We all know the joys and challenges of caring for a senior dog, and the constant searching for information that will help us do the best we can for our much-loved companions.
On this page you will find lots of tips, advice, product recommendations and resources, all in one convenient location.
Many of the recommendations come from my own personal experience of caring for old dogs for 12 years, and the thousands of members of my FB group, Senior Dog Care Club.
This page will be updated periodically, so do check back. If you have found a product or tip that works well for you and your dog, please let me know and I will add it. Sharing helps others!
NOTE: Please always consult with your vet before making any changes.
**There are affiliate links in this post, which means if you buy something I may receive a small commission. This has no effect on the price you pay.**
Allergies in dogs are quite common, with the most obvious symptom being itchy skin. You may see your dog scratching, licking or chewing one particular spot or all over his body.
It can be so uncomfortable for these poor dogs, so the first step should be to take your dog to the vet. If he or she isn’t able to diagnose the cause/allergen, your next step should be a veterinary dermatologist.
My dog has seasonal allergies and it was tough watching him scratch so much. The vet said he has seasonal allergies, but never did any tests. I did an at home allergy test that involved cutting a bit of fur off the back of his neck and sending it off for analysis. It came back with a lengthy list of foods and other things he should avoid.
Since it didn’t affect him too badly, a spray or two of colloidal silver on the hot spots was a big help, along with Apoquel on occasion.
Cytopoint injection for skin problems/itching
FB group: Dog Allergies-Information and Support https://www.facebook.com/groups/DogAllergiesIssuesandOtherInformationSupporGroup
Suggestions from group members
“What I do with Layla is wipe her down each time we come indoors with a damp warm cloth and put salmon oil in her food, it is working wonders. Also I have started adding Dr Harveys Canine Health which has helped a lot. FIrst year no allergies.”
“My shih-tzu has a medicated shampoo with chlorhexidine, some chlorhexidine wipes, and Apoquel. Cytopoint didn’t work for him, but it worked well for my sister’s dog.”
“My itchy mini schnauzer had a Cytopoint injection once – the effects lasted for several months, which was great. However, the vet tech also suggested generic Zyrtec, which was what her dog took after everything else failed. Generic Zyrtec is ridiculous cheap at Costco (I take it myself and would have split the bottle with my dog but her allergies cleared.)”
“Apoquel for our sneezy itchy dog.”
“Cytopoint is the only thing that has worked well for her in her 14 years.”
“I home cook for my 3 – ages 14.5, almost 11 and 4 – and I rotate proteins as much as possible. The old guy has had allergies since over vaccination age 4 when he went into shock and almost died so have been cooking since then. Allergies to chicken, fish, eggs (but not egg whites), broccoli (!). It’s recommended by our integrative vet to provide as much variety as possible in their diets.”
Anxiety is pretty common in old dogs, and watching them suffer is heart breaking.
Reasons why an old dog can start exhibiting signs of anxiety:
- Vision loss
- Hearing loss
- Not getting enough physical exercise or mental stimulation
- Recently adopted and hasn’t settled in yet
How to tell if your dog is anxious
- Snapping at people/other dogs
- Excessive licking
- Not eating/not eating well
The good news is, no matter the cause there are lots of treatment options. Just be aware, one person’s miracle may be another’s waste of money, so knowing that from the outset can hopefully prevent you from getting discouraged. I recommend choosing one thing you’d like to try and give it a chance. How much of a chance? I say research the product you’re interested in and find out if there are any guidelines as to when results can be expected. It’s also important to note, some dogs may respond well to just one new supplement or treatment, while others may do best with a combination.
(Please speak to your vet before introducing a new supplement or treatment)
Zylkene – “a calming supplement that contains a natural ingredient derived from a protein in milk called casein that has clinically proven calming properties to help relax cats and dogs.”
I used this for my dog when she was experiencing anxiety as a result of dementia, and it helped.
nutracalm – a natural calming product only available through vets in the UK. After Zylkene seemed to stop working for my dog Red, my vet recommended nutracalm which I was happy with. See their website for more information about this and other products.
Through a Dog’s Ear – this cd was a game changer for us. Before I came across this music my dog Red would wander for hours because of dementia, but within a minute of me playing it she would relax. It was nothing short of miraculous, and it was so beautiful and calming it relaxed me as well!! You can buy it here , but first check out the free 13 minute sampler on Youtube.
Valerian or Valerian with Scullcap – an herbal supplement with natural sedative properties, it doesn’t cause drowsiness the way some medications can.
Dorwest is a company I’ve bought from, so here’s a link to their valerian so you can learn more about it.
Calm by Just Food for Dogs – Here is a link to their website for information about all their products.
Lavendar essential oil – known for it’s calming properties in humans, it can also be used for dogs…however you must always use essential oils with care. Speak to someone experienced in their use, and here’s a link to an article to get you started.
Adaptil – a dog appeasing hormone that comes as a plug in, spray or collar. For more information about how it works and their product line, visit their website. To purchase Adaptil plug in – spray – collar
Rescue Remedy – a mix of natural herb and flower extracts that can calm the nerves, add a couple drops to your dog’s water dish, or add a drop to a treat.
Tranquility Blend Formula from Animal Essentials – “An alcohol-free, sweet tasting glycerin herbal tincture designed to safely calm animals during acute episodes of anxiety without diminishing alertness.” Visit their website for more information and to purchase
CBD Oil (Cannabidiol oil) – I can’t begin to describe how many senior dog parents swear by CBD oil. Don’t worry, it doesn’t contain THC, the compound that makes you high.
More and more brands keep popping up all the time, and not all are good quality. What’s most important is finding one that is third party tested, meaning they hired independent companies to test their product to ensure quality and purity. They should also be willing to provide you with that report if you request it.
Here are a few to look into:
Trazadone – “used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, alone or in combination with other behavioral medications. The drug enhanced behavioral calmness and reduced anxiety thereby improving patient welfare with few side effects.”
Article – Trazadone
Abstract about Trazadone
Xanax – one of the brand names of Alprazolam, it “is a sedative/tranquilizer used as an adjunctive therapy to treat anxiety or panic.”
article – Alprazolam
Exercise – since anxiety can cause a build up of excess energy, one way to release it is through exercise. Whether that’s a hike, leisurely stroll, relaxing swim or a game of fetch, choose what suits your dog’s ability and mix it up for variety.
