How to Care for Your Senior Dog

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Senior Dog dog lying on floor

What happens when that day arrives and you realize you have an old dog? What do you need to do differently? What additional care does an older dog require? 

After compiling valuable information about nutrition, exercise, and bedding, I decided to pass it on to help dog owners give their aging dogs better care.

Bed and Other Accommodations

A Good Night’s Sleep

Any bed for your older dog should reflect special considerations. Provide support if your dog has progressive back problems such as intervertebral disc disease.

Elder dogs like German Shepherds almost universally have osteoarthritis secondary to hip dysplasia or other joint abnormalities. Orthopedic beds are designed with memory foam to address arthritic issues and can also benefit dogs in postsurgical recovery.

Many older dogs experience thinner skin. Moreover, their limited mobility leaves them vulnerable to bedsores. Extra padding or cushioning helps these issues.

Old brown labrador retriever on bed

One of the most important conditions is to make sure your dog’s bed has easy access.

Ramps and Dog Stairs

Remember when your dog used to leap into the bed of your truck or fly onto the middle of your bed? As his athleticism fades with the stiffness and discomfort of arthritis, you can ease this process by implementing steps or a ramp.

You can even utilize dog stairs to help your dog get onto his favorite couch or chair.

Elevating Your Dog’s Food

Whether or not you should elevate your dog’s food dish is a subject to discuss with your veterinarian.

While it may ease the stress on an arthritic dog’s neck, it is also implemented in bloat

Elevated feeding may cause Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV). This life-threatening condition is also known to be more prevalent in older dogs. 

We recommend you do not elevate your dog’s food unless under medical advice.

Keep His Mind Stimulated

As dogs age, they suffer some of the same cognitive issues we do. Does your dog seem to greet you less enthusiastically or appear confused or less alert when you interact with him?

Rather than accept your canine friend’s diminishing mental capacity, you can be proactive. Regularly stimulating your dog’s mind can maintain and even restore his acuity.

Toys can be as important for your dog’s senior years as they were when he was a puppy. You may have to entice your older dog to play with toys. Engage in fetch and other interactive games to grab his interest.

Puzzles also exercise and engage your dog’s mind, which is very important for seniors. Sometimes, you can use his favorite treat to motivate him to solve a puzzle toy.

Regular outings are great to keep your dog alert and exercise his brain. Take your dog to the dog park or through an agility course. The more you engage your dog the longer he will be able to remain active.

Your pet may benefit from herbs or supplements to improve cognitive function.

  • Antioxidants – Vitamins C and E protect the brain against free radicals.
  • Gingko Biloba – This herb is thought to have antioxidant effects, help depression, and increase mental alertness.
  • Branch-chain amino acids – Leucine and isoleucine are also beneficial for your dog’s eyes.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – You can easily add fish or krill to your dog’s food.

Use all herbs with caution in your dog’s food. Many supplements considered safe for people can be toxic to dogs.

Exercise Suitability for Senior Dogs

Old labrador retriever in agility

We all know exercise is vital for our dogs. Your dog’s need for regular exercise will not disappear as he becomes older. He may no longer be able to bound for miles across rolling hills, but exercise maintains enormous benefits for aging dogs.

  • Joint mobility – As your dog gets older, pain and mobility issues may make him reluctant to engage in normal activity. However, mild to moderate exercise increases joint mobility.
  • Muscular strength – Muscles slowly decrease in volume and mass as a dog ages. Exercise ensures your pet continues to use his muscles to maintain strength, balance, and coordination.
  • Mental Clarity – Exercise improves cognitive function.
  • Heart benefits – Your dog needs to move around to facilitate circulation and heart and lung function.

Customize activities to your dog’s abilities. Take into account that your aging dog’s abilities may vary from day to day, but he should still obtain at least a walk every day. Carry out as much of your daily routine as possible. Your dog can still play, jog, and go to the dog park.

Feed Your Dog a Diet Suited for an Older Dog

As your pet reaches five to seven years old, digestive functions begin to slow down.

  • Decreased nutrient absorption – Older dogs become less efficient in their ability to absorb proteins and vitamins from their food.
  • Chronic disease – Diseases can disrupt how food is metabolized and absorbed.
  • Lower metabolic rate – You may need to focus on reducing your dog’s caloric intake.
  • Less efficient organ function – Cater to any problems your dog may suffer. In some cases, specialized dog food, like a kidney diet, is appropriate.

Because of increased digestive challenges and possible oral problems, your older dog needs additional nutritional availability in his food.

Senior diets traditionally utilize high-quality protein with increased fat and fiber content compared to regular adult dog food.

As scientific understanding of senior dog nutritional requirements expands, more focus is on amino acids. Excessive fiber can decrease digestive efficiency.

Many dog food manufacturers add joint supplements like chondroitin, glucosamine, and hyaluronic acid, in consideration of the aging dog. Other focus on Omega fatty acids and antioxidants.

Take Care of Your Dog’s Teeth

As dogs age, the enamel on their teeth wears down. Some teeth may break and others become compromised by gum disease and infection.

Veterinary performing a dental inspection to a Golden Retriever

German Shepherds, for example, have better oral health then many of the smaller breeds, but regular check-ups and dental hygiene is vital. You should brush your dog’s teeth regularly if he tolerates it.

Your dog should be accustomed to you examining his mouth. Watch for any trouble chewing and look in your dog’s mouth at least every few months looking for gingivitis, problem teeth, and any tumors.

Other important contributors to dental health include encouraging your dog to chew on veterinary-approved bones and treats and professional ultrasonic cleaning. Your veterinarian may also recommend dental X-rays at least annually.

Take Your Dog to the Veterinarian Regularly

I remember the first time I heard the adage that every year of a dog’s life equates to seven human years.

Although not very precise, the seven-year mantra emphasizes the importance of frequent check-ups based on an accelerated aging timeline. Moreover, large dogs age faster than their smaller counterparts.

Your vet is in the best position to tell you how often your dog should have a physical exam. It usually depends on his age, lifestyle and health status.