As senior dog parents, we’re constantly on the lookout for tips and advice to keep our old dogs healthy, happy and comfortable. One great resource is those who share their lives with one!
From being patient and grateful for every day, to taking them on daily walks and regular vet visits. These are just a few of the many ways you can give your senior the best life possible!
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Regular Vet Checks
I don’t know what I would do without a fantastic vet taking this journey with me. I’ve had my fair share of horrible vets, two were responsible for the deaths of two of my precious dogs. Obviously there are plenty of senior dogs with few health problems, but I’ve never had one of those! All of mine had a multitude of issues, so I rely on my vet to help me do the best I can for them.
Yearly check ups are important for all dogs, but seniors should be checked every six months. If dealing with an ongoing condition, you’ll probably go more often for monitoring.
Even though your dog seems fine, and he may well be, regular blood and urine tests mean catching a problem early.
Follow a Schedule
If you’ve never had a schedule for your dog, today is a good day to start! I’ve always had one, and I feel like a bit of structure makes things more relaxing. It doesn’t mean they have to eat, sleep and walk at exactly the same time each day, it just helps give a rough idea of what happens when. In my experience, many dogs with no schedule often seem to be on high alert, never knowing when they’re going out or when it’s time to eat.
Accommodate Their Changing Needs
Your beautiful tile or wood floors may have become too slippery for your dog to walk on, or get up from when lying down. Getting onto the furniture or into the car may now be just a distant memory.
Here are a few ways to accommodate their needs:
♦ Yoga mats, interlocking foam or rubber mats, and booties to help with traction on slippery surfaces.
♦ A support harness in the house or for walks, will take the pressure off aging painful limbs.
♦ If your dog is losing his or her sight, don’t leave things lying around he can step on or trip over. Keep furniture in the same place since he’s already used to the layout, and put baby gates in front of stairs both going up and coming down.
♦ It’s not uncommon for a senior dog to shun his favorite bed, preferring to sleep on the cold hard floor. Physical changes can affect what your dog now finds comfortable. If his current bed is super soft, maybe a firmer mat is a better option. Does he have to climb into the bed he has? What about one with a lower front for ease of access, and raised sides for support? How about an orthopedic option? When you find something he likes, get two if you can, and put them in different areas. It will save him walking too far to find a place to rest.
♦ Dementia can cause confusion, a night light in the hallway and/or bedroom will comfort and guide your dog should he wander.
♦ A dog stroller or wagon is the perfect way to make sure your dog gets out and about, even if he has mobility issues. Let him walk for a bit, then ride the rest of the way. I’m on my second stroller and I can’t imagine what I would do without it.
♦ Add a couple more water bowls so a drink is always nearby.
♦ If your dog seems uncomfortable bending down to eat or drink, raising the bowls slightly can help. Be careful not to make them too high or it can cause bloat. You can find a wide range of adjustable bowls online, or save yourself the money and do what I did. Turn over a casserole dish, put it on the floor and put the bowl on top. Worked well in my house!
♦ A ramp in front of the couch, alongside the bed and to get in and out of the car is a big help, especially if your dog is too big to lift.
♦ Health issues such as diabetes and kidney disease, medication and dementia can all lead to increased peeing. In addition to taking your dog out more frequently, pee pads and/or diapers are a lifesaver.
Be Your Dog’s Advocate
When I encourage you to be your dog’s advocate I mean:
• Ask questions when you’re at the vet
• Learn what you can about your dog’s health conditions
• If you’re concerned about the amount of drugs your vet is prescribing, ask him what they’re for, are their natural alternatives if this is a route you’re interested in, or get a second opinion from a holistic vet
• If your vet is dismissing your concerns, or his diagnosis is “your dog is old” I suggest getting a second opinion. Old age is not a diagnosis, and you need your vet to take you seriously. After all, who knows your dog best?
• Think about what supplements and alternative therapies can be incorporated into your dog’s treatment plan. For example, if your dog has arthritis he is presumably on some kind of pain medication. Did you know things like acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy and laser therapy could make a big difference too? What about New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels?