Massage – can help calm an anxious dog, so I’ve included a couple of links to resources to help you learn how to do it.
article – How to Massage a Dog
article – How Massage Can Help Your Dog
Acupuncture – it can treat a variety of conditions including anxiety, and is worth exploring. It is important to have treatments done by a professional.
To find someone certified in veterinary acupuncture:
article – Acupuncture/Acupressure for Dogs
Distraction – engaging your dog’s brain will help him focus on you and things he knows, rather than on the unknown around him that’s frightening him. While it isn’t the time to begin new training, it is a great time to practice tricks your dog knows and can earn rewards for. Try rewarding your dog with treats for simple commands like sit, lie down roll over and other tricks he enjoys. What about using puzzle toys or stuffing a Kong with peanut butter or treats and freezing it.
Arthritis/Joint Pain/Mobility Issues
Anything to do with mobility and joint pain you will find in this section. I will be listing treatments and products that have worked for many senior dog parents who are members of my FB group. After all, what better testimonial is there!!
NOTE: If your dog is overweight, even slightly, it can cause added pressure on the joints which in turn leads to pain. If you aren’t sure what your dog weighs or what he should weigh, call your vet. Many practices have weight loss clinics, free of charge in my experience, that can help.
If you have slippery floors it can be difficult for your dog to get traction. Not only that, slipping and having a hard time getting up can cause injury. Non slip socks or booties can help, as well as putting down yoga mats or interlocking foam or rubber mats. I will link to products recommended by group members below.
Vet prescribed medications
- Adequan injections
- Carprophen (one of the brand names is called Rimadyl)
- Cartrophen injections
- Metacam/Meloxicam (both are generic versions of a human drug called Mobic)
Bone Broth (click the link to watch a video of Dr Karen Becker making it!)
CBD oil – a search in my FB group will take you to a wide range of senior dog parent recommended brands. Here are a few:
Dasuquin/ Dasuquin Advanced from vet
Glucosamine/Chondroitin (many of the products contain these)
JOINTSURE Joint Support – it’s available in the UK, not sure about North America
Jump For JOYnts – Visit website
New Zealand green lipped mussels (Super Snouts is a popular brand)
Laser therapy (at vet’s office or in the home)
Dog stroller – the one in the link is the same style I had and it was amazing. Although my dog was able to walk, she couldn’t walk too far so the stroller was the perfect mobility aid. She walked as much as she could, then we would put her in the stroller. It meant she was able to join us as much as possible, and it was super easy to bring with us on the bus, ferry and train.
Harness (front, rear or full lifting) – the Help ’em Up Harness is a very popular choice, the GingerLead is another
Leg brace – visit the Handicapped Pets website
Ramps – a ramp is such a personal choice. It depends on the size of your dog, what you need to use it for and of course budget. The link shows a wide selection so you can research and choose the one that best suits your needs.
Wheelchair – visit the Handicapped Pets website
♦ Monthly Cartrophen injections for her joints, pain relief & we started physio ( laser treatment & acupuncture).
♦ Adequen shots. Works great!
♦ Adequan shots every 4-6 weeks, Dasuquin with MSM and Antinol everyday, keeping her at a nice lean pet weight and having her do light activity has really helped her. So far we’ve been able to hold off on giving her Carprofen and gabapentin daily for pain, now she only gets them as needed which has been rarely this last year and a half.
♦ Acupuncture and laser therapy, massage also helps.
♦ Molly was getting Pentosan Arthropen Injections every 3 months but now she is having them every 6 weeks,
♦ My almost 18 year old toy poodle has cartrophen injections once a month and have just started him on Antinol. He also has Loxicam but will be slowly tapering off that when the Antinol starts to take affect.
♦ Synovan injection. He has improved so much!
♦ Carprofen 2x a day
♦ Phycox max was an excellent joint supplement for our old guy
♦ Hydrotherapy. I work at a canine rehab center and we see alot of senior dogs. It helps arthritis and helps keep them going.
♦ Tramodol worked great for my old girl
♦ My little one is on Galliprant for Osteoarthritis- works really well
♦ My old guy is on Rimadyl and Amantadine (he’s doing better than when he was on gabepentin). I give him Chroniquin every 3rd meal (if I give every day he starts losing his appetite). I have rugs all over my house, a ramp outside his doggie door, and I took the legs off my ottoman (he can use it as a step up to the sofa) and I have a cooling bed he seems to really love.
For information on bad breath, please see the section on dental care.
Dogs communicate by barking. They could be trying to tell us they’re hungry, need a pee break, or perhaps they want to play with the dog they see walking by.
When it comes to dogs who are 7+, it could also mean they’re uncomfortable, confused or losing their sight and/or hearing.
If your dog is starting to bark even more, I suggest you make an appointment to see your vet. At this age they should be seeing the vet every six months, so if it’s been awhile here’s a good opportunity. I would be helpful if you made note of when this behavior started, were there new things going on at the time, and any other changes you’ve been noticing. It will help your vet with a diagnosis.
As our dogs age, one of the things that can change is what they find comfortable. The bed they slept in for years may no longer satisfy their needs.
The one thing that’s been very popular in our house isn’t even a bed, it’s a comforter! We use a single bed size comforter (we always have small dogs), put a cover on it, a fleece blanket on top (in the winter) and they love it!
It’s big enough so it offers the support they want, flexible enough to shape and fold as they see fit and easy enough to get in and out of.
Making their bed waterproof
I know a common issue is dogs wetting the bed, so questions always come up about what to do. Not all beds are waterproof but even if you have one, it can be a pain to wash it.
A waterproof mattress cover which is easy to remove and wash
Put the bed in a thick plastic garbage bag, top with a waterproof bed pad and cover with throws. A throw is certainly easier to wash then a bed. You could also try adding pee pads, but that depends on how comfortable your dog will be, or if he just likes to shred them like mine does!
If you’re looking for a “real” dog bed, here are a few things to think about:
- Does it have a thick enough pad or pillow for support? Some are so thin it’s almost like sleeping on the floor
- Lower in the front so it’s easy to get in and out
- Raised sides for your dog to lean against
- Self -warming for the colder months
- Easy to wash
- Cover is easy to take off and put back on. You know the ones you have for your couch pillows? Do they ever really go back on or fit the way they used to?
