Senior dogs are similar to puppies, they are opposite sides of the same coin, a tender trap of sorts.
A senior dog will require more of your time, more of your observational skills, and a gentler and kinder environment with you in it more often. But truly it is standing in reverence of a life well lived, and there really is no more honest place to be.
YOUR HOME needs to be a safe place for your senior dog.
- If you have slick floors, buy runners. Senior dogs tend to get weakness in their hind-end and need stable footing
- If you have a lot of stairs it is a good idea to gate areas that are stair free to minimize accidents
- If you have a multiple dog household, or just brought in a brand new puppy, again gates make a safe household and allow your senior dog to have a safe and peaceful place
- No dog-doors. You go out of your home with your dog and back into your home with your dog
- If your senior dog enjoys laying in the sunshine outside make sure that it is in a fenced area for your senior dogs safety
- Water should be available in all of the rooms your senior dog is in during the day. Hydration is super important, so make water easy to access
- The temperature should be observed, is your dog comfortable, maybe more warmth, maybe a cooler area. Observe the spaces your dog is choosing and why
- … look around your house with your set up, and adjust what is necessary for safety
STRESS is very real with aging. A senior dog does best in conflict free and stress free environments. Dog parks, festivals, busy downtowns, school yards, all of them way too much for an aging dog. But the household should be looked at the same. With a senior dog it is a settling, a calming, and creating a household that feels safe and something they can trust. Senior dogs tend to stress much more easily, and take much longer to recover.
TIME WITH YOU is more important than pretty much anything else. As a dog ages you will find them wanting to be with you, next to you, in the same room, going on errands, or doing chores. This is normal aging, it is about safety, it is about trust, and it is about you being the constant in your dogs life.
YOUR OBSERVATIONAL SKILLS will count for a whole awful lot as your dog ages. Watching your dog move, eat, drink, sleep, will give you a great deal of information on how they are doing.
- One day you may observe that their hearing is not so great any longer, so being off leash would be unsafe
- Maybe you realize you aren’t sleeping well, and then notice that your senior dog is up and pacing during the night. Temperature, upset digestion, confusion, or needing a more comfortable place to sleep? These are pieces of the puzzle and the adjustment stage
- Your dog didn’t eat one day, and then you notice that it is becoming more and more frequent. A great time to invest in learning more about an aging dogs diet
- Your senior dog is urinating more often or less often, and the color is changing. Maybe a good time to invest in reading or having a visit with a trusted health care professional
- Your senior dog is either becoming bladder or bowel incontinent. This can be daily or every once in a while and is not uncommon. You might want to invest in potty-pads on their beds and have a basket of old towels for clean up
- Disc or fetch play that was daily and explosive and dynamic may no longer to appropriate as you are seeing a bit more limping more often. Changing to water play with safe entry and exit, sitting in the yard and tossing the toy to your dog instead of them chasing and coming to an abrupt concussive stop may be more appropriate
- … and so many more things to observe
MENTAL EXERCISE is super important and should be worked on daily. Whether it is doing chores with you, tricks, recalls, or teaching something new. Old dogs can in fact learn new things, and this is vital for health. Confusion with age is not uncommon in dogs, so the more you exercise their mind, the better the outcome with age.
PHYSICAL EXERCISE is important, if you don’t use it you will lose it. Locomotion, full range of motion, and movement are really important to over all physical health and conditioning. Swimming, if your dog is a swimmer, is one of the kindest ways to exercise an aging body. Really conditioning and not concussive as long as the entry to water is safe and smooth. Walks and hikes are also good ways to get movement, however, and this is where you will know your dog best, I would not advice going to far from home. When a senior dog decides enough is enough, you have to know if you can carry your dog home, or call someone to help you get your dog home. So being ten miles into the backcountry may not be the best choice for a senior dog.
TLC is a good thing for an aging dog. They are going to get lumps and bumps, stiff joints here and there, and maybe some other age related things. There will be good days and bad days and everything in-between as your dog ages.
- Learning about canine massage or hiring a professional
- Regular acupuncture or chiropractic visits help to keep the body balanced and functioning as a whole
- Brushing as form of bonding
- Laying on the floor together and sharing space and time
- Laying in the yard together and enjoying some sunshine
- Senior dogs like to sleep more often and for longer periods of time, this is restorative and important, make sure you create a safe place for your dog
- … and so much more
NUTRITION is important to understand with your senior dog because their requirements change as they age.
- Food and nutrition are not synonymous
- A senior dog needs more high quality protein, not less
- Synthetic anything, grains, and fillers are not adding to health
- Collagen, digestive enzymes, and soil-based pro biotics are all important additions, keeping the quality of the product in mind
- Moisture with food, like bone broth, raw goats milk, kefir, whole fat yogurt, water
- Warmth counts, adding warmth to their morning meal helps to gently wake up the digestive system
- When your senior dog starts to refuse certain foods they are letting you know that those foods no longer serve them. Don’t keep trying to push something that they are letting you know straight up does not work for them any longer
- If your senior dog is vibrantly healthy with the diet you have created for them, don’t change it if they are still eating well
- If your senior dog is not really healthy and you have them on the minimal requirements for nutrition, which is all bags of kibble, it is a good time to work with someone in the canine nutrition world and develop a diet that will not only feed your dog but nourish an aging body
- In my career I have observed that raw fed dogs tend to have a good appetite, although a decrease in volume, until the very end. With kibble fed dogs, digestion becomes an issue with aging
SOCIALIZING is a good thing for a senior dog as long as it is something they want to do.
- Some senior dogs love human interactions, at home or in stores, and other senior dogs find this too stressful. So you have to know your dog. The people they like, and the location they like to socialize in. Never force interactions with a senior dog
- Dog-Dog socializing comes with a very fine line. As a senior dog ages, and they start to lose some mobility, some of their senses, or reaction time, they don’t want to be with other unknown dogs off leash running around. They know they are vulnerable. While they may live with dogs, or have good dog friends, socializing tends to fade with time. A short hello, going out to potty together, maybe eat together, and then alone time. Please do not take your senior dog to a dog park or a trail that is high traffic, you are truly not doing them any favor, and in fact may be causing them more stress and potential harm
SENSES FADE with time. Some senior dogs have great hearing, eye sight, sense of smell, and tactile sensitivity until the day they die, but most don’t.
- HEARING – Senior dogs tend to loose hearing or certain tones first. A dog with low to no hearing should not be off leash outside of a fenced area. This is safety
- SIGHT – The second to go is eye sight, most of the time this is just partial to very little. Some dogs do loose all of their sight but there are other driving disease concerns behind that. Sight changes are usually apparent in low light, dappled light, or dusk times of day.
- SMELL – The olfactory sense, or sense of smell never diminishes in a senior dog, unless they live in a household with smokers, so scent in the house counts for a lot. Food scent, calming scents, your scent, all give information and hopefully the information is about comfort.
- TOUCH – The kinesthetic sense is often times over looked by senior dog owners. Touch may be comforting or it may cause pain. It is good observational skills and understanding of what the aging dog needs that is most important.
UNDERSTANDING your senior dog and their needs as they head towards the final stage of their life is where a senior dog owner learns a great deal about themselves. It is a raw time, an honest time, and a compassionate time if you allow it to be. And as I said before, it is standing in reverence of a life so well lived.
In Health, Nancy