It's hard to watch your dog grow old, but it's a natural occurrence — and one that you cannot control. While you might eventually begin to take shorter walks or slow down on outings, you can still provide your senior dog with a happy lifestyle as they age. Of course, the way you care for your aging dog will change through the years.
“There are a lot of special considerations owners should keep in mind when handling and caring for an aging pet,” explains Sally Morgan PT, CST, a pet specialist based in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Here’s what you should know.
"The most important thing for owners to know about senior dogs is to continue to exercise them. While your senior dog may not be able to do the two-mile walks of their youth, they will enjoy and benefit from a walk around the neighborhood," says Morgan.
Regular exercise is essential for your dog’s physical health. "Taking two shorter walks each day is very helpful for older dogs to maintain joint health and decrease the risk of arthritis," states Sally.
While physical exercise is important, "Senior dogs need mental stimulation as well," says Morgan.
"I like to leave a treat puzzle or two for my dogs when they are alone for an hour or more,” she says.
You can teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, you may find that working with your older dog (who is likely closely bonded with you and calmer now) may be easier than it would have been a few years ago. "Dogs love interacting with their people, and teaching tricks is a great way to engage an older dog,” says Morgan.
Dogs need different nutrients (and amounts of nutrients) depending on their age and activity level, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).
There are many considerations to keep in mind when changing up your aging dog’s diet. "Senior dogs need fewer calories, so, you may have to use lower calorie treats and in addition to switching to a senior dog food,” says Morgan. “Many pet parents even decide to start cooking for their dogs to meet specific health needs as they age.”
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You'll likely notice your senior dog begin to slow down with age — they might have trouble jumping up on the bed or sofa. Adapting to your dog’s changing mobility can help keep them as mobile as possible.
"Senior dogs may also need orthopedic beds to support their aging bodies," says Sally. "For some breeds, a taller, memory foam bed can even be useful to help the pet come to standing after a long snooze.”
Stairs can also become challenging. "Your dog may need to be carried or helped up and down stairs,” says Morgan. There are many types of harnesses that can help; or you can use a towel around your dog’s mid-section to assist with stair climbing. There are also many types of ramps available to help pets get on and off furniture.
Talk to your groomer about any concerns you may have regarding your senior dog's care. For instance, a big fluffy dog may be more comfortable getting a close trim over the summer; a thin-haired pooch might want a winter wardrobe.
Toenail trimming can be tricky with older dogs, too. "Long nails can be a real hazard for a senior dog’s mobility, so a regular visit to a groomer can help," says Morgan.
What’s more, regularly trimming the hair between the pads of your dog’s paw can help prevent your dog from slipping on hardwood and tile floors.
"And, like people, dogs that look better, feel better," says Morgan.
In addition to its regular visits to the veterinarian and groomer, your senior dog may benefit from complementary therapies.
"Acupuncture and chiropractic care can be very helpful to keep senior pets mobile and healthy," says Morgan. "Many vets, as well as other practitioners, offers these services."
Speak up at your senior dog’s next vet visit to get an expert’s perspective on whether alternative therapies may help your pup age gracefully.
Your senior dog deserves a knowledgeable and kind family who can give them what they deserve. Following these steps can help you care for your aging dog and give your senior pup everything they need to live a long, happy life.