Caring for a senior dog may bring challenges, but we consider it a joy, honor and a privilege to have shared our lives with a senior dog. That is especially true if you had that now-senior dog from when he or she was a puppy.
Yes, a senior dog may become incontinent, lose their hearing or sight, suffer from dementia and have more medical issues, but that is when they need us -- their pet parents -- the most!
The heartbreaking fact of being a pet parent is that you will outlive your beloved dog.
That is why so many pet parents seek ways to make the lives of their senior dogs easier, happier and as comfortable as possible. Caring for a senior dog is not difficult; it simply requires a different type of care and patience.
Senior Dog Facts
Dogs become seniors at an earlier age than you may imagine. Dogs are generally considered “senior” when they are seven-years-old, however large breed dogs are considered “senior” at an earlier age.
Small dogs are considered seniors when they are ten or eleven years old; medium breeds are considered senior when they are eight or nine years old; giant breeds are considered seniors when they are five or six.
Aging is not a death sentence for our dogs, just as it isn’t for humans. Aging just requires the pet parent to make accommodations for their beloved dog.
You are your dog’s first line of defense when it comes to their healthy aging; this is especially true if your dog is healthy and only needs to see the veterinarian annually for their check-up. If you see your dog hesitating before they go up or go down the stairs, they may just need a reassuring hand on their back to let them know you’re there.
If, however, your dog is struggling with the stairs, you may need to physically help them with the stairs.
A small dog can be carried up and down the stairs, a larger breed dog may need physical assistance in the form of a ramp or a harness to support them as they use the stairs.
Here are 7 Easy Tips When Caring for a Senior Dog:
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
As your dogs age they may not be as eager for long walks, but a lack of exercise could lead to weight gain. Additional weight will put more stress on their arthritic joints and cause more pain to get up and down and to walk stairs.
Ask your veterinarian and he or she may tell you it’s time to cut back on the amount of food you’re feeding your dog because they’re not as active.
2. Healthy Diet
It’s more important, as your dog ages, to feed them a healthy and nutritious diet. Ask your veterinarian what foods are recommended for your particular dog’s breed, age and overall health. Your veterinarian may recommend specific foods to ensure your dogs get the vital nutrients needed as they age.
Even though your pup may move more slowly, we’ll bet they still love to be outdoors. Dogs “live” through their noses and while your walks may be shorter and slower, they still enjoy the scents that waft their way while outdoors.
Also, if your dog is being active, they may not be as stiff when getting up and down. Exercise is ideal for humans and dogs, at any age. If the weather is too cold for your senior, engage in some indoor playtime -- a game of fetch or even a slow jog around the house to keep her up, moving and healthier.
When you take your senior dog outside to do their business or for a walk, you may want to consider dressing them in a jacket to help protect them from the chilly weather.
There are many types of jackets available that even a dog who has not worn clothes in the past may easily accept and wear to protect them from cold, snow and rainy weather.
When you bring your senior dog back into the house, make sure you dry them off, and clean their paws if they may have come in contact with snow melting products as that can harm their delicate paws.
Special note: You may also want to invest in a high quality bed for your pet that will help her rest more easily and one that won’t put stress on her aching joints.
Look for a bed that is thick and soft and provides both support and cushioning for sore, aching joints.
Place your dog’s bed in a warm corner of the house so they are comfortable and not in a drafty area when trying to sleep. After a walk or being out-of-doors, your dog will welcome having their own bed to relax and take a nap on.
4. Regular Vet Check-Ups
An annual check-up for your dog, at any age, is vital to his health. As your dog ages you may need to schedule more frequent visits especially if you notice changes in their health. Because you share every day with your pet you will be the first to notice any changes in appetite, pain or other ailments that may lead to the need for an additional vet visit.
Just because your dog is getting older is no reason to neglect annual vaccinations or titer tests. Your dog could be exposed to diseases and illnesses even if they don’t socialize as much as they used to.
Ask your veterinarian what other immunizations or other preventive measures you should take to protect your dog from illnesses or diseases. Ticks are very prevalent in many areas of the country and you don’t need to have taken your dog for a walk in the woods to be exposed to these biting insects.
6. Dental Check-Ups
Your veterinarian will check your dog’s teeth when in for a check-up, but if you’re only taking your dog to the vet for annual check-ups you need to make certain their teeth are healthy.
If your dog is suffering from dental pain, lost or broken teeth, they may not be able to chew the kibble you’re feeding and could be losing weight. Sore or missing teeth means you may need to switch their food to something that is easier to chew.
A dental check-up is vital if you notice anything changing in your dog’s mouth -- bacteria can set in and that can lead to heart issues in your senior dog.
7. Unconditional Love
This is one of the best ways you can improve the life of your senior dog. Take time to sit with them and simply stroke her fur. Lie with your dog on the couch and binge watch your favorite shows. Give them your undivided attention.
Be understanding of their changing health and changing needs. Your senior dog’s personality may also change if they start to lose their hearing or sight; you may need to make special accommodations to assure your dog you are still there with them.
Our dogs love us unconditionally and give us their undivided attention anytime we ask for it -- and even when we don’t! -- now is the time to slow down and enjoy every moment you have with your senior dog.
How are you helping your senior pet age happily and more healthily? We would love to know what other tips you might add to our list of caring for a senior dog. Let us know below!