Taking care of a dog for its entire life is a beautiful journey, but it does get hard as they get older. It’s only because we love them too much that we want to do the best we can to keep them happy and comfortable. This article will give you some dos and don’ts to help you navigate their senior years and make their lives more comfortable.
1. Spend Time with Your Senior Dog
Your dog needs your love and attention; probably even more as they grow older. In 2015, M. Nagasawa and a group of scientists conducted a study that proved two crucial points.
One, eye contact between a dog and its human leads to an increase in oxytocin levels in both canines and humans. Two, physical touch leads to an even higher increase in oxytocin levels.
Now, oxytocin is known as the love hormone because it gets released during hugging, sexual activity, childbirth, breastfeeding. It’s one of the things that make us feel love for people and feel loved by them. It also helps establish trust and strengthen bonds. More importantly in the case of senior dogs, oxytocin has a few health benefits, like reducing stress, inducing sleep, and improving a dog’s mood. Not to mention, your dog loves you to death. Those few moments of your day can mean the world to them, and the scientific evidence doesn’t lie. Make plenty of eye contact, speak to them kindly, give them cuddles, pet them, and scratch their bellies. Not only do they want your love, but they need it too.
2. Keep an Eye Out for Joint Problems
Middle-aged dogs and senior dogs have a tendency to develop joint problems, especially osteoarthritis, due to many factors. Intense physical activity, obesity, and a poor diet, among other factors, add a lot of strain on the joints.
Unfortunately, some breeds, like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels, are more prone to joint problems than other breeds. On the bright side, however, you can make your dog’s life much easier if you spot their joint aches early on. That is why it’s important that you keep an eye on your furry friend’s movements. Does your dog stumble a lot? Do they struggle to get up? Are they slipping when your pet gets up too fast? Do they sit down in a rather awkward or clumsy way? If you answer any of these questions in the affirmative, or if you notice anything wrong, take your dog to the vet as soon as you can.
3. Make Sure They Get Regular Exercise
As your dog ages, maintaining its muscles toned becomes more challenging, but it also becomes more important. As bodies age, muscles naturally start to break down. However, because muscles help joints when it comes to supporting a canine’s weight. Given how prone dogs are to joint problems, it’s essential for them to keep their muscles toned in order to avoid rapid joint deterioration. In addition, joints tend to stiffen up when they don’t move for long.
Despite how tired your senior dog might look or how disinterested they might be in taking a walk or playing fetch, you need to find a way to coax them into it. New smells, treats, other dogs, and toys are some of the things that can help make physical exercise more appealing for them. As you exercise your canine, it’s important to remember that they are, after all, old. You need to get them moving, but you also need to be careful not to push them beyond their limits. The exchange runs for strolls and long-distance fetch games for something a little more their speed.
4. Don’t Skip Vet Visits
While a younger doggie can afford to skip a couple of visits, a senior canine doesn’t have this luxury. As their bodies age, older dogs start developing all sorts of problems. Unlike humans, they can’t communicate every little feeling of theirs, so catching illness symptoms is mainly going to be up to your powers of observation and the vet check-ups. If your dog is in a good condition, it’s recommended that you schedule two full checkups a year. Nevertheless, you should feel free to increase your number of check-ups depending on your dog’s condition.
5. Brush Their Teeth
Dental hygiene is very important when it comes to dogs, regardless of their age. As a dog owner, you need to brush your dog’s teeth daily in order to prevent plaque build-up, and here’s why.
Plaque is a thin layer of bacteria that produces acid when dogs/humans eat or drink. This acid breaks down food, but it also breaks down enamel (a tooth’s outer layer). When plaque is left on the teeth, it hardens into tartar which is significantly harder to remove. Not only that, but plaque and tartar can cause infections and diseases, like gingivitis and periodontal disease, which cause bleeding gums, foul odor, and a great deal of pain. Now, particularly in their later years, dogs are prone to losing their teeth as a result of these diseases.
To keep your senior dog’s mouth as healthy as possible, make sure to brush their teeth daily using dog toothpaste – human toothpaste contains xylitol which is harmful to dogs – and a soft brush so as not to harm their gums. You can start by using treats to get your dog comfortable with you touching their teeth and with the toothbrush touching their teeth. Then, let them lick the toothpaste, so they’re not confused by the new flavor in their mouth. If it all goes well, add toothpaste to the brush and gently clean their teeth.
6. Monitor their Weight
Weight gain and loss are both very common in aging dogs. Not only that, but they can also be the result of natural factors like dietary changes and exercise.
When it comes to gaining weight, there’s no cause for concern unless your dog is getting obese. In which case, adjust their diet and try to give them the space to be more physically active, lowering their risk of heart conditions and avoiding extra strain on their joints.
