I can never write enough about how to care for a senior dog.
I hear about, and see too many people who, for some inexplicable reason, don’t seem to realise senior dogs need to be taken care of. Joints so painful their dog can’t walk should not be ignored because of their “my dog is old” attitude. Of course I find a nice way to explain, educate, hint…but as far as I know it always falls on deaf ears. Let’s hope I’ve given them food for thought, and it wakes them up. It also makes me more determined than ever to keep banging away until this message can no longer be ignored!!
When I talk about how to care for a senior dog, yes I’m talking about the basics, but I’m also concerned about much more than that. I want every dog to have the best life they possibly can, so these tips will also cover enhancing the overall quality of that life.
One more thing I need to mention
There are plenty of “old” dogs (according to the calendar) who have way more energy than pups half or more their age. Most of these tips are for guardians of dogs of all ages, although some of them will be specific to old dogs who have slowed down.
My 13 helpful tips
Do not ignore changes in behaviour, no matter how subtle
Any change in behaviour, no matter how subtle, needs to be taken seriously. It could be anything from your dog refusing to eat a meal (which in my dog Red’s case is a very bad sign), to noticing your dog peeing more or even howling or crying.
We can often afford to wait when this happens in a young dog, but not so in an old one. Something small can turn nasty rather quickly, so it’s best to have your vet take a look.
When I notice anything “off” about Red, I book the next available appointment. I’d rather be a frequent visitor, than know I could have prevented my dog from suffering but chose to ignore the signs she was giving me.
I’ve often told my vet he should have a loyalty card like coffee shops do!
Read this ⇒ Behaviour Changes in Older Dogs
It’s never too late to start feeding your dog a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet. That seems to mean very different things to various pet parents, so it’s important to figure out what that means for you. I know people who feed their dogs a name brand from the supermarket, those who prefer a raw diet, vets who swear by prescription diets and everything in between. Each one happy with their choices, and not looking to make a change.
Where does that leave you? Researching and learning the options, which I’m telling you in advance, will confuse you with the amount of conflicting information. It’s about wading through, evaluating the source and deciding what makes sense.
In the nutrition section of this site (you will find the category on the right hand side of the page), I have a variety of articles to help get you started.
Read this ⇒ Should Every Old Dog Eat Senior Dog Food?
You hear a lot about supplements such as fish oil, glucosamine and now bone broth for example, and the major differences pet parents have seen in their dogs. As with my recommendations about nutrition, I advise you to do some reading, and see what you think. Take that info to your trusted vet, or see a holistic vet for an alternative take on senior dog care.
Read this ⇒ Supplements For Dogs: A Whole Foods Approach
Nothing sadder than seeing a fat old dog who can barely move, except seeing any dog who is so fat their back looks like a table. Using their age as an excuse is simply unacceptable. Sure they’ve slowed down a bit and aren’t burning off their meals like they used to, but that’s not a reason.
Cut down on the treats, particularly the unhealthy ones and think of making your own. There are many very simple recipes for nutritious snacks.
Speak to your vet about reducing the amount of food, or changing the type to help control the weight, and don’t forget the importance of physical exercise.
Read this ⇒ Obesity in Dogs
Don’t be a person of extremes – my dog can’t hike so he stays inside. Ridiculous!! So he can’t run, but he can walk, even if it’s slowly. Rather than going out for 1 hour at a time, you may have to shorten each session but increase the frequency.
Swimming is great exercise as it’s easy on the joints, and something different (presumably) from the usual. Your town or city may have facilities for dogs when the weather gets colder.
He may not be able to chase other dogs like he used to, but he can play a game of tug…right?
Read this ⇒ Keep Your Dog Active Physically and Mentally
A social life
A social life doesn’t end when the date on the calendar says your dog is a senior. If he’s no longer able to handle the dog park, he’s missing his mates so why not arrange some play dates. It will give both of you the opportunity to socialise, and your dog will be in a controlled environment so he doesn’t get too over stimulated.
Don’t forget to include him in family outings like you used to. He may have slowed down a bit, but that is not a reason to leave him home alone. See the mobility aids section below for ideas to help make that happen.
A term many guardians are unfamiliar with, mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise in keeping your dog (from a puppy to a senior) fit and healthy. It’s important to find ways to keep their brain active, whether that’s through the use of puzzles, treat dispensing toys or homemade games, do something every day to get your dog thinking and problem solving.
Read this ⇒ The Importance of Mental Stimulation For Dogs
Some dogs become a lot less tolerant as they age, and that intolerance can encompass a host of things, including noise and hustle and bustle. A quiet space with a crate (door left open) or one of his comfy beds will give him a cosy corner to escape to when things get too hectic.
Deal with pain and discomfort
Pain or discomfort are common causes of behaviour changes, and should be tended to right away. We are responsible for the care and wellbeing of our animals, and allowing them to suffer in any way is simply unacceptable.
Mobility challenges should never be a reason for your dog to stop enjoying his life, and thanks to the number of mobility aids out there, he doesn’t have to.
If getting in and out of the car has been too difficult, and you are unable to lift him (or have had enough – perfectly understandable!!), a ramp is the answer. Ramps and pet stairs will also help him get on your bed (where else is he going to sleep?), onto the couch or a favourite chair. There are even ramps for boats!!
Read this ⇒ Mobility Aids For Dogs
Often overlooked but critical to overall health, is proper dental care. Ignoring oral hygiene can lead to serious health issues, including organ damage. Signs of dental problems include:
- Pawing at the mouth
- Not eating/eating less/not as enthusiastic as usual
- Bad breath
Even if your dog is not exhibiting any of these signs, it’s worth a checkup anyway. Have your vet assess your dog’s oral health and make a dental care plan which includes:
- Brushing once a day (or as often during the week as you can)
- Water additives to reduce plaque
- Chew toys
- Twice yearly checkups (recommended for seniors)
Vision or hearing loss
Vision and/or hearing loss are certainly not a given in every aging dog, but a possibility. If your dog seems to be ignoring you when called, is startled when petted, starts banging into things see your vet. A great tip I came across recently is to use scent to help your dog find his way around. For example, if you tend to gather in the living room, an essential oil diffuser in there could help guide your dog to you.
Be kind and patient
Of course you’re kind and patient, but you’re also human and the stress of caring for an ailing dog can come with frustration. Speak in a calm quiet voice and never shout…it’s not his fault.
Before I realised Red was suffering from dementia, things were incredibly stressful. It’s heart wrenching, and frustrating, watching your dog wander for hours, not settling, and not being able to do anything to help. Sometimes I would have to get out of the house just to take a break.
I realise it sounds like I let her wander and didn’t take her to the vet. Of course I did! I was there constantly. Diagnosis was a process of elimination as we were dealing with a few issues simultaneously.
How to care for a senior dog – conclusion
I find it incredibly sad how senior dogs are seen by many. They languish in shelters with little chance of adoption, yet I’m also encouraged when I see the number of rescues and groups devoted to finding loving foster or forever homes for our older companions. When I read of someone who has welcomed a senior into their home, especially a senior who is ill or with health challenges, it makes my soul soar.
While my mission is to help change the perception people have of old dogs, it is also to ensure everyone who is lucky enough to share their life with one has access to the best advice on how to care for a senior dog.
How do you care for your senior dog? Any tips or advice you can offer will help others, please share them in the comment section below, or on my Facebook page.