We see lots of information about how to care for and raise puppies but not so much about our older dogs. Whether you have had your dog in your life from puppyhood or had the privilege of adopting an older dog, their twilight years are just as important as their younger ones and we owe it to our dogs to make sure they have all the care they need.
Health is a big consideration as dogs get older, it is even more important to look out for changes in physical and mental health and address them with your vet. As your dog gets older a twice-yearly ‘MOT’ with your vet is a good idea to be able to notice changes and keep your dog happy and pain free as they age. Look for things like weight loss/gain, increase or decrease in appetite or drinking, confusion, decreased activity, hair loss, general condition deterioration and any changes in behaviour. Stiffness in movement is often seen as an inevitable part of the aging process but modern pain relief meds can really help make your dog more comfortable and maintain activity as they get older. Physiotherapy, massage and hydrotherapy may also help.
One thing people often don’t want to consider is continence; as your dog ages they may start to have little accidents in the house. It’s a bit like having a puppy again, remembering to let them out regularly, leave them home alone for shorter periods and if an accident occurs its no ones fault, just clean it up and move on. It is a good idea to invest in vet bed or similar easy to wash bedding.
It’s normal for older dogs to want less exercise but also vital that they do keep moving too, low impact sniffy walks may replace long road walks or hooning around the beach, and a couple of short walks a day may be preferable to one big one. Trips in the car to fun places may be better than long walks to them. Activities like scentwork (finding toys or food) or scatter feeding can be a good way to keep your older dog moving but at a steadier pace, with less impact on joints than activities like chasing balls.
Older dogs may want to sleep more and it’s now more important than ever they are allowed to do that, in a warm and comfy place away from disturbances. Dogs have changing sleep patterns too and wake up in the night but sleep more during the day.
Dogs may struggle to groom themselves as they get older and so it’s important us humans do it for them instead. A weekly groom and facewash is a great way to give your dog a check over as well as spending quality time together.
Diet and Weight
As older dogs’ bodies slow down a little their weight can often increase if still fed on the same diet. It’s important to monitor weight and adjust diet accordingly either through reducing calories by feeding less or changing for a senior food. Some dogs become less efficient at digesting food and may actually lose weight; in this case a vet check up would be best and if needed a higher calorie food/addition to food may be useful. Remember: carrying extra weight is not good for the aging joints and heart. Many owners feed their dogs supplements for joint health like glucosomine and oils, general vitamin and mineral supplements and antioxidants, so it’s worth talking to your vet about what could be helpful depending on your dogs needs.
Dogs can suffer with reduced brain speed and function as they get older and can show symptoms similar to that of a human with Alzheimer’s not always recognising where they are, who they are with, what they are doing or acting in strange ways like waking at night, barking at walls etc. It’s also worth noting that the dogs senses may be affected too and reduced vision and hearing can also make a dog unsure, confused or even scared.
Accessibility and Mobility
You may need to consider how your dog accesses things like the car and sofa. Ramps are a popular choice for medium/large dog owners. Your dog may not be able to go up stairs in the house or garden and so there should a suitable bed for your dog downstairs and a toileting area on ground level in the garden. If you have slippy floors it’s a good idea to put rugs down as your dog may be come reluctant to walk on them if slipping equals pain.
This seems like a lot of things to take into account and that having an older dog is all doom and gloom but it really isn’t. Having an older dog in your life is just the next chapter. You get time to spend with your best friend, less exercise and physical activity doesn’t mean less fun, it means more time to take in the important things in life, stopping at dog friendly cafés, watching the waves on the beach, enjoying the Summer sunshine and a really great excuse to not venture out in the rain for a walk but to put on a movie and have a cuddle with your dog instead. As dogs get older it makes us appreciate each day with them more and live in the moment ‘being more dog’ ourselves.