By Priyanka Kaushal*
Pet care changes as our beloved furry family members age. Sometimes we don’t want to admit that our dog is aging. If your dog is going a little grey in the muzzle, he may be entering the senior stage of his life. Yes the word is ‘senior’! When your vet utters this word, you may not like it as now your once spry playmatemay stop jumping after his tennis ball, and your formerly vigorous walks with him mayturn into leisurely strolls. But the truth of the matter is that the best thing you can do for your dogs is to look aging right in the face. Caring for an elderly pet takes a little more attention than you might think. You need to become highly tuned to the subtle changes in your dog’s behaviour and receptive to ways to improve his life.
When does a Dog Becomes ‘Senior’?
Just like us, dogs get older gradually – there’s no exact age that they become ‘senior’, but they can usually be considered to be of an older age between 5-9 years old. The age that your pet is considered to be ‘older’ depends on what dog you have, as typically smaller dogs have a much longer lifespan than giant breeds. The American Veterinary Medical Association considers a medium-sized dog to be elderly at the age of seven years old. Ten years for a dog is roughly equivalent to 58 human years; for a large dog, however, that equates to 66-78 years.
Tips to Take Care of ‘Senior Dogs’
Just like humans, of course, many factors influence the health and longevity of our pets. Diet, lifestyle, and genetics all influence your pet’s health as they age. If you need to take care of a dog that is older, making subtle changes to your dog’s routine, veterinary care, and home environment. While you would definitely need an expert advice in case of serious health care concerns, however, following are a few pet care tips to help you give your furry friends the golden years they deserve and you can both thoroughly enjoy their remaining years:
Watch Your Senior Dog More Carefully:As they age, we need to keep a close eye on them, so that they don’t get into situations where they can get in danger or hurt others or themselves.
Schedule regular vet visits: Your veterinarian can advise you on the best routine. It’s important to get your pet to the vet. Regular medical exams give you and your pet the advantage in catching age-related health problems.
Keep Your Dog Active:As dogs age, it’s important that they continue to get plenty of exercise. Regular walks and park visits help keep your dog’s muscles strong and supple, prevent obesity, or stimulate his appetite as needed, as well as improve his mood and prevent anxiety and boredom. Muscle mass is the main driver of metabolism, and dogs that lose muscle mass develop frailty syndrome, which accelerates the aging process.
Keep Your Senior Dog’s Handicaps in Mind: Many senior dogs have decreased hearing, vision, and mobility, so make sure the environment is safe. Contact your vet if you notice any of the weird or serious symptoms for an extended period.
Keep Floors Clutter-free and Avoid Changing Furniture Locations:A dog’s sight, smell, and hearing, all deteriorate with age. This forces your dog to rely more on memory when moving around the house. For this reason, avoid moving furniture as much as possible and minimize clutter on floors.
Add Non-Slip Rugs to Hard Floors: Just like humans, dogs can start to lose their balance with age. A slip is much more painful for a dog with osteoarthritis than it would have been when he was younger. The best solution is to buy a non-slip runner to cover any hard floors. Yoga mats can work really well and are inexpensive!
Try Using a Dog Support Sling: If your senior dog has mobility problems, a dog support sling or a specially designed dog harness can be a big help. Dog support slings are designed to help make walking, climbing stairs, going to the bathroom, or getting into the car easier for your senior dog.
Spring for Some Supportive Canine Therapy: If your older dog is limping or seems stiff and painful, there are a number of effective, safe, natural alternatives to conventional pain medication for his pain. Veterinary physical therapy, veterinary acupuncture, laser therapy are a few examples.
Buy a Portable Ramp to Help Your Dog Get into the Car:As your dog gets older, tasks that were once simple need a bit more thought. Getting in or out of the car is a great example, as a dog with a joint pain may be reluctant to jump. In such a case, buy a portable ramp, so he can walk into the car without putting pressure on his joints. Make sure you practice using the ramp before he actually needs it.