I went to the best source I could find for answers (senior dog parents), and while most went the DIY route in terms of mattresses and blankets, here are a few specifics.
♦ Ikea crib mattress with crib mattress waterproof cover and sheets
♦ JOYELF Orthopedic Dog Bed with Memory Foam
♦ JOYELF Calming Dog Bed
♦ Best Friends by Sheri Calming Donut Cuddler
♦ Serta Quilted Orthopedic Bolster Bed
♦ RIOGOO Pet Heating Pad
NOTE: You may have to try several until you come up with the one your dog likes. Don’t be surprised if, after all that searching, he or she decides to, at least sometimes, sleep on the floor. I’ve certainly seen that happen in my house.
Whether your dog is experiencing some vision loss or is completely blind, physical exercise and mental stimulation are still very important. It can take time to adapt, but don’t leave her lying around getting bored and depressed.
Signs your dog may have eye problems
- Walks on objects or surfaces he would normally avoid
- Rubs his face on the ground
- Eyes are bulging
- Cloudy eyes
- Stepping high – like he’s unsure when walking
- Closed eyes
- Bumps into walls, furniture
- Can’t catch toys you throw at him
- Rubbing his eye
Eye irritants and other issues
Dust, sand, and other foreign bodies affect dogs of any age. If you notice your dog blinking a lot, tearing, rubbing his eyes, unable to open his eye(s), call your vet (or eye doctor) right away. Ask what you can do immediately at home, then get him down there as soon as possible. It doesn’t take long for a minor issue to affect vision.
To test for vision issues, here’s an easy experiment to do at home
Move a couple of pieces of furniture, turn off the lights, and watch how your dog gets around. Does he know where he’s going, or is he bumping into things? Now turn the lights back on and watch again. If he’s completely blind, you see the same results. If he has some vision, he’ll perform better in the light.
Now take him to the vet, or straight to the eye doctor.
My dog Red was blind when we adopted her, with eyes bulging out of her head. We took her to an eye specialist and found out it was glaucoma causing the build up of pressure. Because her condition was obviously ignored for so long, her blindness was permanent, and immediate action was required. Her condition was so severe, her eyes would have blown out of their sockets…and I mean that literally.
Whoever she lived with previously, obviously neglected her terribly.
The pressure was relieved by inserted a needle into each eye – I don’t recall the name of the procedure – and her eyes began to get smaller almost immediately. Poor baby I can’t imagine how much pain she must have been in.
If your dog goes blind gradually, you might not even realise it for quite some time. They know their homes and territory so well they don’t seem to struggle. Other senses become more acute, and they adapt rather well.
If a dog goes blind suddenly, it can be very scary for the dog and sad for everyone. It will take you and the dog time to adjust…but you will.
Here are ways to keep your visually impaired/blind dog safe
Keep him leashed in unfamiliar surroundings to prevent injury
If you have stairs, put a gate at the top and bottom and keep reminding everyone who lives with you to keep them closed
Never let him off a leash outside unless he’s in a fenced in area. I know some people do let their blind dogs off a leash so that’s up to you.
Be mindful of things left on the floor he can trip over – shoes, bags, toys…
Avoid moving furniture around, because you don’t want your dog banging into something that wasn’t there yesterday. Not only can it cause anxiety it can also cause injury. She knows the layout, why confuse her?
Don’t move the water bowls, and I added one or two around the house so she didn’t always have as far to walk
Don’t move her beds around, she knows where they are
When you have to wash the beds, don’t leave the spot empty. At least put a blanket down so she knows she’s in the right place
I taught my dog the word “careful.” Whenever she would bang into something or come close, I said “careful” and she gradually made the association. As soon as I would say it she would immediately stop and change direction
If Red was asleep on the couch or my bed, and there’s something I had to do that would take me out of the room even for a second, I either waited until she got up, put her on her bed or put chairs next to it so she couldn’t fall off. Believe me, it’s too easy to get side tracked and the next thing you know you hear a thud. It’s not worth the risk to leave your dog unattended
Don’t pet or pick your dog up when she’s sleeping, so as not to startle her. If for some reason I had to wake my dog, I called her name first or stood close to her until she sensed me
When I knew Red needed to go out for a quick pee, I never picked her up without first saying something like “you have to go out?” This way she knows what’s going to happen next
When I left the house, no matter for how long, I always said “I’ll be right back” or “I’ll be back soon” – this way she never wondered where everyone went. It’s exactly what you shouldn’t do if a dog has separation anxiety, but luckily Red didn’t
Put a leash on your dog and walk him through the house, it will help familiarise him
Be mindful of where you keep the bowls. Red’s water bowl was in the kitchen near a drawer handle, and there was literally no other good place for it. I wrapped the handle in a towel so she couldn’t hurt herself, problem solved!
Get down on all fours and see your house from the height of your dog. Are there sharp corners? Wires? Areas he can get stuck in?
Changing floor textures can help your dog more easily figure out which room he’s in. For example, if your entire floor is tiled, adding a carpet runner from the kitchen to the living room for example, can help him learn which room is which by the flooring
Retraining your dog can help keep him safe. The “stop” or “stay” command could stop him moving towards a dangerous situation, or like in my case I used the word “careful.” Teaching “step up” and “step down” is a big help for curbs and stairs.
Your dog may have had great recall in the past, but it’s a good idea to practice now that he can no longer see you. Instead of calling him once, you’ll need to use a continuous sound so he can track where you are.
Toys and games
A toy doesn’t have to be marked as suitable for a blind dog for it to be fun for yours to play with. If your dog always loved his fluffy frog, there’s no reason to think he won’t still love it.
Having said that, when looking for new toys, think about other senses. When it comes to “noisy” toys, keep in mind the volume. Some dogs won’t mind it and others may be fearful. I’m going to state the obvious by saying be careful the toy you give your dog is not too small, and if there is a squeaker or something similar inside, don’t leave him unattended as he could chew through the toy and swallow it…even if he’s never done that before.
My dog was extremely food motivated, so she loved nothing more than a food filled Kong
Food dispensing toys
A variation on the treat toy mentioned above, these are typically round and dispense food as they are rolled. They can hold most types of food, but kibble will come out easier, leaving a trail on the floor for your dog to follow
Depending on how strong the scent, they can be easier to locate than an unscented one. You’ll probably have to keep them fairly close because how strong can it really be?
