Integrative Medicine, Rehabilitation
Caring for Your Senior Dog: A Guide to Keeping Your Pet Healthy and Happy as They Age
As our beloved pets age, the care and attention they require to remain healthy and happy changes. Here we will explore various aspects of caring for an aging dog, including when they are considered seniors, their diet and weight management, the importance of exercise, ways to stimulate their mental wellbeing, and the importance of regular veterinary check-ups.
When is a Dog Considered a Senior?
The age at which a dog is considered a senior can vary depending on their breed and size. Generally, smaller breeds (44-52 in human years) tend to have longer lifespans and may be considered seniors around the age of 7-9 years, while larger breeds (36-60 in human years) may reach their senior years sooner, around 5-7 years. However, it’s important to remember that individual factors such as genetics and overall health also play a role in determining when a dog enters their senior stage.
Your Dog’s Diet and Weight Management
Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining your aging dog’s health. As dogs age, their metabolism slows down, and they may become less active, making them prone to weight gain. Overweight dogs can be more affected by the signs of pet arthritis and have a greater chance of heart issues or animal diabetes. Studies show that dogs who maintain an ideal weight are prone to less disease, have less pain, and can live up to two years longer than overweight dogs. This is a significant amount of time in dog years, giving you even more time to enjoy with your pet!
Here’s a few quick tests you can do at home to help determine if your dog’s weight is ideal.
- Run your fingers lightly down your dog’s sides. You should easily be able to feel their ribs and even see the last one.
- When looking at your pet from above, you should see a defined waist just below the last rib. The breed and structure of your pet will affect how defined they should be.
- When looking at your dog from the side, their tummy should be tucked up and not hanging down.
Knowing what’s in your dog’s food is important to ensure they’re eating a complete, healthy, and balanced diet. Your family veterinarian is a great resource and may suggest feeding your pet senior-specific dog food that is formulated to meet their changing nutritional needs.
Importance of Exercise for Senior Dogs
Regular exercise is essential for keeping your aging dog physically and mentally fit. While their exercise requirements may decrease compared to their younger years, it’s still important to provide them with daily opportunities for movement. Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, or gentle play can help maintain muscle tone, joint flexibility, and overall wellbeing. However, always be mindful of your dog’s limitations and adjust the intensity and duration of exercise accordingly. For example, instead of taking one 30–40-minute walk per day, walk 15-20 minutes twice a day.
Sometimes your dog may not be able to join you for a stroll outside due to weather or scheduling. But there are things you can do to get them moving inside your home. Here are four exercises that can be fun for your pet:
- Caveletis or Overs – Place PVC piping, foam pool noodles, broom sticks or similar objects elevated on 2×4 boards or through cones about 2-3 feet apart. The pole height should be at or below your dog’s elbow. With a treat in hand to encourage participation, walk next to your dog and encourage them to walk through the path while stepping over the poles. You can make various patterns such as straight line, square and zig zag, to strengthen different body parts. Do this for 3-5 sets with 3-10 repetitions. This exercise not only strengthens your dog’s body, but it also stimulates their brain.
- Sit to Stand – This exercise is as simple as it sounds. With treats in hand, ask your dog to sit and stand multiple times, 3-5 times. This is like a human squatting, and it strengthens your dog’s hind legs.
- Walk Backs – Create a “skinny channel” by using the space in a narrow hallway, the area between the coffee table and couch, or by placing two chairs close together. With a dog treat in an open hand, ask your dog to walk into the channel. Then while using a closed hand, ask your dog to walk backwards. Repeat this process several times. Walking backwards helps your dog with balance, strengthening their trunk muscles, and for awareness of where their bodies are to avoid missteps and potential injuries.
- Cookie Turns or Hip Rolls – Ask your dog to go into a down position. While holding a cookie or dog treat, guide your hand down your dog’s side toward their rear. From there, go back in the same direction, circling around to the other side of your dog’s rear. This movement should prompt your dog to follow you with their head and lift their hip up. You can then reward your good pup with the treat.
Your older dog may benefit from seeing a rehabilitation specialist to supplement at-home exercise. For example, MedVet rehabilitation services offer water treadmills to decrease impact on your dog’s joints and muscles, hot and cold therapy, laser therapy, ultrasound, and even therapeutic massage or acupuncture.
Mental Stimulation for Senior Dogs
In addition to physical exercise, mental stimulation is equally important for older dogs. Engaging their minds can help prevent cognitive decline and keep them mentally sharp. Some of the ways to stimulate your dog mentally include:
- Walks: Take different routes and go to new locations. Let your dog enjoy leisurely sniffing, too, as it is one way they communicate with their environment.
- Car rides: Leave the windows slightly open and let them sniff away while observing everything they pass. Car rides can also help them work on their balance.
- Socialization: Have playdates with dogs of similar age and activity level.
- Toys: Use interactive toys that require your dog to solve puzzles or find hidden treats. There are many toys available for purchase, but you can create ones simply at home. For example, you can place treats in a few cups of a muffin tin. Place tennis balls over all the cups and allow your dog to use their nose and paws to find the treats. These types of activities engage their problem-solving skills and keep them mentally active.
- Training and obedience: You can teach an old dog new tricks! Continue to reinforce basic commands and teach new tricks. This not only provides mental stimulation but also strengthens the bond between you and your dog.
Grooming an Older Dog
While regular grooming is recommended for all dogs, it’s extremely important for senior pets’ overall health. Frequent brushing of their fur can help prevent their hair from getting matted. Mats can contribute to skin infections and may hide skin tumors. Properly clipped toenails are also essential. Long toenails may cause your dog to stand or walk abnormally, resulting in pain or accelerating arthritis.
Accessorizing Your Home for Added Comfort and Safety
You can make life at home more comfortable for your aging dog by:
- Raising your pet’s water and food bowls to make it easier for them to eat and drink without bending over as far.
- Providing comfortable bedding. Just like humans, dogs may experience joint or muscle pain more frequently as they age. Providing your dog with washable, sturdy and temperature-regulating bedding is ideal. Memory foam is also an option your dog may benefit from to increase their comfort.
- Using ramps or steps. If your pet is permitted on the bed or couch, place steps in front of the furniture to help them get up without the need to jump. Even easier for your pet is a ramp that allows them to get to higher areas like furniture, in and out of a vehicle, and up and down stairs.
- Adding rugs to slippery floors. As dogs age, they may hesitate to walk on wood or vinyl floors as they can lose their footing. Adding anti-slip rugs or yoga mats to floors can help provide a non-slip surface.
- Maintaining your home at a steady, comfortable temperature. As dogs age, they begin losing large amounts of hair and their bodies are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Avoiding wide temperature variations and keeping the humidity consistent increases their comfort.
Regular Veterinary Check-ups
Yearly visits to your family veterinarian are important for all pets, especially senior dogs, to monitor their health and identify any potential issues early on. They can ensure your pet is current on vaccinations, perform routine blood and urine tests, and offer an overall assessment of your pet’s health. Pursuing specialty check-ups is yet another important preventative care measure.
Common health issues aging dogs may experience include vision or hearing loss, osteoarthritis, urinary incontinence, kidney disease, and cancer. Your family veterinarian may refer your pet for specialty care as they age or if health issues are identified.
MedVet provides exceptional care with an unrivaled experience in many areas, including ophthalmology services to care for dog’s aging eyes, treatments for arthritis, in-depth dental care, and rehabilitation services among others.
These suggestions on caring for your aging dog can make a significant difference in their overall wellbeing and quality of life, ensuring your furry companion enjoys a happy and healthy senior life.