Red, the star of this article, this website, and the love of my life died a few weeks ago, but the information and tips you will find here are as relevant as ever!
You may have just welcomed a senior dog into your life and if you have, congratulations!! Or your dog has reached that golden age and you’re starting to wonder if there are things you could be doing differently. I have adopted a number of senior dogs over the years, so my tips and advice come from experience, tried by me and tested on all of them!!
How Red came to be the love of my life
When my husband and I lived in Florida I volunteered in the “oldies room” at Tri County Humane Society, and that’s where I met Red. She is a Chihuahua/Min Pin mix, with a hint of Rhodesian Ridgeback! That’s right, there is that telltale ridge down her back, even though I can’t convince my husband of her lineage. Anyway, she was around 8 years old at the time, obese and blind but with the sweetest nature you’ll ever meet. What can I say, we fell in love with each other, and every Sunday when I went to volunteer she would jump around, so excited when she heard the sound of my voice. I would always walk her last so we could spend a long time cuddling outside.
We brought her home, had her eyes fixed because they were literally about to pop out of her head, and put her on a weight loss program. She’s still blind but not in pain and looking good.
Last month we celebrated 8 wonderful years together, and despite several issues she’s still going strong!!
I absolutely must have animals sleeping in bed with him, otherwise it feels too empty. Yes my husband is there but let’s face it, it’s not the same. For the first few years Red slept tucked under my arm, and we would stay like that all night. When we adopted Saffy, a puppy mill rescue, she was so terrified she only found comfort with Red, so she left our bed to keep Saffy company. Later on after Saffy died and Red started having to pee more frequently, it was safer to have her sleep in her own bed, the floor covered in pee pads. Naturally her bed was on the floor right next to my side, how far away do you think I would let her go!!
Three winters ago she discovered the joy of sleeping on a comforter (duvet to some!), and now she has two to choose from. She loves the extra padding it gives her, and they’re light enough she can scrunch them into any configuration she likes. Although she wears a sweater for warmth in the winter, I always keep a blanket on her beds in case she gets cold. It’s too cute watching her wrap herself in one, like she’s in a cocoon.
The type(s) of bed that suits your dog at one stage of life, may not suit at others so it will probably be a case of trial and error finding the next favourite. One thing I do look out for, especially if a dog has arthritis or some joint issues is, if you’re looking for a bed with raised sides so your dog can rest his head against it, be sure the front is low for ease of access.
Bathroom breaks and accidents
With age comes more frequent pee breaks, and with certain medications, even more! I take Red out quite often, and at night I cover the area where she sleeps with pee pads. The fact that Red is blind means I can’t just put a couple down and teach her to find them. Sometimes, no matter how many times they go out accidents still happen, and no matter how many pee pads you put down, they find the one tiny exposed spot!! Not much I can do but blot the stain and use a good cleaner.
Many people have successfully used diapers, whether they are doggy diapers or those made for human babies. Sanitary pads can be put inside and suspenders attached to keep them up. They are available in washable and disposable versions. I don’t have any experience with them, but I know of many people who do and they’re very happy.
Visiting the vet
I have had some wonderful vets over the years, and I’ve had the misfortune of meeting others who did not deserve the title. I am extremely fussy about the vet I choose, always have been, and even more so after several unfortunate and two deadly experiences. My current vet is a rock star whom I trust completely, and I don’t think Red would still be here if not for him. At one point I was also taking her to a holistic vet for acupuncture treatments, and supplements/herbal remedies that replaced drugs when possible.
Because a small thing can become a big thing very quickly, particularly in old dogs, I go to the vet at the slightest change. I know Red extremely well so anything out of the ordinary, no matter how minor it may seem, merits a phone call for an appointment. The thing is – I’m never wrong when I suspect a problem.
This to me is the most complicated topic of all. There is so much conflicting information, how do you know who or what to trust? Many vets believe in prescription diets, while others see no nutritional value. Raw food? Dehydrated? Freeze dried? Wet? Dry? Wheat free? Added omega 3s? Senior dog food because my dog is a senior? Yikes!!
For many years Red was on a prescription diet, first for her heart, than her kidneys. My vet believes very strongly in the science behind them, and in their efficacy. To be honest, I too have seen first hand how much they have helped Red. Of course my holistic vet was not impressed and created a recipe for a home cooked whole foods diet, tailor made for her. Her meal consists of boiled chicken, cooked broccoli, brown rice, quinoa, raw apple, raw carrot and olive oil. I will say since she’s been on it she hasn’t had any diarrhea or eating issues.
Update – We spent 4 months in Spain which is where we met the holistic vet. Although I kept Red on that diet for awhile, at one point her urea levels rose (which means kidneys), and my current vet believed it was because she was not eating her k/d…my holistic vet said it was a coincidence!! I compromised and fed her both!!
The absolute best advice I can give you when it comes to deciding on what to feed your senior dog is to do your research. Learn about the various options available, including pros and cons. Speak to other dog parents to find out what they feed their pups, and involve your vet as well. Don’t forget, a lot of the time your dog’s health condition(s) will limit types of food he or she is able to eat.
To get you started, here are a few links to some information I have found helpful.