Buckle Up When Riding in the Car: If you’re driving your dog to your favorite hiking trail or park, be sure to use a safe seat belt and harness when driving with your senior dog.
Invest in An Orthopedic or Heated Dog Bed: Your dog’s bed can make the difference between a comfortable sleep and waking up with sore joints. If you want to take care of a dog that is getting up there in age, splurging on an orthopedic dog bed or a heated dog bed may help senior dogs that are suffering from arthritis and other joint problems.
Practice Good Grooming: Regular grooming is important as dogs age because they can develop more matting with less activity. An incontinent senior dog also needs his hair in the potty area clipped short and checked daily to ensure the area is clean, dry, and not irritated.
Do a Lump-and-Bump Check When You Groom Your Dog: If you become familiar with your dog’s normal body, you will more quickly notice new growths. This is critical, as the incidence of growths increases as your dog ages. The sooner you catch a bump, the better. If it must be removed, the smaller the spot, the easier the surgery, and the faster your dog will heal. Yes, a lump might be a harmless fat deposit, but it could also be a malignant growth.
Take Care of Your Senior Dog’s Teeth: Dog’s teeth become more sensitive and prone to infection as they age, and infected teeth can increase the risks of heart disease and kidney disease. Make brushing your dog’s teeth with dog toothpaste a routine part of your day. Using dental drops or products to decrease bacterial overload can be very helpful. Professional dental cleaning is imperative if there are any loose or infected teeth.
Use Natural Supplements to Support Your Dog’s Health: Nutritional supplements can be a good way to support your dog’s overall health. Nutritional supplements use nutraceuticals to work with animal’s natural biological processes and can supplement your dog’s diet. Fish oil is widely recommended by veterinarians for its many benefits, including healthy coat and skin and joint support. Don’t forget to consult your vet before administering any such supplements to your dog.
Adjust His Diet: All aging dogs benefit from food that’s easier to digest, and many need you to reduce their caloric intake to maintain a healthy body weight. Your senior dog may also need you to wet his food to help avoid constipation, or to make it easier to chew. A switch from dry to canned food can improve matters greatly for many senior dogs, thanks to its increased moisture content (good for kidneys) and higher-quality protein sources. Finally, if your senior dog’s appetite wanes, he’s probably not being ‘picky’, but suffering from a growing health problem. Report this to your veterinarian.
Provide Your Dog With Better Protection from Weather Extremes:Discomfort with extreme weather may surface in your dog’s senior years, even if he’s never had a problem with heat or cold before. During winters, he may benefit from a fleece blanket. When he is indoors, consider a Back on Track coat that offers double the bang for your buck, helping to keep him warmer in the house. In summers, be sure your dog can get into shade and has fresh, cool water. There are cooling coats and beds available in the market – many of which do a good job.
Keep Your Senior Dog’s Mind Sharp:Play dog-friendly brain games with him; these types of games are great mental stimulation.However, some senior dogs suffer from cognitive dysfunction and may need vitamin or nutritional support. Puzzle toys and mats are excellent options to challenge their minds to figure things out. You can still expect your dog to work but within his new limitations.
Give Your Senior Dog a Social Life: Dogs love to be with their humans, so if your dog has always loved company, consider putting play dates on your calendar. It is advisable for pet parents to honour their dog’s social habits and get to know what their canine companion does and does not enjoy in their new season of life.
Be Vigilant:It is always important to be vigilant when children and pets are together but especially with senior pets. Their joints and backs are often more delicate, so they are more sensitive and less patient. Teach children to be gentle when handling your senior pet and to recognize the signs when they have had enough!
Apart from all the aforementioned tips, the main advice for a parent of an older dogis to just give him lots of love. Special time together, even if it’s just cuddling on the couch, is what our happy senior dogs cherish most. And, fortunately, that’s very simple for us to deliver!
*Editor – Creature Companion Magazine