You can do four key things to help keep your aging dog healthy and happy so both of you enjoy his golden years
- Watch for age-related ailments
- Give the right amount of physical and mental exercise
- Feed appropriately
- Care for his teeth
Your dog will slow down with age, but that is no reason to stop having fun and exercising together. Be aware of your dog’s changing needs and limits, and don’t hesitate to consult your vet about your dog’s specific issues. Your vet can tell you if your dog has a curable ailment or if he is just showing his age.
Watch for Age-Related Ailments
When we think of old age, we think of stiff joints and decreased vision and hearing. Those are concerns for our dogs too, and we do need to watch for them. But those are not the only issues aging dogs face. Older dogs can develop heart problems, especially if they are obese or sedentary. If your dog is coughing often, it merits a call to the vet to check his heart. A dog’s risk of developing cancer also increases with age. When you groom your dog, check for any lumps or bumps. Don’t panic if you find one. It could be a cyst or a lipoma, but it merits a visit to your vet to be sure.
Stiff joints, arthritis and hip problems can plague older dogs. Regular, gentle exercise such as slow walks can help your dog stay limber. Keeping your dog’s weight down can also help. Some breeds such as German Shepherds are more prone to hip problems. Joint problems can make it hard for your dog to get on and off the couch or in and out of the car. Consider lifting your dog, if you are able to do so safely, or providing a secure step. If your aging dog is beginning to slip and slide on smooth floor surfaces, special boots that provide traction can help. Your dog might resist them at first, but this is one trick an older dog can learn. Most will appreciate their boots once they realize how helpful they are.
Don’t automatically dismiss changes in your dog as the inevitable result of age, especially if the change is sudden. It could be curable ailment, so it is always good to talk to your vet about any changes in your dog’s condition or behaviour. Even if it does turn out to be age-related, your vet might be able to help make your dog more comfortable.
Give the Right Amount of Exercise
Often, owners are great about walking young dogs. But then the novelty wears off. We get older. Our lives change. And we fail to walk our dogs enough. The best way to prevent problems in old age is to keep fit in youth. That’s true for dogs and humans. Helping our dogs keep fit helps us. But old age is not the time to abandon exercise. Walks with your older dog will be slower and shorter than they were in his youth, but they are important for his physical and mental well-being.
Even if it is just a slow potter around your neighbourhood every day, a walk is important for your dog. It keeps his joints and muscles more limber. Your dog’s metabolism slows with age, and daily exercise is important to keep him at a healthy weight. And all that sniffing he does? He’s catching up on the canine gossip, smelling who has been passing through. That’s good for his mind. If your dog is friendly with other dogs, he’ll enjoy meeting up with some pals his own age. He might not tolerate the energy of a young dog, but regular socializing with his age mates can help keep him mentally fit.
Food puzzles are another good way to keep his brain engaged and active. Food puzzles are toys that you put dog treats in, and your dog has to make an effort to get to the treat. Older dogs can still enjoy chew toys, but you might have to experiment a bit to find just the right one as he ages. And while he might be slower, he probably still likes playing with you if you can modify the game to suit him.
Your dog’s dietary needs change with age. His metabolism is slower, so he needs fewer calories. It isn’t just that he needs less food. It’s that the balance of nutrients he needs changes. The right diet can slow the aging process and keep your dog feeling better longer. Look for a senior dog food with ample glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health and help him stay limber. Antioxidants are important for aging dogs.
Quality dog food for any age has meat as its top ingredient. It lists a specific meat such as chicken or lamb, not ‘meat by-products’. Look for a food that has more rice than maize. Your dog does not care if his food is in cute shapes or bright colours. Choose a brand with natural ingredients and minimize the artificial additives in his diet for optimal health.
This is even more important for older dogs. Your dog’s stomach can get more delicate and easily upset with age. Feeding a high-quality brand of dog food will help keep your older dog regular as well because it will promote healthy gut muscle.
Remember to pick a formulation that matches your dog’s size. Larger dogs still need a large breed formulation of dog food although they might be eating less and need fewer calories. Small dogs will have an easier time eating the smaller nuts because even with the best dental care, their teeth will be showing the signs of aging too.
Care for His Teeth
Dental care is increasingly important as your dog ages. Feeding him appropriately throughout his life will pay off in healthier teeth as he ages. Crunchy dog nuts are the best thing for his teeth. Wet food can be fed too, but it should not be the bulk of your dog’s diet. In warm weather, your older dog need more wet food because it helps him stay hydrated. But wet food should be a side dish, and hard nuts the entrée unless your vet advises you differently because your dog as a specific health issue.
But the proper food is not enough to keep your dog’s teeth healthy for life. Most dogs will need a dental cleaning from the vet a few times over their lifespan. They may even need to have teeth pulled. A good mix of chew toys can also help your dog’s dental health. And they also need us owners to help them clean their teeth regularly. Yes, dogs do need their teeth brushed!
You can find special canine tooth brushes; do not use one made for humans with your dog. It’s much easier if your start when your dog is a pup, but it is never too late. Just go very slow with your older dog. Let him sniff the brush and chew on it a bit. Dog toothpaste is formulated to appeal to him, so he might feel this is a treat. (Never use toothpaste designed for humans on your dog.) Let him chew or lick the toothpaste off the brush a few times before you start to gently brush his teeth. Just do a few teeth at first. Start small and build as he learns this isn’t such a bad thing.
Just like us, dogs are happier and healthier with appropriate exercise and diet as they age. Dogs spend their lives loving and protecting us as best they can. They deserve to enjoy their golden years, and these four factors will go a long way toward that. But there is one more thing they need. Love. It’s free and plentiful. All you need to do is make a point of reminding your dog how much you love him a few times a day with pets and kind words. That’s the one thing he craves the most at any age.