Read this ⇒ Have You Found the Best Senior Dog Food
Read this ⇒ What to Feed a Senior Dog
Eating and drinking
About a year and a half ago I raised Red’s food and water bowls off the floor. She didn’t look like she was having any trouble reaching her food (bless her she’s always had a healthy appetite!), but I got this thought into my head that it might be more comfortable for her if they were elevated, and I do believe it is. You can find some beautiful adjustable bowls out there, but I went the DIY route and put the water bowl on top of an upside down glass casserole dish, and at meal time I hold the bowl for Red.
As Red got older, the amount of medication she was on increased. It seemed like every time I went to the vet with a problem, I came out with more drugs. My holistic vet was shocked at the amount my little dog’s body was expected to process. Of course there are times when drugs are necessary, and I will without hesitation give her what’s necessary, but in many instances a homeopathic remedy or herbal supplement can do a good job, if not a great job. For about a year I was able to replace her heart medication with a supplement, which I was very happy about.
Red now also gets regular acupuncture treatments (both needles and laser), and I see how much it has helped boost her immune system.
Good oral hygiene is critical for overall health, and yet Red makes it impossible for me to do a decent job, I should say any job! She weighs just under 10lbs, but when she clamps her jaws shut nothing is prying them apart. Even my vet needs back up! The thing is, if your dog has bad breath you know there’s a problem so I suggest you visit your vet sooner rather than later. Your dog may be in pain (you know what a tooth ache feels like!!), and really bad dental disease can lead to organ problems. Your vet will let you know what’s going on, and whether or not surgery is recommended. Discuss the risks and see if he can give your dog the mildest anesthetic available.
It’s really good to know how many dental care products for dogs there are on the market, so no matter how difficult your dog is, there should be something you find that will work.
I use a cotton pad wrapped around my finger with some dental gel on it, and while it’s still an epic battle it’s easier to get my finger in her mouth than a toothbrush. Since she gets so stressed I can only do it for a few seconds, but I feel it’s better than nothing. I also sprinkle Plaque Off powder onto her food. Other options are dental chews, bones, chew toys, water additives and the like. I try and go with the more natural products rather than chemical laden ones.
I’ll be honest – I don’t like when people dress their dogs up like dolls. However I do believe in dogs wearing coats and sweaters for protection in the cold and rain. Red feels the cold more than she used to, and a Florida dog living in England definitely has to get used to some chillier weather. She wears a sweater indoors several months of the year, and a coat on top of that when she goes out in the really cold months. I bought a lot of her sweaters in WalMart, and I crocheted a few of her coats. Because of her size I can make one from scratch in an evening. I’ve included the video if you want to give it a try, and you don’t have to have any crocheting experience to do it!!
Red’s fur doesn’t grow so all she needs are baths (which my husband does) and her nails clipped, which we have done at the groomer or vet’s office. No matter how old a dog is they still need to be groomed, but of course you have to be careful of painful joints which can make it hard for them to stand for long periods of time. Failing eyesight may make them nervous when they never used to be, and lumps and bumps mean greater care taken when shaving them. Having your dog groomed is also a good chance to check for any growths or changes that would otherwise go unnoticed.
If you’ll be taking your dog to a new groomer and he does have some issues, be sure the groomer is comfortable with whatever is going on. We had a deaf and mostly blind dog and it was impossible for us to find one who felt comfortable grooming her. I ended up buying clippers and doing it myself while my husband fed her constant treats. Anti anxiety medication, for both of you (LOL) may help if it’s become stressful.
Be careful of slippery flooring
Dogs of any age can easily injure themselves sliding across an uncarpeted floor, but an older dog who may be suffering joint pain or be unsteady on their feet can have a hard time getting around. Our kitchen is not carpeted and when Red is jumping around waiting for her food, she does tend to slip so I have to watch her until she gets the bowl in front of her.
If you can’t stand the sight of carpeting, try and get some area rugs to give your dog a non slip surface to walk confidently on. Yoga mats work well as do the inter locking foam squares. Another option is a product called ToeGrips which fit over your dog’s nails to help them grip slippery floors. I have no experience with this product, nor do I know anyone who has used them, but I have read positive reviews so it’s worth looking into.
How I exercise Red
Dogs of all ages and abilities need some form of exercise, the type and frequency will of course depend on the individual dog. Red goes out several times a day, sometimes just for a quick pee, but about four times a day for a walk. She walks well but I keep each outing to about 10 minutes or so. If I join my husband when he takes our other dog Jack out, or we take a day trip, I have a stroller I use for her. She walks for awhile, then rides the rest of the way. The bonus is there’s room for Jack if he gets tired, needs a break, or for safety in large crowds.
If any of you have a dog with mobility issues, exercise is still important although I know it can be challenging. A sling or harness can offer your dog the extra support to help get him moving. Don’t forget all the treatment options available as well!
In addition to physical exercise, all dogs need mental stimulation. Keeping the brain active staves off boredom and behaviour problems, and can help with the effects of doggie dementia. Interactive puzzle toys, treat dispensing toys, Kongs and games are all great ways to provide mental stimulation.
My top tips for how to keep an old dog comfortable – conclusion
As our dogs age we’re always looking for ways to ensure their comfort. Well, now you know what I do for Red and I hope you have found my tips helpful.
What types of things do you do for your dog? Sharing helps others so leave a comment below, or on my Facebook page.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club , my Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.
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