Elder dogs tend to be wiser, more mellow, and those grey muzzles are more adorable than even the fattest puppy paws. Most dog parents spoil their canine companions regardless of age, but there are some extra-special ways to provide senior dog care that can make the aging process more comfortable.
Upgrade Your Senior Dog’s Bed
If you’ve had your dog since he was a puppy, you probably tried quite a few beds until you finally found the one that was just right. As your dog moves into his senior years, consider upgrading to an orthopedic dog bed. Look for something with memory foam and thick fleece, which can help cushion aging joints and keep them warm and more flexible. You can repurpose the old beds with extra blankets by putting them in other favorite nap spots throughout the house.
Upgrade Your Home Decor
Want to see your dog’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree? Introduce him to the joys of a genuine sheepskin rug. Because of their natural insulating properties, sheepskins are warm in winter, cool in summer and luxurious all year round. Pro tip: put the sheepskin next to you on the sofa and your dog will never want to leave your side.
Keep Those Nails Short
As dogs age, their ligaments become less elastic and their knees can become more prone to injury, which means even a small misstep on a smooth floor can cause pain. One of the easiest ways to prevent slipping is to keep your dog’s nails short so his paw pads can provide more traction.
If your dog is no fan of pedicures, ask your vet tech to do it during regular vet visits. Most grooming salons will also do nail trims on a walk-in basis. If you’d like to take care of nail maintenance yourself, invest in a good pair of dog nail clippers and/or a dremel, and don’t be afraid to ask your vet tech or groomer to show you how to do a fear-free nail trim at home.
Add Some Nail Covers
For dogs that have a particularly hard time on hardwood or other smooth floor surfaces, nail covers can provide much-needed extra traction. It’s a bigger investment of both time and money to apply and maintain nail covers, but they can help spare your dog the pain of an injury and you the pain of a big vet bill for joint or ligament repairs.
Reevaluate Your Senior Dog’s Diet
Your dog’s dietary needs will change as he ages, and senior dog food is formulated to address elder dog-specific needs. Metabolism slows with age, and that can lead to obesity, which in turn can cause other issues like joint pain, heart disease or diabetes.
In general, you’ll want to look for a brand with fewer calories to keep the weight under control and more fiber to support gastrointestinal health. Many of these senior diets also contains glucosamine, chondroitin and omega 3/6 fatty acids which are joint, heart and brain healthy. Talk to your vet to make sure you find the right food for your dog’s particular health concerns, and be sure to introduce the new food gradually so as not to cause stomach upset.
Keep the Water Bowl Full
It’s important to make sure that your dog stays hydrated, and you may notice that your dog’s water consumption has gone up over the years. That’s because it’s harder for senior dogs to maintain a good water balance as they get older. Keeping an eye on the water intake is also a good way to monitor your dog’s overall condition. Drastically increased water consumption can be an indicator of endocrine disorders such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Consider elevating the food and water bowls so that your pooch does not have to bend his neck as much to get food and water. Arthritis of the neck is an issue and it can be painful to bend leading to less water and food intake.
There are many high-quality supplements on the market that can make a real difference in your dog’s comfort as he enters his golden years. Veterinarians recommend joint supplements for dogs that contain ingredients such as MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin which can help slow the progression of arthritis symptoms and make walking and standing less painful. Other supplements can address cognitive decline and support neurological health. Again, talk to your vet before introducing any kind of supplements to ensure that ingredients won’t interact badly with any prescription medications.
Learn Canine Massage
Every time you pet your dog, you’re basically giving them little massage. If you want to take that up a notch, you can learn more advanced canine massage or range-of-motion techniques to address issues such as creaking joints, stiff muscles and anxiety that sometimes come with senior dog care. Giving regular massages is a great way to bond with your dog and has the added benefit of making you aware of any new lumps, bumps or hot spots so that you can provide more effective early care. There are veterinarians, licensed technicians and rehabilitation facilities that are trained in massage, water treadmills, laser therapy and acupuncture which can be helpful for specific pets.
Give Your Dog a Boost
Declining mobility is one of the most obvious signs of aging, and you can help your dog out by providing a little extra assistance. Picking your dog up instead of letting him jump up and down can save a lot of wear and tear on his joints and spine. If your dog is too big to pick up, consider a ramp or even a sling to help him get up the stairs or into a car (you may need to train him to use the ramp or accept the sling by using positive reinforcement methods). For smaller dogs, try a set of doggy stairs to help them get onto the bed or sofa, or use a big throw pillow as an intermediate step instead. If your dog still enjoys getting outside but can’t handle the actual walking, look for a doggy backpack or stroller.
Don’t Forget Vet Visits
One of the best ways to pamper your senior dog is by scheduling regular vet visits. For senior pets, this should be done at least every six months. Your vet can help diagnose health issues early, which means treatment plans can be more effective. A good vet can also help you navigate the wealth of information (or misinformation) available online, which can save money in the long run as well as spare your dog ineffective or dangerous treatments.
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A graduate of The University of Chicago, Melanie worked in academia and finance for many years before joining the companion animal community. She believes that a good education fosters compassion, informed advocacy, and a deeper understanding of animals as they really are. She is passionate about effective communication, and in addition to her freelance writing and editing gigs she has a burgeoning career as an instructional designer. Melanie lives in Chicago with her overlords—a flock of super-smart companion parrots and a Chi-Puggle mix named Hattie.