What you should be worried about, however, is an old dog losing weight rapidly because this could indicate an underlying health issue like cancer, dental diseases, or diabetes. Again, keep in mind that gradual weight loss could be normal for aging dogs. Rapid weight loss, on the other hand, means you need to schedule a check-up. To make sure that no subtle health conditions slip by you, monitor your dog’s weight and the rate by which the changes occur.
7. Customize their Diet To A Senior Diet
Just like people, dogs have different dietary requirements that vary with age, health conditions, nutritional needs. As a dog parent, you’ve got to stay on top of these varying needs in order to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies, malnutrition, and overfeeding.
In general, senior dogs require 20% – 30% fewer calories than adult dogs. They also need to get as much as 50% of their caloric intake from protein in order to maintain their muscle mass and protein reserves. This means that you’ll either need to switch to the senior-specific variant of their current food or find a different way to change their diet accordingly.
It would be inaccurate to make generalized statements about other nutritional needs, so we would advise you to schedule a check-up with your vet in order to know your dog’s exact needs down to the gram.
8. Conduct Regular Lump Checks
Checking for lumps is standard practice for humans as they get older, and it’s the same for dogs. The good news is, not all lumps are direct indicators of cancer in canines. There are several types of lumps when it comes to dogs: Lipoma, skin tags, sebaceous cysts, warts, and the list goes on. Some lumps, like skin tags, are harmless while others, like mast cell tumors, can be harmful. Of course, this is not to count out cancer as a potential cause, but to put things in perspective for you.
Because lumps are common in older dogs, regularly check your senior dog for lumps. If you find anything that looks suspicious or concerning, don’t hesitate to ask your vet about it. To put your mind at ease, cancerous lumps are hard to the touch while softer lumps tend to be much less serious lipomas. Remember, the earlier you catch harmful lumps, the better your dog’s chances are.
9. Trim their Toenails
Trimming your senior dog’s toenails is an essential part of caring for them. Overgrown nails can lead to many problems. For instance, they could cause your dog to lose traction which may result in them slipping which can be very painful if they already struggle with joint aches. Not to mention, if they can’t put their weight on their paws, they’ll have to put it on their joints which are already prone to aches and inflammation. So, in short, nail trimming is a must, especially for senior pups.
That said, how often you need to trim a dog’s nails can vary from one canine to another depending on their diet, physical activity, and the surfaces they walk on. Concrete pavements, for example, will naturally sand down a dog’s nails if they’re short enough, but will hurt if the nails are too long. Meanwhile, soft surfaces won’t affect short nails and won’t hurt your dog if their nails grow too long.
10. Use A Soft Brush When Grooming
Grooming your dog is very important to their coat’s health. The act of brushing massages the skin, stimulating blood flow to the skin cells. Blood contains the nutrients necessary for good follicle health and hair growth. Simply, it’s how you keep your furry friend’s coat shiny, smooth, and tangle-free. In addition, grooming allows you to spend a significant amount of time inspecting your dog’s coat for fleas, ticks, lumps, and open wounds.
When grooming an old dog’s coat, you’ve got to do so carefully and with a soft brush. Senior dogs have more fragile skin than adult dogs. Plus, if you’re not careful, you run the risk of nicking a lump or a cyst, or scratching an open wound or sore.
11. Make Your House More Senior Dog Friendly
If you usually allow your dog to sleep or sit next to you, you may have noticed that, as they start getting older, they find it harder and harder to jump on the couch/bed. At some point, they start to push through the pain just to get there. Of course, they don’t know that this could worsen their arthritis, but you do.
Why not make your house more friendly for your elderly dog by placing ramps or stools near the places where they usually like to sit. You could even buy some carpets to help with your dog’s grip on the ground. It’s definitely better than them dealing with slippery tiles every time they sit or get up.
12. Invest in a Comfy Bed For Your Senior Dog
Old age brings with it a lot of struggles, including trouble with temperature regulation. While a senior dog’s body is exerting its energy trying to maintain essential bodily functions, factors like cold weather make it significantly harder for them. Unlike younger dogs, their body can’t simply burn calories faster to keep them warm. In winter, when the ground is too cold, it gets very inconvenient for dogs to sleep there. Having a warm bed available and accessible for them at all times will make life significantly easier for them.
More importantly, sleeping on the ground with aching joints can be painful for your furry buddy. Not only can it cause them unnecessary discomfort, but it can also worsen their joint aches.
Taking care of your senior dog can get exhausting, there’s no shame in admitting that. It can also be just as painful as taking care of an elderly family member. In these times, when you feel sad or heavy, remember that they’ve lived a beautiful life. They gave and received love beyond all limits, and fortunately, you have the ability to fill the remaining years of their life with comfort, warmth, and joy. Most importantly, their life isn’t over yet. There’s still so much fun to be had, so much love to exchange, and so many funny situations to laugh at with them.