Toys (in varying degrees of difficulties) with compartments that hold treats, are another example of toys suitable for blind dogs. Again, they use their sense of smell to draw them to the toy and find the food
Toys that squeak, have bells, or balls that make noise when they roll, can entertain your dog.
Toys that talk
Balls that talk when rolled, and plush toys that bark. If your dog is a chewer, keep an eye on him so he doesn’t swallow any pieces. If your dog has never been a chewer, it doesn’t mean he won’t start now, so watch him when he’s playing.
Add scent to your dog’s toys
To help your dog locate her toy, a drop of essential oil or even a doggie perfume will help.
I am not familiar with scents and safety, so I recommend you do a lot of research before using them. I do know that essential oils like Eucalyptus and Lavender are used in natural flea control mixtures, so are safe for use around dogs. It is a whole other story when it comes to what’s safe if your dog licks.
Hide and seek
How about a game of hide and seek? Hiding close by, call your dog. If she’s having a hard time finding you, make a bit of noise to guide her – knock on the wall for example, and praise her like crazy when she finds you. A delicious treat is a great reward!! I did this with Red, and the more enthusiastic I sounded, the more excited she was when she found me.
A little advice based on my experience – don’t drag it out too long because what started out as fun, could become annoying. Gauge your dog’s reaction and adapt accordingly.
Instead of you physically hiding, how about a very smelly treat in a bowl near her, and let her sniff it out. Sardines or mackerel perhaps? Encourage her by using words like “where is it” or “go find it” to make the game more exciting.
Which hand is holding that tasty morsel?
Put a treat in one of your hands close to your dog’s nose, and say “find it” or “where is it.”
Pairing up words to an action will teach your dog what you’re expecting of her. When you say them often enough, just hearing those words will get her excited.
Cat dancer for dogs!
Are you familiar with those dangly cat toys, the ones with the long handles with a toy dangling at the end of a string? Why not buy or make one for your dog? Add a bell, and maybe even a drop of scent and have her chase it as you pull it along the floor.
Treat in a bag
Rather than buy any more toys, what about putting a treat inside a paper bag, and letting her tear her way through it? Some dogs will chew the paper, which you don’t want to happen so if that’s the case, it may not be the right “toy” for your dog.
Make your own “milk jug” toy
Have you ever seen how much some dogs love playing with an empty milk jug?
Put small cookies in the jug, leave the cap off and shake it to attract your dog’s attention. Once she comes over she will smell the food and hopefully start batting it around. Finding food coming out of it will keep her even more motivated to play. If your dog isn’t particularly food motivated that’s okay, the toy itself may keep her busy.
It is a device that is fitted onto your dog with a “halo” around his head. This bumps into things before your dog does. Visit their website for more information
All dogs get bored if they do nothing all day.
The thing is there are an awful lot who live with people who just don’t believe they need to go out other than to pee and poop. They see their dog lying on their bed all day and believe it’s where they prefer to be. They don’t realise how much of the time it’s because they’re bored out of their minds!
Having said that, I also know in many cases mobility and other health issues (both for the dog and sometimes the parent) mean they aren’t able to get the exercise they need.
Here are some ways to keep your dog entertained
Your dog needs to go for walks every day. They may only be around the block, a few steps around the garden or in front of your house but at least he’s out. It will give him the chance to get fresh air, sniff the grass, see other people and dogs and experience life again. Do this 2 or 3 times a day and you’ll notice a difference.
If your dog is in too much pain from arthritis for example, I am sure you’re doing your best to change that. For treatment options see the arthritis section above.
Change up the route and give him new areas to explore.
Is your old dog as energetic as ever? Take him out for longer walks and if you are not able to, for whatever reason, hire a dog walker, put him in doggy day care or find a helpful neighbour or family member to help out when they can.
Make meal time fun
- Use a slow feeder bowl
- Stuff a Kong with part of his meal
- Scatter some dry food (if he eats it) in a snuffle mat
- Fill a treat dispensing toy with part or all of his dinner
Vary his toys
Don’t leave too many toys out at once, just a couple and rotate them to keep his interest.
Doggy day care
While this option may not be right for every senior dog, it is definitely an option for many. When you do start looking, ask the owner if you can visit to see how active the dogs are, what the setup is, and if there is a quiet area where dogs can take a break if things get too playful. Unless of course your dog is a live wire and will be right in the middle of the melee!
Go over some of the training he or she already knows, or how about teaching something new. Does he know how to give you his paw when you ask? How about practicing “stay” or “leave it” while you’re holding a delicious treat in your hand. It’s great for mental stimulation.
Make your own treat dispensing toy
Cut a hole in the side of a plastic bottle and add some treats. As your pup rolls it across the floor it will make noise which is fun in itself, and leave a trail of treats for him as a bonus! Make sure there are no sharp edges!
Here are a couple of easy things a dog of any ability can do.
The cup game
Take 3 cups that are easy enough to knock over, and put a smelly treat under one of them, move them around and ask him to “find it!”
The muffin tin game
Grab a muffin tin, put a smelly treat in a few of the cups, cover each cup with a tennis ball or other toy and let him figure out how to move the ball to get at the treat.
Make frozen treats
Whether you freeze dog treats, buy doggy ice cream or make your own, it will keep your dog entertained for quite some time. You can even freeze it in a Kong and see how much fun he has trying to lick every last drop!
Your dog may not be well enough to venture to the dog park, he gets bothered too much or you don’t have one near you. In any case why not invite someone over for a play date? If he’s not up to playing or running around, he may enjoy hanging out with a friend just for the company. Even if they just sit next to each other and enjoy a bone while the humans have a chat.
Swimming is great exercise for dogs of all abilities. How about a day out at the lake or a paddle in your pool? Even a splash in a kiddie pool in the backyard on a hot day will keep him entertained.
Build a dog sandbox
What a fun thing for your senior dog to have a go at! Hide toys in the sand and let him go dig for them. Does your dog have trouble standing up? He can lie down while looking!
They do come in varying degrees of difficulty and are a great way to provide mental stimulation.
