Getting old sometimes just sucks. There’s no way around that and what makes aging so much harder for pet parents is that we don’t get to grow old with our pets, we have to watch them grow old before our eyes until they are gone. For those of us that are suckers for pain, we do this to ourselves over and over again with multiple pets throughout our lifetime. Okay — in all fairness, the pain is totally worth the relationships we experience with our furry four-leggers. In my opinion, knowing that I provided the best life that I could for my animals and that we had a mutually beneficial relationship is what makes getting through the aging and loss process bearable.
To help you as a pet parent get through the aging process as well, I’ve compiled a few tips to consider when it comes to caring for your senior dog.
Chances are, you’ve heard the term “in dog years” before. When it comes to wellness, think in terms of dog years to understand how quickly the disease process can happen. For example, if you’re a female that gets an annual pap smear to screen for cervical cancer, imagine only having that screen once every seven years and running the risk of cancer having that much time to spread if present. For a senior dog, time can mean the difference between not just comfort and discomfort, but also life and death.
Senior pets should have physical exams and lab work twice yearly to catch concerning disease processes inside of the body early enough to treat them. Aside from blood work, your veterinarian checks other indicators during physical exams such as heart rate and sound, (to check for murmurs or other concerning cardiac sounds that non medical professionals are not trained to pick up), lung sounds, blood pressure, and even oral health (oral health is directly related to overall health).
Do your best doggie friend a favor and don’t skip the six month wellness visits.
The brain is affected by the aging process, not just the body. What that means in general terms is that you may start noticing that your dog is exhibiting behaviors that they never have before, or behaviors that you haven’t seen since they were a puppy. Some of these behaviors may be repetitive such as pacing or licking the floor, or their bed over and over again. They may start trying to eat things from a low table though they haven’t tried that since they were 6 months old. They may seem to forget boundaries in the house or begin losing control of their bladder or bowels.
Some are just aging changes while others can be signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction which is an age related neurobehavioral syndrome. According to Washington State University, up to 85% of these cases go undiagnosed.
The best things that you can do for your brain aging friend are:
- Practicing patience and compassion — be prepared to adapt and accommodate your old friend’s new needs
- Keeping your veterinarian informed of behavioral changes so that they can help you along the way with advice, recommendations for supplements or diets to promote brain health
- Play brain games. Keep their minds more sharp by keeping their minds in shape. You can teach an old dog new tricks! Old dogs need more rest than young dogs but they still need mental stimulation too.
As you age, the body doesn’t regenerate the way it used to and sometimes things just hurt more. A friend of mine who rides horses regularly said it well when she said she really just doesn’t have it in her to come off of the horse anymore — it just hurts too much. When you’re young, you just tuck and roll. The older you get, the harder the fall. The more you break. Your senior dog is the same. The only difference is, they may not be outwardly expressing their pain and discomfort to you as you might express to another person. Why? Deep down in the hindbrain of your dog lies a protective instinct to not outwardly show pain. All dogs are different and some dogs can even be the opposite (dramatic with pain) however, most animals instinctively withhold some information and are some level of stoic.
To avoid causing further discomfort:
- Be mindful of their space and don’t allow children to climb on them. They may become more reactive as they get older given that things just hurt more
- If you have other dogs in your home, you may notice shift in roles with the younger dog and the older dog. This is natural and is okay but be sure to interfere if the younger dog becomes overly pushy — jumps on your older dog, muzzle punches them, etc. I typically don’t interfere with dog to dog behavior unless it is causing one of them harm. Sometimes the youngster needs gentle reminder to give the old guy some space
- Provide a safe space for your aging friend. This could be a dog bed only they go on or a ramp up to the couch/bed in a spot that isn’t shared (especially for little dogs)
- Pick soft but supportive beds to make getting up and down out of bed a little easier
Senior humans often incorporate walkers, wheel chairs, comfortable shoes to choose from, ask others for help up and down, and have a variety of tools to help them with mobility if needed. Our dogs don’t have access to the same tools, nor are the same tools feasible to help with mobility.
Here are a few ways that you can make mobility easier on your dog:
- Keep their nails trimmed as short as possible without cutting into their quicks. Long nails make navigating hardwood floors or slick surfaces like tile floors much more challenging
- Traction is so important to help reduce the risk of falls and therefore injury. Using bath mats or no-slip area rugs on hardwood or tile surfaces can help your best furry friend get from place to place in the house without the risk of sliding and falling. Carpet sample squares are a fun way to map out safe travel paths in the house while also allowing some fun design influence
- Booties. Lots of people use dog booties outside to protect the paws from the elements and/or while hiking through various terrains, however, booties can also be a great tool indoors to navigate slick surfaces such as hardwood floors
With some basic understanding, empathy, and a few simple tricks, you can really make a big difference in the last years of your dog’s life. Our canine companions spend their lives loving and aiming to please, the least we can do for our aging friends is make them as comfortable as possible.
Watch The Video “Caring For Your Senior Dog” on my YouTube Channel.