An aging dog doesn’t just bring the distinguished elder statesman look with their graying muzzle. No, their owners also face a different set of challenges from someone raising a puppy or younger dog. Senior dogs struggle with certain changes just as aging humans do, such as
degenerating bodies, cognitive decline, and more serious illnesses including arthritis.
As an attentive dog owner, it’s important to nurture your senior dog so they can enjoy their golden years as much as possible. Senior dogs need to be brought to the veterinarian for a wellness exam. The timeline for a
senior wellness checkup may vary based on the size of a dog. Whenever they do occur, they establish a reference point so any future decline will be noticed.
Noticing symptoms is the first step to managing them. If you are seeing behavioral changes in your dog prior to their senior wellness exam, keep a list so you can let your veterinarian know what your dog is experiencing.
For example, if their appetite has changed, if they have been incontinent, or if they fail to recognize their name or a basic command, it is best to let the veterinarian know. Even if there is no cure for some of the symptoms of natural aging, they can be managed with medication along with weight control through exercise and diet.
Your veterinarian may tell you that it is best to adjust your senior dog’s diet as well. There are dog foods specifically made for older dogs, and you should add a water bowl or two around the house so your dog has water convenient to them wherever they are. You can raise up their bowls if it is harder for them to bend to get their food or water and make sure to wipe up any spills so they don’t slip.
Do your best to keep your senior dog stimulated, both physically and mentally. You can adapt their favorite games to be a little less physically exhausting, such as playing fetch by rolling a brightly colored ball to them rather than having them run after it, or playing hide and go seek with their favorite treats in a smaller area.
Walking is a great low-impact way to exercise your senior dog. Make the walks shorter but more frequent. Stick to grass or sand if you can and try to avoid pavement or gravel. It may take an older dog some additional time to loosen up in the morning or after they have been laying
down for a while, so you should help them stretch before going on your walk.
Lower your dog’s head with a treat under their nose into the play bow position. Their front legs should be outstretched with their rear end in the air. Beyond loosening up their muscles, this stretch will
also improve circulation.
For mental stimulation, you can provide them with food puzzles that will allow them to lie down as they problem solve. Contrary to popular belief, it is also never too late to teach an old dog new tricks! Learning will help your dog’s long-term cognition. If their hearing is failing teach them how to read hand signals instead of verbalizations.
If your senior dog has problems navigating the house, there are a variety of ramps and steps that can help them get up and down off furniture. Make sure that the common pathways they use are clear so they do not have to contort their bodies as they navigate the house or their outdoor areas. As your dog ages, it’s up to you to nurture them as best as you can to make their senior years beautiful.