Go for a drive
Whether your dog can’t walk far, isn’t feeling up to it or the weather isn’t cooperating, a drive is one way to break up the day and get your dog out and about. Looking out the window at some new scenery could cheer him up, and you might even pop in at your local dog friendly café for a drink and a treat!
For blind dogs
A lot of these suggestions are perfect for blind dogs, or can be tweaked slightly if necessary. Their nose will lead them to the treats in the puzzle toy, and being blind won’t stop them from enjoying a food or treat stuffed Kong.
Here are a few toys that talk, make sounds and have smells to help your blind or visually impaired dog find, and have fun with.
It’s important for every senior dog parent to educate themselves about dementia. While not every dog will get it, it often goes undiagnosed by vets. Unlike other illnesses, there is no test to determine if your dog has it, and since the symptoms mimic other diseases, it can be challenging to diagnose.
As much as I have an incredible vet, I was the one who diagnosed it in my dog Red, and that’s only because I happened to notice the term doggy dementia written somewhere.
Rather than repeat myself, I’m sharing a link to a detailed post about this condition, including a checklist to help you figure out if your dog has it and treatment options that can help.
You can also check the anxiety section above for product recommendations.
Dental problems are extremely common in old dogs, especially rescues, and what’s also common is the reaction of senior dog parents when they hear the words dental surgery and anesthesia. It’s certainly understandable. There’s always some risk involved, and if a dog has other health challenges it can make the thought of an operation even scarier. Scroll down for some more information about that topic.
There is a popular belief that bad breath in dogs is a given, something you have to put up. Well, it turns out it isn’t, and you don’t!
Signs your dog is likely experiencing dental issues
- Bad breath (that’s often the first sign)
- Pawing at his mouth
- Struggling to eat dry food or cookies
- Withdrawn/not himself
- Loss of interest in eating
- Not chewing on a favorite toy
- Won’t let you near his mouth
- Swallows without chewing
- Favors one side when eating
- Less interested in playing
Why is dental disease potentially dangerous?
Aside from the fact your dog is likely in pain, the bacteria that grows when tartar builds up around the teeth can break loose and enter the blood stream, lodging in crevices in the kidneys, liver and on valves of the heart.
Not every case will be that extreme, but that doesn’t mean your dog is not in pain from a toothache or infection. Dogs are good at hiding pain so there may be a problem festering and getting worse.
Just like we keep our teeth and gums healthy with regular brushing and cleaning, the same can be done for our dogs. Ideally you want to brush your dog’s teeth every day, but having had my share of “difficult” dogs I understand that may not be possible. If not, even a couple of times a week will help.
Toothbrushes come in a variety of sizes, and some even fit on your finger. I found the easiest thing to use was a cotton pad wrapped around my finger. Doggy toothpaste comes in a wide variety of flavors and formulations (paste, spray, gel), and a liquid, antiplaque solution can be poured into your dog’s drinking water. Chew toys, dental chews and raw bones can also help.
Some groomers offer anesthesia free cleanings which is worth looking into.
If you do all this does it guarantee your dog will never need a dental cleaning? No, but it may reduce the chances or at least the severity of the problem.
If your dog already has dental issues, nothing short of surgery will fix what’s already going on. Once that’s done, use the information in the prevention section above as your maintenance plan.
There must be hundreds of dental care products on the market, so to get you started here are a few recommendations from senior dog parents in my FB group.
NOTE: Many members prefer VOHC approved products (Veterinary Oral Health Council). Here’s a link to their website for more information about who they are and what they do.
C.E.T. Enzymatic toothpaste, beef flavor It’s also available in poultry, Vanilla-Mint and Malt flavors
Full Moon Hip and Joint Health Human Grade Chicken Jerky
Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews
Virbac CET Veggiedent FR3SH Tartar Control Chews for Dogs
Merrick Fresh Kisses Double-Brush Dental Dog Treats
Tropiclean Fresh Breath Dog Water Additive
OraVet Dental Care Hygiene Chews
Milk Bone Brushing Chews
Purina DentaLife Chews
Whimzees Natural Grain Free Daily Dental Dog Treats
Himalayan Dog Treats
Aptus Bucadog Chews (“the small size is ground up fine and even seniors with little teeth manage to work with them”). Visit their website for more information
iCF Stomodine LP/Long Period Gel “has been immensely helpful for my little dog who struggle with periodontitis.” Visit their website for more information
Innovet PURBREATH Oral Care Gel – Visit their website for more information and to purchase this product
TruDog Doggy Dental Spray
Vets Best Dental Gel
Dehydrated Sweet Potato Slices – buy them in a pack or make them at home, find recipes on Pinterest
Animal Essentials SeaDent Kelp & Enzymes Plaque & Tartar Control Dog Supplement
Vet’s Best Dog Toothbrush
Ark Naturals Brushless Toothpaste Chews
Here are things to consider when choosing which product(s) to buy:
Dental chews and treats
Many chews and treats are nothing more than junk food, so read ingredients. If your senior dog has health issues, run them by your vet to be sure they’re safe.
Dental chews can be high in calories, so instead of giving one daily alternate with a chew toy.
Sorry for stating the obvious, but always supervise your dog when giving chews.
Consider the size of your dog and the size of the chew. If he finishes it in a couple of bites, he has not gotten any benefit from it. The benefit comes from gnawing it.
place of origin
Pet product recalls and the rise in compassionate shopping means checking where products are made before purchasing.
Be aware of cheap products, sharp bones and the like when making your selection.
Long handled toothbrushes that resemble those we use for ourselves
Straight and curved handles, some with one brush others with a different sized brush on each end
Three sided toothbrushes which cover all parts of the tooth and gum
A finger toothbrush that fits over your finger for greater control
I was a little surprised by the number of ingredients in some of the formulations I researched, and concerned about the number I had never heard of.
One ingredient I saw in many toothpastes was Poultry Digest or Animal Digest. “A material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue. The animal tissues used shall be exclusive of hair, horns, teeth, hooves and feathers, except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice and shall be suitable for animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind or flavor(s), it must correspond thereto.”
Needless to say, avoid that when making your selection. Xylitol is another ingredient to stay away from as it is known to be toxic to dogs, and can cause seizures, liver failure and even death.
Toothpastes come in different flavors and textures, so you’re bound to find one your dog likes. Contact your vet with the list of ingredients to make sure they’re safe.
