Having a senior dog in your life is an emotional rollercoaster. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They make you worry. They make you rejoice. My dogs are 12 and 14. Over the years I have learned a few tricks to adapt my care to their changing needs. This article is guaranteed to up your game as an owner of a senior pooch to keep them thriving.
Before we dive into the tips, remember that not all dogs age the same! As an owner of two older dogs with very different health statuses, energy levels and care needs, I encourage you to personalise this advice to your dog. Older dogs may have common aches and pains but treat your dog like the individual that they are. Let’s dive in!
1. Encourage daily exercise
A common mistake of owners of senior dogs is not exercising them. Even dogs that are as old as mine require exercise on a daily basis in some small way. Pip (the brown dog) is more mobile so he still goes on hikes and long walks with me.
Blue is less mobile and often only has the energy to walk to the end of the street. Not only does that micro walk help with her physical health, but it’s also a key piece of her mental health. She is still an explorer at heart and revels at the chance to go outside whenever possible.
2. Research supplements that support your senior dog’s health
We’re fortunate that there are so many supplements on the market to help our senior pups thrive. From green-lipped mussel powder to simple omega-3 enriched fish oil, your dog can benefit from a slew of supplements that will keep them mobile and happy.
Note: supplements are not essential for your dog’s diet. If you’re feeding your dog high-quality food appropriate for seniors, they’ll get the basic nutrition they need. Consider this list a boost to take them from surviving to thriving:
Green-lipped mussel powder – excellent for mobility and easing the symptoms of arthritis Fish oil with omega-3 – reduces joint inflammation
Vitamin C and/or E – good for promoting cognitive function
MCT oils – help with cognitive health such as memory and learning abilities
3. Organise monthly checkups to the V-E-T
Though your dog’s ears probably stand up when they hear V-E-T, the vet becomes their best friend in old age. You need to have a vet that you know and trust as your dog ages as they’ll need to visit often. To keep your senior dog thriving, try to get a checkup once a month or at least every two months. This will help detect any issues before they become serious problems.
For example, Pip had a small growth on his eye. It turns out it was cancerous. But since we caught it early and removed the tumour, the cancer hasn’t spread. 2 years after the operation, he’s doing incredibly well.
If your dog does need medication and frequent blood tests, your vet can support you by devising a realistic treatment plan. They can teach you how to administer medication and maintain your dog’s quality of life for as long as possible.
4. Get to know the early signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS)
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is the scientific name for what we might call doggy dementia. Of all the ailments that can strike your dog in their old age, I find CCDS the trickiest to navigate. Yes, worse than cancer and heart issues both of which my dogs suffer from. The main signs that your dog may suffer from CCDS are:
Blue suffers from CCDS. It’s heartbreaking to see that she can often feel confused at night and paces in anxiety during the day. However, she’s still loveable and jolly most of the time. Learning about doggy dementia as an affliction can help you adapt your care should it happen to them. This includes preparing for “accidents” and being able to soothe your dog when they are stressed. Beyond physical care, mental health care is essential to keep your older dog thriving.
5. Only adapt your dog care if you need to
I hinted at this in the introduction. It’s common for us to know that our dog is ageing and treat them differently. We assume they’ll become a portrait of slowness, sleepiness and senility. But the truth is, not all dog’s age the same way. Take Pip for example. He is a spritely dog who was always spirited and high-energy. He maintains that spirit in his old age though he has a few more wrinkles and grey fur! He can run just as fast and jump just as high. He may need more time to recover from his acrobatics than in his youth, but many would mistake him for a younger pooch.
Don’t assume that because your dog is a senior, you’ll need to revolutionise your care routine. It’s entirely dependent on your specific pup. Are they slower and ailing like my dog Blue? In this case, adapt to their comfort as needed. If they are living life almost the same way as in their puppyhood, keep up their regular routine. Don’t condemn them to slower senior living until they’re ready.
Your older dog deserves to have a wonderful twilight life. I hope these tips helped you think of creative ways you can improve your dog care routine to accommodate your dog’s changing circumstances. Be attentive and holistic in your care and you’ll have a thriving senior dog for many years to come.
Written by Olivia De Santos
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