Our dogs will always be our babies, even when their sweet muzzles are beginning to gray. But the day will come when you notice your pup struggling to climb onto your bed or panting a little bit more during a walk. These can be telltale signs it’s time to start adjusting to the lifestyle needs of an older dog.
Your dog’s breed largely determines exactly when he or she is considered “senior.” Smaller dogs (like Chihuahuas or Terriers) don’t reach their golden years until they’re 10 to 12, while a Great Dane will attain senior status at only five or six. Beyond size and breed, genetics, diet, and environment all have an impact on life expectancy.
Modern medicine can extend our dogs’ lives with the right combination of attention and preventive care. If you want your older dog to enjoy his or her senior years, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine.
1. Provide an age-appropriate diet.
A balanced diet plays a big role in keeping dogs healthy and happy as they age. Since older dogs may not have the same energy levels they once had, they are often at higher risk of developing obesity. It’s important to find high-quality dog food that’s specifically designed for senior dogs to prevent weight gain.
These senior food labels are often lower in protein and fat content, but contain more carbohydrates and nutritional supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine to help with common issues like arthritis and joint stiffness. Just keep in mind that dog foods with “senior” on the package are just marketing labels – not regulated – and it’s still important to review the ingredients yourself as well as check in with your veterinarian.
Like people, aging dogs experience joint pain and often have difficulty performing the same physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their overall well-being.
To keep your dog strong and active, take him on short, gentle walks and monitor his gait to make sure nothing is amiss. When going on a stroll with your dog, remember to choose a collar that’s durable but comfortable enough so as not to restrict your dog’s breathing.
Your dog needs plenty of mental exercise as well. Allow them to play with stimulating toys such as food puzzles and encourage them to perform any dog tricks or basic commands to help keep your dogs sharp.
3. Provide regular grooming and dental care.
As your dogs get older, their once luxurious and shiny coat can become dull looking and brittle. Senior dogs can also suffer from dry and irritated skin that can become even worse without proper treatment.
To keep your dog’s coat healthy, regular brushing is needed. This helps avoid the development of mats and tangles. We also recommend that you use only natural shampoos and conditioners that will nourish and heal irritated skin and coat.
Proper dental hygiene is all the more crucial as your dog ages. Regular brushing and professional cleaning can prevent painful dental disease and decay. It can also help avoid, or at least delay, chewing problems that older dogs usually experience.
Providing proper grooming and dental care regularly can be a challenge to pet parents who work full-time. If all the Zooms are messing with your grooms, you can take him or her to a nearby dog groomer to ensure that your pet’s coat and teeth are well taken care of.
4. Make your home “senior dog-friendly.”
Older dogs often develop arthritis and other bone and joint problems that affect their mobility. In these cases, your dog can benefit from a soft and easily accessible bed that won’t require jumping or climbing.
If you’ve got hardwood floors, it’s also a good idea to place “sticky” mats around the house to help an arthritic dog gain his footing and ease his movements a little bit. When my first dog was around 14 or 15 years old, we put $7.99 bathroom rugs from Target down on the hardwood floors to help ensure he wouldn’t slip. Those were rubber-backed rugs, but you could easily put grip tapes on the bottom of mats or other kinds of rugs. Otherwise, his weak legs would just collapse under him when trying to hit a sharp corner or jump off the last step. Mentally, he didn’t even realize he was an old man (RIP buddy)! He always seemed so surprised when his back legs wouldn’t work like they used to.
Some older dogs can also go completely blind, so you’ll have to make sure they are able to navigate through the house as easily as possible without getting confused. Avoid moving furniture if at all possible and try to keep the same doors and drawers open/closed as usual.
Aging is a completely normal thing, but it is very difficult and painful to witness all the changes that aging may bring your beloved dog. The best thing you can do is to live in the moment and cherish all the everyday memories with your pooch.
A geriatric dog can easily become anxious if they don’t sense their owner nearby, so it’s important to spend as much time as you can with your pup.
Even though your dog might not be able to see or hear you, they still need your presence and attention in order to stay emotionally and mentally healthy. So instead of dwelling on how little time you may have left, just spend as much quality time as possible with them. And be sure to share that same love they give you—that unconditional love that makes life with a dog so special.
Not all dogs age the same, but what is certain is that they all slow down at some point. Aging is the natural process of things, and every owner should be prepared for it.
As a dog grows older, they will have less energy, more trouble walking, and may lose sight or hearing, among other things. This might sound scary, but these things won’t happen overnight and your pup and you will have time to adapt to new circumstances. With proper elderly dog care and attention, your dog will maintain his/her health and continue to lead a happy life for many years to come.
Dani Smith is a content creator for dogIDs. Aside from writing, you’ll find her mountain biking with her dog Crash, binge-watching her favorite series, or food prepping her next high-carb meal. Visit her at: https://www.dogids.com.