Anesthesia and Senior Dogs: Is it Worth the Risk?
There is a widespread belief that anesthesia and senior dogs are a deadly combination, and therefore not worth the risk. I know many senior dog parents have flat out refused to agree to dental surgery because of it.
While it’s true it is riskier in an old dog than a younger one, particularly if other health issues are present, a blanket “it’s too risky” may not be the right decision. Have a conversation with your trusted vet, and weigh the pros and cons.
Things to discuss with your vet
Why is surgery being recommended? Are there other options? Is your dog in pain? Can the pain be managed? What is the anticipated outcome? What can be done to reduce the risk (a gentler type of anesthesia for example)? How will other health issues affect how well he does during surgery or recovery? Is it even riskier because of his________(insert condition).
When we adopted our senior dog Red, she was around 8 and blind. She had been neglected in her previous home, and among other issues her teeth and gums were in a terrible state. Not long after we brought her home she had her operation.
Over the 9 years we had her, she needed dental surgery two more times. As she got older and her health challenges increased, the thought of putting her under became more worrying.
As good natured as she was, she fought like crazy whenever I tried to brush her teeth. I managed at times with a cotton pad and doggy toothpaste, but certainly not enough to prevent dental issues. Dental bones and water additives were also simply not enough.
Both times I had long talks with my vet about the pros and cons, and both times surgery was the right decision. The first night was always the roughest. Being blind added to the confusion as the effects of the anesthesia wore off, and she would cry a lot. I basically slept sitting up in a chair in the living room with Red wrapped in a blanket on my lap. Thankfully in the morning she was fine and feeling so much better.
There is only some much a vet can see during an initial exam. Only once the dog is under, x rays are taken and a thorough check of the mouth is done can you ever know the true extent of the problem. Things often end up being worse than anticipated…at least that was my experience.
Does that mean surgery is always the right choice in every case? Of course not, which is why I encourage everyone to talk to their vet, weigh the pros and cons and discuss other options if they exist.
Don’t make a decision based on your assumption your dog is not in pain…they often hide it well.
Help Paying Vet Bills
Before we welcome a new dog into our life, we’re confident we have the necessary funds to provide him or her with the best care we can. Circumstances change, unexpected health issues arise, injuries happen and we find ourselves worrying about how we’re going to pay for much needed treatment.
In this section you’ll find a list of money saving hacks, as well as resources that may help should you need financial assistance. It’s a good idea to find out about criteria to qualify for aid in advance, so you’re not scrambling when you’re faced with a large bill for urgent care.
Money saving tips
See your vet regularly
While it’s true a vet visit does cost money, catching an issue in its early stages can be less costly to treat.
Supplements are a great way to keep your dog healthy. They can support the immune system, brain health and keep joints moving. Whether it’s bone broth or turmeric golden paste, Senilife or New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels, which are right for your dog?
I say research and do more research, then have a chat with your vet about your findings.
Maintain a healthy weight
Overweight dogs are at greater risk of developing life-threatening diseases and painful conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, cancer and arthritis to name but a few. A fat dog already suffering mobility issues will be in even more pain, due to the impact on their joints of carrying excess weight.
Here are some ways to help your dog lose weight:
The first step would be to have him/her weighed at your vet’s office so you know how much he needs to lose
Many practices have a weight loss clinic that is free, so it’s worth making an appointment to find out how they help. Having support will make a difference
Take your dog for short walks during the day; it will be easier than one long one. If, for whatever reason you aren’t able to, please enlist the help of a friend, neighbor, family member, your kids or hire a dog walker
Swimming is a great form of exercise and easy on the joints, but keep each session short to begin with – 5 or 10 minutes
Feed your dog set meals so you can better control portion sizes, and turn it into a fun activity. How about putting the food in a Kong or puzzle toy?
Cut down on the treats, and make sure everyone follows that rule. When you do need treats try pieces of boiled chicken, carrots (raw or cooked), raw apple or make some yourself. There are tons of easy to make low fat homemade recipes on Pinterest
Buy a quality food with “real” ingredients. In my opinion nutrition is a minefield with many “experts” convinced their opinion is the only right one. Do your research (keeping any health issues in mind) into the pros and cons of dry, canned, raw, dehydrated, prescription, and home cooking. When you have a better understanding of the options speak to your vet, holistic vet or dog nutritionist, then choose what makes the most sense to you.
Is your dog food costing extra because of “health” claims?
More and more pet food manufacturers are jumping on the “health and wellness” bandwagon, appealing to consumer interest in grain free, organic, whole foods, omega 3s, glucosamine and the like.
Adding supplements, for example, may have given them an excuse to raise the price, when in fact there is no added benefit at all. My research suggests there’s no way to know the quality or actual amount of the supplement added, and whatever has been added is destroyed by the manufacturing process anyway.
Don’t pay more for no added benefit, add your own supplements instead!
Leave a money hungry practice
Sadly I’ve fallen victim to that, so I’m now vary wary and ask a lot of questions!! I, and many members of my FB group Senior Dog Care Club, have had the experience of vets who start with the most expensive treatments, without even discussing various options.
Is that sometimes what’s needed? Yes of course, but in many cases a simple urine or blood test would have been the place to begin the process of diagnosis.
All I’m saying is…ask questions.
Compare prices for medication
This one is super important, and could save you a ton of money!!
I rarely needed medication for my animals, so the odd time I did need something I bought it at the vet. When I adopted my first senior dog who came with some health issues, I started to really take notice of the prices. Some of them seemed outrageous and that’s when I started to look online. Boy did I get a shock!! Every single thing was quite a bit cheaper, and even with the cost of paying the vet for a prescription, I still saved money.
Not every online pharmacy is legit, so please do your research and ask others for recommendations.
Did you know that some of the medications are actually the same as recommended for humans? Don’t forget to check Costco, Walmart and your local pharmacy, they may have what you’re looking for.
Ask your vet if what he’s prescribing is available in generic form.
Pop up clinic
When I was living in Florida, one of the major pet supply chains offered regular pop-up clinics for microchipping and rabies shots. They were super cheap, and very well attended. It’s “first come first served” so there’s typically a long line, but for that price it may be worth the wait.
