fresh food diets made with natural and highly digestible ingredients are best for any dog, but are especially important for senior dogs.
As mentioned, weight management is important as our dogs get older. Older dogs are at higher risk of developing obesity since they no longer have the same levels of energy as before. There are several risks associated with obesity in senior dogs in particular:
- That extra holiday weight can put extra pressure on, and thus damage, joints, bones, and ligaments. This increases the risk of developing arthritis or joint pain in general.
- It can also increase the risk of heart disease and increased blood pressure. As the body is being asked to work harder, overweight and obese dogs are at risk of heart complications. If the heart has to work harder to pump additional blood to excess tissues, this can lead to congestive heart failure.
- Overweight dogs carry excess fat and this can often restrict the lungs’ ability to expand, making breathing difficult.
So, make sure you’re paying special attention to calories. Steamed or gently cooked dark greens, such as kale, broccoli, spinach or dandelion, used as food toppers are great natural sources of vitamins and add fibre without adding a lot of calories. Pumpkin can also increase fiber and fill a belly without a lot of calories. It can also help with bowel issues – both constipation and diarrhea.
What about supplements? There are many that can make that daily menu even healthier.
Some of our top picks include:
- Omega-3s. Omega-3s help to reduce inflammation and are great for skin, eyes, heart, bladder, brain, and joints. It’s really good for dogs suffering from age related brain dysfunction, vision issues, heart disease, and skin conditions. We’re fans of phytoplankton, complete nutrition that absorbs and resonates with the body’s synergistic process.
- Digestive enzymes and pre and probiotics can help dogs digest and absorb nutrients better. Gut health is important at any age, but it’s especially important to support your dog’s microbiome as she gets older.
- CBD oil. Whether you use it for pain management and to reduce inflammation, for cell health, or even just to improve a picky older dog’s appetite, CBD is a great daily addition to her regimen.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate. These are especially good if your dog is suffering from joint pain. They can help buffer the often-painful effects of fluid loss, which come at the hands of natural cartilage breakdown. This is one of our faves.
- Homemade bone broth is great for bone and joint support. Find out how to make it here.
Other Tips for Senior Dogs
These are a few additional tips to keep your older pup in tip-top shape:
- Support tired muscles and joints with a high-quality dog bed
- Keep up those grooming habits. Make sure nails are kept well-trimmed, and any areas that may not be as “reachable” are kept clean.
- Learn your dog’s body, and do lump-and-bump checks frequently, brining any concerns to your vet.
- Brush those teeth! Oral health is always important, but older dogs’ teeth usually need a little more care and attention.
And finally, show lots and lots of love. This is a no brainer, really. Our senior dogs need just as much love and support as our young pups. Give attention in other ways. And be patient. Remember, accidents may happen as our animals get older – never chastise, and let them know it’s no big deal. Furthermore, some of our animals may be more content to stick closer to home than head out for weekend getaways as they age. Others may crave human/dog interaction, so make sure you’re providing it. Pay attention to what makes your pup happiest, and deliver that in spades.
Not all dogs age the same, but they all get old at some point. Aging is the natural process of things and every owner should be prepared for it. Making small changes can make a big difference in keeping our senior dogs as healthy and happy as possible, for as long as possible!
The Veterinarious team is made up of pet owners, pet lovers, and pet experts from around the globe! We’ve banded together to create a community of like-minded pet people to give you the latest research and health advice for your beloved beast!