• Look into a priobiotic for gut health, especially if your dog is on antibiotics
• Bone broth has a ton of healing properties, and the step by step guide to making it is above.
• Find a support group for senior dog parents. It’s a great way to connect with others who get what you’re going through, and you’ll find tons of tips and advice you may not have known about. Yes I do happen to run a senior dog group, and I’d love for you to join!
Keep Them Cool in Hot Weather
Heatstroke is real and can be deadly, so keep your dog well hydrated and out of the sun as much as possible.
- Walk early in the morning and later in the evening
- Stick to the shady side of the street
- Be careful of hot sand and pavement
- Make sure your dog is drinking
- Invest in a cooling vest, bandana and mat. I have a bandana for Jack and it does help!
- Make sure access to the outdoors is blocked, or you’re supervising him when out. You don’t want him slipping outside when you’re not looking, heaven forbid ending up in a sunny spot and mobility issues preventing him from moving. Trust me, it happens more than you may realize!
Have Your Dog’s Teeth and Gums Checked Regularly
When your dog goes for his twice yearly check ups, please be sure your vet checks his teeth and gums. Dental problems are quite common in old dogs, particularly senior rescues, and leaving dental disease untreated is not only extremely painful for your dog, it can lead to a host of other health problems.
Once you’ve sorted out his dental issues, reduce the chance of further surgery by:
- Daily brushing (or as often as you can)
- Dental treats/chews
- Water additives
Deal with Increased Anxiety
It’s fairly common for dogs to become more anxious as they get older. Dementia, hearing loss, vision loss and pain are all contributors. Of course it’s important to see your vet to determine what issues are causing the anxiety, but you’ll also find this article very helpful – How to Calm Dog Anxiety Naturally (22 Easy Ways)
Teach Hand Signals
If your dog loses his hearing, it’s important to retain the ability to communicate with him. Teaching hand signals now before you need them is a good idea, and learning something new will keep your dog’s mind active. Youtube is a good place to start.
Watch For Changes in Behavior
While I don’t want you to be stressed watching him every second of the day, it is important to take note of any changes in behavior. Don’t dismiss them, assuming it’s to be expected as a natural part of the aging process.
If you do notice anything, even if it’s just something that seems “off” please see your vet. Unfortunately, not all vets are as interested in old dogs as they should be (I say this from my own experience, and the stories of too many other senior dog parents), so make sure he or she takes you seriously. If not, find one who does. Catching something early increases the chances of it being treated successfully or at least managed.
Caring for a senior dog does have it’s challenges, and sometimes our fear and frustration get the better of us. You aren’t the first person who has yelled at their dog, then felt tremendous guilt afterwards. We’re only human and we have to remember that.
We also need to remind ourselves it’s not their fault, it’s part of the aging process. You certainly wouldn’t want anyone losing patience with you…right?
Daily Physical Exercise and Mental Stimulation
Even dogs with mobility issues need a walk, even if it’s only a 10 minute stroll 2-3 times a day. This is when a dog stroller or wagon can come in handy. When he needs a break let him ride, then see if he can walk another 5 minutes or so. Mental stimulation is also a great way to get rid of pent up energy, and keep your dog’s mind active. Playing with puzzle toys, snuffle mats and games will make a big difference.
For days that are too hot, too cold, your dog doesn’t want to go out or he’s feeling too anxious, here are17 ways to exercise him indoors. Obviously you’ll tweak them according to your dog’s mobility level.
Take Care of Yourself
Being a caregiver, whether for a human or an animal takes a toll, so “me time” is important to re-charge. Some days you may want someone to dog sit while you meet a friend, or have alone time. Other times it’s enough to go into a quiet room, close the door and listen to a 10 minute guided meditation. Don’t wait until you’ve reached the end of your tether to reach out for help.
Make a Bucket List for Your Dog
Humans do it, why shouldn’t we make one for dogs as well! Do all the things they love, take tons of pictures and make beautiful memories. “Bucket List Ideas for Your Senior Dog“
Trust Your Gut
If you think there’s something wrong, you’re probably right! get in touch with your vet’s office and express your concerns. If you’re very worried make sure they take you seriously, and don’t wait days for someone to call you back.
