As our dogs age (particularly once they are north of seven-years-old), they can develop a new set of needs. Their favorite game of catch may be too strenuous, they might not be able to jump up to their favorite seat by the window, or they may not even be able to hear you call them in for dinner. Though they may need a little extra paw-holding, we pet parents should be happy to give it to them—especially after all the times they’ve been there for us over the years! Here are 11 ways to keep your senior dog happy and tips to help him through these new challenges.
11. Double Up on Vet Visits
“Semi-annual wellness exams are a wonderful way to keep on top of any medical conditions,” suggests Tonya Wilhelm of Global Dog Training. “By doing this, the veterinarian is able to do a full exam, look for any concerning lumps, listen to the dog’s heart function and evaluate hearing and eye sight.”
10. Keep Their Handicaps in Mind
You may find that your senior dog has developed a few more health issues than when he was younger. As a result, everyday tasks may become new hazards. “Many senior dogs have decreased hearing, vision and mobility, so make sure the environment is safe,” says Judy Morgan, DVM and founding director of Monkey’s House, a hospice and sanctuary for older pets. Provide pet stairs if he can’t jump, remove any big furniture items from main paths and watch your step: if your pet is small he might not hear you coming, which could result in a nasty fall for the both of you.
9. Help Them Maintain a Healthy Diet
Dana Cichocki, pet parent to 10-year-old Pit Bull rescue named Jada, says she does her best to make sure Jada eats well. “We give Jada joint supplements and fish oil pills to help keep her joints from hurting and her heart ticking.” Morgan gives her senior dogs a boost with joint supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids for brain, skin and joint health.
8. Cater To Their Aching Joints
A common issue for older dogs is arthritis and, aside from supplements and medications, there are other ways to relieve joint pain. “Some pets with arthritis will do well with something to help keep them warm,” says Morgan, who has seven senior dogs in her home. “Warm towels from the dryer placed over sore joints can be very soothing. Additionally, our old dogs get massage, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments to keep them moving well.”
7. Keep Them Active, But Don’t Overdo It
If you and your pet used to go for runs, a leisurely stroll may be more their speed now. Iris Salsman’s 12 ½-year-old Great Dane-Rottweiler mix has slowed down in her older age, but is in good health and is happy to stay active.
“Taking her on really long walks keeps her entertained,” she says. “We go to places where she can sniff out new smells. She moseys along investigating everything. It doesn’t count as exercise for me, but it stimulates her senses.”
Keeping your pet physically fit as they age is crucial, Wilhem says. “A dog with an ideal body weight and who continues to be active has a better chance to ward off inflammation and stiffness, not to mention having a leaner body weight will have less pressure on a dogs’ joints and heart muscle.”
6. Watch Them More Carefully
You may be used to letting your dog out in the backyard on his own, but he may need you to keep an eye out now. “Dogs with decreased hearing and vision may get lost and wander from the yard accidentally and not be able to find their way home,” Morgan says.
5. Give Them a Social Life
“Dogs love to be with their people,” Morgan says, so if your dog always loved company, consider putting play dates on your calendar.
“I have friends, human and canine, over for [my dog]to interact with,” Salsman says, adding, “She doesn’t really play with them, but she loves the attention and brings out all her stuffed animals to show them.”
4. Take Care of Their Teeth
Dog’s teeth become more sensitive and prone to infection as they age, and infected teeth can increase the risks of heart disease and kidney disease, according to Morgan. Make brushing your dog’s teeth with a pet-friendly toothpaste a routine part of your day.
3. Take Them on Special Outings
Elizabeth Megan, pet parent to an 18.5 ½-year-old Shih-Tzu named Baxter, brings her senior pet on family outings. “To keep him happy and comfortable we have increased the number of family outings that we call an adventure,” she says.
Taking your senior pet for a short walk around the block, out for a car ride or even a day trip can make them feel special and loved. Wilhem adds, “Just because a dog may already know how to sit and lay down, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy attending a positive dog training class to have a fun weekly outing.”
2. Keep Their Minds Sharp
To keep Jada’s mind sharp, Cichocki plays dog-friendly brain games with her. “We play the “find” game,” she says. “We hide treats all around the house and say, “find!” and she has to use her nose to smell and find all the treats! She really loves it!”
Morgan agreed that these types games are great mental stimulation, adding that some senior dogs suffer from cognitive dysfunction and may need vitamin or nutritional support.
1. Show Them Lots and Lots of Love
“The main advice I can give for any older dog [parent]is to just give them lots of love,” Cichocki says. “That’s what Jada loves most.” Special time together, even if it’s just cuddling on the couch, is what our dogs cherish most – fortunately, that’s very simple for us to deliver!