How to Help Senior Dogs Age Well
As pets age, they often require lifestyle adjustments to keep them happy and healthy. Health conditions can arise and nutritional needs change for senior pets as well. With old age also comes reduced mobility and even pain when jumping or going up stairs. All of this requires pet parents to keep a closer eye on their elderly dog, especially noting any changes in activity level, weight or appetite. You can help your senior pet age gracefully and healthily with these easy modifications.
1. Joint supplements for dogs
One of the best ways to prevent arthritis in dogs is by giving your senior pet a joint supplement. As dogs (and humans) age, the cartilage in joints begins to break down, leading to joint pain. One of the most popular supplements is glucosamine chondroitin, natural substances that are the building blocks of cartilage. Other types of joint supplements for dogs may act by building muscle mass or contain other substances. Always check with your vet before starting a supplement to ensure the correct dosage and prevent any drug interactions. Veterinarians can recommend high-quality brands less likely to have problems.
Glucosamine’s side effects are usually related to a shellfish allergy; many of the supplements contain shellfish, in which glucosamine naturally occurs. Vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and appetite loss have reported in rare cases. The vast majority of senior dogs can use joint supplements throughout their lives with no side effects.
2. Dog stairs and ramps
As both pet parents and pets age, mobility decreases. Senior dogs may not be able to jump on the couch or go up stairs as easily as they used to. Getting an elderly pet in the car can also be difficult, especially larger dogs who are awkward to lift. Dog stairs and ramps make getting from point A to B much easier for all involved. Be sure to select a product appropriate for your furniture’s height and your dog’s size. Many dog ramps for cars are collapsible or fold down for storage. Stairs for pets are available in a variety of sizes and styles to match your décor.
Signs your dog might need some stairs include:
- Avoidance of difficult areas (stairways, couches, etc)
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Weight gain
- Decreased activity level
- Excessive sleeping
- Hesitancy to jump or run
- Walking stiffly
3. Low-impact exercises
Keep your pet’s joints healthy by keeping them in use! Even dogs with arthritis require daily exercise to maintain mobility. Try low-impact exercise to avoid putting stress on seniors’ joints while still getting blood pumping. Work with your dog’s natural pace, whether that’s running or walking. SlimDoggy recommends using hills to target your pup’s back or front leg muscles – depending on the incline – as muscle atrophy can occur from arthritis in dogs or lack of activity, especially in obese pets. Another great low-impact exercise for dogs is swimming. Whether you build a dog swimming pool in your backyard or head to your local lake, doggy-paddling is a major cardiovascular workout that also maintains muscles.
Pay attention to your pet for signs of overexertion, like excessive panting or drooling, and avoid exercising in extreme temperatures to prevent heat stroke in dogs. Winter weather can be rough on seniors’ joints; elderly pets are also more prone to hypothermia, so be sure to bundle your pup up before heading outside.
4. Senior pet food
Finding the best dog food for your pet’s age is extremely important. Senior dogs have different nutritional needs than puppies or even adult pets, usually around the age of six or seven – depending on your dog’s size – as their lifestyle changes too. There are a number of ways senior dog food differs:
- Lower calories are necessary to balance a less active lifestyle and lose fat.
- High protein prevents muscle wasting, especially during weight loss.
- More antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to boost the immune system, which can be weak in senior pets.
Some types of senior dog food have stronger flavor to attract less sensitive senses. If your pet has a chronic medical condition like arthritis, diabetes or kidney disease, a special diet may be required. Diabetic dog food is high in fiber, which delays the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing a dangerous post-meal blood sugar spike. Consult with your veterinarian to design a meal plan for your dog’s specific condition and lifestyle.
5. Biannual vet exams
Senior dogs need to visit the vet more frequently, twice a year for checkups. A dog officially becomes a “senior” when it’s in the last third of its life, usually around six or seven years old; the average lifespan for a dog varies depending on its size and many other factors. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends semi-annual vet exams to detect and treat early any medical conditions that may arise. There are a number of medical conditions senior pets are more likely to develop, so your vet will conduct an exam and lab work specifically geared towards these and others:
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract disease
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
It’s also important to discuss your dog’s lifestyle changes with your vet. Selecting a senior dog food, modifying exercise, and starting joint supplements should all be talked over with a veterinarian first. In some cases a physical exam or blood work may be done to rule out any preexisting medical conditions that could be exacerbated or to prevent any drug interactions with existing conditions.
6. Mental exercises
Just like humans, senior dogs can get a little senile as they age. The old saying is true – “Use it or lose it” – so it’s important to engage your pet’s brain throughout their life. Puzzle toys are one form of mental engagement and can be used when you’re at work. Taking your pet into nature (hiking, biking, running) can also be stimulating for the brain; the sights, sounds and smells of Mother Nature engage dogs’ natural instincts.
Obedience lessons for dogs can challenge seniors’ brains and even correct behavioral issues – who says you can’t teach an old dog a new trick? Just go easy on the treats, and pick low-sodium and -fat options.
(Featured image via Flickr.com/jdehaan)