Don’t Let Him Sleep His life Away
It’s not unusual for dogs to sleep more as they age…so we let them. The thing is, are they sleeping because they’re tired, not feeling great or just plain bored? What’s the farthest he goes these days, a quick pee or poop in the backyard? I understand. Mobility issues make it difficult to get around, but what about an outing to a dog friendly cafe? Drive there or buy a stroller or wagon so you can walk. How about a car trip to a new area for a change of sights, sounds and smells? Teach him a new trick, buy or make a treat dispensing toy, or visit a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. It will do you both a world of good.
Keep Your Dog Warm in Winter (outside and inside)
Senior dogs tend to feel the cold more than their younger counterparts, so please make sure to keep them warm. When going for a walk, put a coat on your dog and maybe a sweater underneath (my dogs wear both when in very cold climates), and booties to protect paws against the cold and ice. If he’s refused every style you try, use paw wax for protection on ice.
Here are tips for keeping him warm in the house:
♦ If you like your house on the cool side, your dog may appreciate a sweater.
♦ Keep his bed away from open windows, vents and any other drafts.
♦ If you have hardwood or tile floors, put a blanket or yoga mat under his bed.
♦ Throw a fleece blanket on the bed for extra warmth.
♦ A self heating mat or pad on his bed.
♦ Put a small heater in the room where he sleeps. Sorry for stating the obvious but make sure it’s safe, he can’t hurt himself, trip over a cord….
Don’t Get Rid of Your Dog Because He’s Old
It’s shocking to imagine how many old dogs are dumped in shelters. I understand there are some desperate people who literally have no one to turn to, but what about the rest that prefer a younger version or don’t want to deal with health issues? Your dog is a member of the family, so please don’t give up on him. If you need emotional help caring for him, find support among friends and family. If you need financial help, search “help paying vet bills” and type in your area, and/or start a GoFundMe page. If you have no choice but to give him up, at least find a foster based no kill senior dog rescue.
Buy Carpet Shampoo in Bulk!
One of my group members mentioned this, and I thought it was so hilarious I had to include it. It’s also true!!
Cherish Every Moment
Dogs don’t spend nearly enough years with us as we’d like, so cherish the time you do have together. Be mindful of the moments and grateful for the love and companionship. These are also great reminders to practice mindfulness and gratitude every day for what we have.
Take A Lots of Pictures and Videos
After my heart dog Red died, a very strange thought struck me. I’ll never be able to take another picture of her again. I thought I had taken a lot, but when I look back I realise it’s not enough. Take pictures and videos, then take even more.
Regrets will eat you up inside. You’ve read the suggestions until this point, so what can you take on board? What will make your dog happy, and what will it take for you to know you’ve done your best?
No Two Days Will Be the Same
One day your dog is running through the park, the next he can barely get out of bed. One day he eats everything he sees, the next he sniffs his bowl and walks away. Remember how important self care is and the support of others who understand.
Love Them With Your Whole Heart
Love them with your whole heart heart and soul, and do your best to give them a great life.
Let Them Go When It’s Time
The hardest thing in the world to do, but this is when you have to love them enough to let them go when it’s time. It’s heart wrenching and none of us wants to make that call, but at the end of the day they rely on us to do what’s best. Don’t let them linger and suffer because you can’t imagine life without them. None of us can, but we need to be strong to let them go in peace.
What is the best advice you have for other senior dog parents, especially to those who have recently rescued an old dog? Sharing helps others so please leave your comment below.
I’m a dog trainer specializing in helping shy, fearful and aggressive dogs.
Does your dog go after other dogs and people while on a walk? Is he or she petrified of fireworks and thunderstorms? Does he growl or even nip when someone goes near his food bowl or treats? Is he scared of the vet? Men? Children? Visitors to your home? All sessions are conducted via Zoom, at a time convenient for you.
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