It can be hard to admit that your beloved companion is entering his senior years. The idea that he won’t be around forever can be painful to consider.
Even though it’s tough, being honest about your dog’s aging is vital for his well-being. When it comes to senior dog care, an older pup will have different needs compared with a younger pet. Your care needs to reflect this.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to maintain your dog’s quality of life. Here are 9 tips for keeping a senior dog happy and comfortable during his twilight years.
9 Easy Ways To Make A Senior Dog More Comfortable
Want to keep your older dog happy and healthy, as long as possible? This is the ultimate list of senior dog care advice.
1. Use Natural Supplements To Support Your Dog’s Health
There are many supplements marketed at people with senior dogs. Sadly, most are overpriced and have little scientific backing.
That said, some supplements are really important. Here are a few that are proven to have a positive impact on an aging dog’s brain, joints and body:
- Omega-3s (EPA and DHA): Long chain omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect. They’re important for all dogs, but especially important for senior dogs. They can improve cognition and reduce joint pain due to arthritis. Omega-3 is found in krill oil, fish and phytoplankton. It’s also in plant oil, but there is some debate about how effectively dogs can it.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Both glucosamine and chondroitin protect joint cartilage. This makes them essential supplements if your dog suffers from osteoarthritis.
- Probiotics: Human doctors are starting to understand the importance of “healthy” gut bacteria. These are huge for digestion and the immune system. The same is true for dogs. Here’s an excellent guide for introducing probiotics into your dog’s diet by Patricia Jordan, DVM.
- Mushrooms: The beta glucan from certain mushrooms have immune-modulating and anti-tumor properties. These can help boost an older dog’s immunity and keep cancer at bay.
Keep in mind that supplements can’t counteract an unhealthy diet. If your dog is fed kibble or other low-quality foods, or he’s overweight, then this needs to be addressed first. Feeding a fresh, whole food diet is the foundation for good health.
2. Keep Floors Clutter-Free And Avoid Changing Furniture Locations
A dog’s sight, smell and hearing all deteriorate with age. This forces your dog to rely more on memory when moving around the house.
For this reason, avoid moving furniture as much as possible. If furniture is moved around a lot, your dog may feel stressed and anxious about navigating the house.
You should also minimize clutter on floors. It’s easy for a dog with poor sight to miss a shoe or child’s toy, which could cause a nasty slip.
3. Reduce Calorie Intake To Avoid Weight Gain
A dog’s metabolism slows with age. It can vary, but the average dog needs 10-20% fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. Since older dogs also exercise less, you may need to reduce your dog’s intake by up to 40%.
Reducing your dog’s food might seem cruel, but obesity is frighteningly common in older dogs. And it can cause serious health problems.
Don’t cut your dog’s food overnight though. Instead, weigh your dog to track whether he’s eating too much, too little, or just the right amount. Then, gradually reduce the amount to help him stay at a healthy weight.
Be aware of changes to your dog’s appetite too. If he starts to become picky about food, or doesn’t seem interested in eating, this could signal a health problem.
4. Maintain A Consistent (But Reduced) Exercise Schedule
Dogs need regular exercise to maintain healthy joints, muscles and weight. Daily walks also provide mental stimulation that prevents boredom and reduces anxiety.
Too much exercise can be harmful for a senior dog though. Long walks and high-impact activities can put pressure on already damaged joints. Many older dogs also don’t have the energy they once had.
The key is to remember that the walk is for your dog, not you! If your pet wants to amble at a slow pace, stop to sniff (and rest) every few minutes, then let him.
Look for other warning signs that your dog is struggling. Excessive panting, drooling or coughing can all be signs of exhaustion. If you’re not sure whether a walk is too long, be overcautious and take him home.
Most importantly, never force your dog to keep up with you. A dog will push through pain and exhaustion to stay by your side, so don’t make him match a pace he can’t handle.
On a side note, senior dogs often prefer familiar routes and scenery. The deterioration of the dog’s senses can make new walks stressful.
5. Choose The Right Bed To Relieve Joint Soreness
Your dog’s bed can make the difference between a comfortable sleep and waking up with sore joints. If your dog often seems stiff in the morning, his bed could be the culprit.
The best beds for senior dogs are made with thick memory foam. This molds to a dog’s body shape, which prevents pressure points on sore hips and shoulders.
Keep in mind that heavier dogs need thicker memory foam. You don’t want the bed doesn’t allow the dog to sink through to the floor. You should also look for a bed with solid foam instead of shredded. Shredded foam doesn’t provide the same support.
6. Add Non-Slip Rugs To Hard Floors
Have you noticed your dog spends less time in the kitchen? Or seems anxious about walking on hard floors?
If so, he could be struggling to grip slippery flooring. Just like humans, dogs can start to lose their balance with age. A slip is also much more painful for a dog with osteoarthritis than it would have been when he was younger.
This can lead to your dog avoiding hard flooring rather than risking a fall. Aside from limiting your dog’s movement, this may also mean he can’t spend as much time with you.
The best solution is to buy a non-slip runner to cover any hard floors your dog walks on. This can instantly solve the problem and provide your dog with freedom of movement.
It’s essential that the runner has a non-slip rubber backing though. A surface that moves is often even more frightening for a dog who is worried about falling. Yoga mats can work really well and are inexpensive!
7. Buy A Portable Ramp to Help Your Dog Get Into The Car
As your dog gets older, tasks that were once simple need a bit more thought. Getting in or out of a car is a great example, as a dog with joint pain may be reluctant to jump.
The sad thing is that most senior dogs will still jump into a car when asked. This is simply because they don’t want to be left behind. Aside from being painful, jumping can damage joint cartilage. This can lead to the dog becoming fearful of the car.
Don’t force your dog to hurt himself by leaping into the trunk. Instead, buy a portable ramp so he can walk into the car without putting pressure on his joints. Make sure you buy a ramp that fits your car and isn’t too steep for your pet to use safely. Make sure you practice using the ramp before he actually needs it. Offer him plenty of goodies to entice him to use his new ramp.
8. Try Acupuncture As An Effective Alternative Therapy
Senior dogs can develop a variety of health conditions. These range from muscle pain to genetic problems. Conditions like intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and hip dysplasia can creep up.
Canine acupuncture may provide relief from some of these conditions. It can also improve your dog’s overall well-being. It stimulates the release of certain hormones, relax muscles and block pain signals.
Of course, acupuncture isn’t a magic bullet and it doesn’t solve all health problems. But for conditions such as arthritis, IVDD and anxiety, it can be very useful. It is also sometimes used for liver disease and degenerative myelopathy.
9. Remember That Older Dogs Need More Protection From The Weather
A senior dog will often have more difficulty regulating his body temperature. Older dogs feel the cold more strongly. They may struggle to stay comfortable as the temperature drops. This is particularly common in short-haired breeds, such as greyhounds or miniature pinschers.
A dog sweater is often the easiest solution. These don’t need to be thick. You just want to provide an extra layer of insulation to keep your dog warm.
Memory foam beds can also keep your pet warm when he’s asleep. Foam is notorious for staying warm, which can be unpleasant for humans but great for a cold dog.
And, it’s not just cold weather that’s a problem. Older dogs suffer more in the heat too. Avoid walking when the weather is hot and provide plenty of cool water.
Senior dogs can be just as happy as a younger pet, but they do need a little extra special care to remain comfortable. It’s important to be honest about the changes happening to your dog. This way, you can meet his new needs and help him enjoy his remaining years.