Get a written estimate before treatment
Before any test or procedure is carried out (as long as it’s not an emergency of course), ask for a written estimate and go over it with your vet. Remember it’s only an estimate, but at least you’ll have a ball park figure of what to expect.
Pet proof your house
Making your home pet friendly may cut down on the likelihood of an accident, thus avoiding an unnecessary vet expense.
Keep garbage in a cabinet or secure bin, keep cleaning products, medications and poisonous plants locked away or out of reach.
If your dog is blind don’t leave things on the floor he can trip over, and pet stairs up to the couch or bed will reduce the chance of a money costing sprain or injury.
Pay attention to behavior changes
Any changes in behaviour, especially in a senior dog, need to be checked out immediately. Small things become large things very quickly, and the more serious the more expensive it can be to treat.
Some shelters and large animal welfare organisations arrange “spay days.” You can spay/neuter a dog or cat for as little as a few dollars.
Millions of pet parents are diligent about keeping up with their dogs’ vaccinations, while others believe they do more harm than good. Preventing disease is cheaper than fighting it, so whether that’s through vaccinations or more natural methods is up to you.
Take advantage of specials
Some practices offer specials and promotions, so check if yours is one of them. Ask to be added to their mailing list so you don’t miss out. For example, February is National Pet Dental Health Month so your vet may offer free dental checks or a discount on teeth cleaning. Take advantage of it when you can, otherwise you’ll be paying full price later. A saving doesn’t have to be massive to be worth it.
I am a firm believer in continuity of care, having one vet take care of all my pets’ needs. However, there are times when that isn’t possible, giving you an opportunity to do some price comparisons.
A test like an MRI for example, is not likely to be performed in your vet’s office unless he works in a big animal hospital. If it’s not an emergency procedure where time is of the essence, ask your vet what specialist hospitals he recommends and make a few phone calls. It won’t take long and you may find huge price differences.
Pet insurance can, in theory, save you money but not all companies and policies are created equal. For example, a company may do an excellent job of covering expenses for a disease or illness the first year it happens, but may not pay anything the next year.
If you are interested in exploring this option, a good place to start is your vet’s office. They have a lot of experience processing insurance claims, and can give you good insight into which companies they think are worth considering.
Open a bank account, setting aside a certain amount of money each month exclusively for vet bills.
At the end of each day take out all the dimes, quarters, loonies (in Canada), pound coins (in England) or dollar bills (if you’re in the U.S.) from your wallet, and put them in a special tin or jar designated for vet bills. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.
Line of credit
Rather than charging a bill to your credit card and being slammed with hefty interest charges if you carry over a balance, what about a line of credit? Compare rates and see which is better. Perhaps your vet has a credit plan or offers payment options.
Buy in bulk
Whether you make your own dog food, dog treats or add veggies to make his diet more appetizing, buying ingredients in bulk (Costco) or when on sale, can save quite a bit of money.
Find low cost clinics in your area
A common reason for senior dog surrender is inability of the pet parent to pay the bills. Low cost does not mean low quality care, it just means there is an option for those who qualify to use this service. Veterinary schools sometimes offer clinics at a lower fee, as do some shelters.
Exercise will not only help keep your dog physically healthy, but mentally as well! A bored dog with too much energy will get frustrated, destructive and even aggressive. Money is spent on training, not to mention replacing your favourite shoes, and instead of saving money you’re wasting it when all he needed was a walk…or three!!
Make your own pill pockets
Many dogs can be quite stubborn when it comes to taking pills, and no matter how well you think you hid them…you didn’t!! Even the most difficult dogs seem to like Pill Pockets but they’re not cheap…especially if you are giving medication daily.
I came across this super easy recipe that’s worth a try: Mix 1 tablespoon of milk, 1 tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter and 2 tablespoons of any type of flour. Use a chopstick to create the hole and refrigerate or freeze. Make sure the ingredients are safe for your dog.
Buy store brands
Just like many of us buy supermarket and drug store own brands to save money, you may be able to do the same with pet supplies. The quality is not always the same as a name brand, so be mindful.
Make your own jerky
Does your dog love jerky but it’s costing you a fortune keeping him supplied? Make your own and here are a few recipes to get you started. Recipe 1
Groom your dog at home
Whether that means wash, cut and blow dry or just a nail trim, doing some or all of your dog’s grooming can keep more money in YOUR wallet.
Do you have a pure breed?
It seems Labs, Retrievers and Shepherds are more prone to arthritis. While that in no way guarantees they will be affected and others will not, knowing they have an increased likelihood means you can take preventative measures now…even though your dog is older. Giving him glucosamine or New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels for example, could make a big difference down the road and huge savings as well.
Join rewards programs
If you have favorite stores you like to shop at, ask if they have a loyalty or rewards scheme. Whether that means having a card stamped or receiving coupons in the mail, it’s another way to save money.
Don’t buy cheap toys
If they break you’ll spend money replacing it, and even worse your dog could swallow a piece and end up at the vet.
Make your own dog toys
For the “DIYers” and “crafters” out there, why not make your own? Here are some ideas your dog will love.
How much do you spend on bones?
Ask at your local butchers or supermarket meat counter. They’ll be cheaper, healthier and possibly even free!
Flea and tick prevention
Compare the cost of flea and tick medication, to the cost and stress of ridding your home and dog of fleas. What about the financial and physical toll a positive heartworm test can have on an old dog?
Barter for pet sitting services
What service can you offer in exchange for free pet sitting? A simple search will connect you with bartering sites.
Dilute your dog shampoo
Dog shampoos are so concentrated they can easily be diluted so they last longer. Some brands even list the dilution ratio on the label!!
Make your own dog bed
Quality dog beds can be costly, especially if one isn’t enough, so how about making your own? There are tons of DIY projects on Pinterest to suit every ability level.
Here are a few to have a look at –
Free senior dog care advice
While this should in no way replace regular vet visits, there is so much helpful information out there, it would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Whether it’s watching a Youtube video from a trusted professional or joining one of the many Facebook groups (like mine for example!), you can find a wealth of information that will help you care for your much loved old dog.
I speak from experience how much fantastic information I’ve picked up from members of my group, things my vet never even mentioned.
Companies that offer financial help
With the number of people looking for assistance, don’t expect to find help to cover all your bills, or fund ongoing treatment. There are criteria you have to meet, and it will differ from place to place.
If possible, make contact in advance. Bills you’ve already incurred may not be covered.
If you haven’t already tried, the easiest thing to do is negotiate with your vet for a payment plan.
I divided this list by country, and everything is in alphabetical order.
Corgi Aid https://corgiaid.org/wp/
Speak to your vet about a payment plan
Whether your dog has stopped eating completely or is just being fussy, it’s extremely stressful and worrying.
Some reasons could be:
- Kidney issues
- Liver issues
- Dental problems
- Anxiety (due to many causes)
- Nausea (ate too much, ate something off the street or due to some of the conditions listed above)
- Mobility issues make it difficult to reach the bowl
- New food he doesn’t like or is causing stomach upset
- Moving to a new house
- New people living in the house
- Grieving the loss of an animal companion
- Change in schedule
- A new bowl (that’s right, that can be an issue for some)
- Bored with the same dry kibble day after day and year after year
- Food is too hot/too cold
- Eating in a different room
- Dulling of senses as a natural part of the aging process
- Reaction to a medication or vaccination
See your vet
If you don’t already know why this is happening, please see your vet as soon as possible. Make some notes of new behaviors/issues and take a video if relevant.
Here are some questions you’ll want to answer in your notes
- How long has it been since your dog has eaten?
- How many times a day does he eat?
- Is your dog eating something or nothing at all?
- Is it just food that’s an issue or is he drinking more or less as well?
- Is there a certain time of day he will eat?
- Have you changed his food?
- Has he been throwing up? Having diarrhea?
- Is it just his dog food he won’t eat or he’s lost interest in everything?
- Will he still eat treats?
- Are there any other behaviors you’re concerned about?
What to expect during your appointment
Once you’ve finished your chat, your vet will examine your dog and probably take his temperature. Blood and urine tests may be done as well.
Your vet will probably recommend an appetite stimulant, and give him an injection for pain or nausea if he feels these are issues.
Please do not let your vet dismiss your concerns with a diagnosis of “your dog is old” because that is a cop out not a diagnosis. If he doesn’t feel the need for testing, ask him why not. If it’s because the reason is obvious that’s one thing, but if you feel he or she is not taking your concerns seriously, get a second opinion.
Diagnosis and what comes next
Only once all the test results are in and there is a diagnosis can you have a conversation with your vet about treatment options. Be sure to ask if there are any foods your dog should avoid.
Here are some food ideas as well as creative tips that have worked for me and many other senior dog parents I know.
- Small amounts of boiled chicken breast
- Boiled broccoli
- Boiled squash
- Whole grain rice
- Raw or cooked carrot
- Raw apple
- Plain yogurt (low/no fat if pancreatitis is an issue)
- Low fat cottage cheese
- Baby food
- Bone broth – very nutritious and super easy to make
- Grated cheese on top
- Tiny pieces of pizza crust added to dog food
- Scrambled eggs (no oil) with or without cheese
- Cooked oatmeal
- Diced ham and rice warmed in microwave
- Peanut butter
- Dr Becker’s Bites Appetite Flakes
- Roll of dog food (like a salami roll) you can slice up the daily amount and feed it throughout the day
- Tuna packed in water
- Meat scraps
- Pumpkin or sweet potatoes mixed in with food
- Cottage cheese
- Rotisserie chicken
- Chicken soup
- Tinned cat food
- Homemade chicken and rice
- Baked potato with butter
- Low salt ready-made broth
- Blend dry food until it’s almost dust and mix with canned food
- Freeze dried meal toppers
- Puree cooked vegetables and put a couple of tablespoons on food daily
- Mashed up sweet potatoes, pumpkin and broccoli
- Boiled chicken tenderloins cut up, add noodles, water or bone broth, add a bit of dry dog food, cooked peas and carrots, mix well serve warm and moist. You could try lean ground beef.
- Ground turkey burgers
- Canned pumpkin
- If boiling chicken freeze the water in ice cube trays, then defrost and pour over food
- Hold food bowl up to your dog’s mouth
- Warm the food in the microwave so the smells entices him
- Bake wet food and use as meal or treats
- Vary the foods you try so he doesn’t know what to expect
- Put all or part of his meal in a Kong or other treat dispensing toy for a change
- If he eats dry food add some water and microwave it to make a gravy
- Add at least one extra meal to his day to increase the chance/amount he’ll eat
- Are there certain times of day he’s more interested? Change meal times to match
- If you usually put medication in his food, try giving it separately and see if that makes a difference. It may be changing the taste of the food, and while it didn’t bother her in the past, if she’s finicky now, that could be all it takes. Her pills can go in something like cream cheese, spray cheese, meat…
- Exercise stimulates appetite so maybe go for a walk, a swim or something similar before meal time
- Put dog food on a human plate – yes it has been known to help
- Put food on the floor
- Feed him in the park or backyard, a change of scenery may help
Vestibular disease can most easily be described as similar to vertigo in humans.
Signs your dog may have it
- Loss of balance, leaning to one side, and falling over
- Head tilt
- Flickering eye movements
- Standing with their legs wide apart
- Walking in circles
- Collapsing/ struggling to stand
- In senior dogs it’s often idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause
- Brain tumor
- Ear issues
My experience with vestibular disease
One day I saw my heart dog Red standing in the kitchen with her head tilted.
Not the adorable head tilt some dogs have when they look at you like they want something, or have a question to ask. This was a bizarre tilt and I had no idea what was going on. I noticed she was doing it more frequently, with no other symptoms or changes in behaviour.
I mentioned the weird head tilt to my vet, and that was the first time I heard the words “vestibular disease or syndrome.”
He explained that the cause isn’t always known, there wasn’t anything to do at that moment and to keep an eye on her. It passed after a few weeks. I can’t recall exactly how long but I know it wasn’t a long drawn out thing, otherwise I would have been back at the vet.
There isn’t any treatment for vestibular, but there is for the nausea that often accompanies this issue. If it’s due to an infection, antibiotics are usually prescribed.
A member of my senior dog care club FB group mentioned their vet recommended Meclizine (brand names: Antivert®, Dramamine® Less Drowsy Formula, Bonine®, Bonamine®, Postafen®, Univert®). It’s an antihistamine used to prevent and treat motion sickness and vomiting and she found it helpful.