As a dog age, so does their needs.
You might have noticed that those energetic puppy outbursts are getting fewer, your dog is taking longer naps and the walks seems slower than before.
A dog can be called a senior dog from the age of 7 and onward depending on the breed. In general smaller breeds live longer than bigger breeds and mixed breeds tend to live longer than purebreds. As a dog grows older you will begin to see differences in his/her behavior. Little hints here and there that shows you that age is catching up.
What can you do to help your senior dog in his/her golden years?
“Loss of hearing and sight“
One of the first things to go with age is a dog’s ability to hear and see.
If you find that your dog doesn’t come to you anymore when you call him/her, or he/she can’t find the stick you just threw in front of him/her, it could be signs that your dog is losing his/her hearing or sight. Behavioral issues such as your dog being startled if you come from behind him/her, or reactive and latch out at you if you touch him/her are also signals that your dog might have trouble hearing. If you notice these signs you should always first take your dog to the vet and get him/her checked out as your dog might also be in pain.
But there are also things you can do yourself in order to give your senior dog the best conditions.
“Show me your body language“
Dogs are all about body language and they can understand your signals even better than you often can yourself. As your dog’s sight and hearing deteriorate, he/she will start to depend more and more on your body language.
Teaching your dog hand signals early on can help him/her better understand, and makes it easier for the both of you to communicate. As his/her hearing worsens you can use hand signals such as clapping your hands on the floor to get his/her attention as he/she will feel the vibration and then come to you. Also avoid petting him/her without having him/her see you first. A dog can be very startled by such an approach and react with snapping or growling. It is a natural response and should of course never be punished. Just imagine how you react when you get startled.
Loss of vision can be helped by you always keeping the house clutter free, and keeping the furniture, his/her basket and his/her food and water bowl in the same location. That way your dog will memorize the home and have no trouble getting around by himself/herself. If you are moving with a senior dog, make sure to give time for helping your dog finding and learning his/her way around his/her new home.
“Come on buddy, keep up”
Have you noticed that your dog has started lacking behind you in walks or might even stop and lie down?
As a dog age so does his/her joints and bones, and he/she might suffer from pain when walking. Again, it is important to always take your dog to the vet to rule out any ailment and perhaps get some medicinal support to take the top of your dog’s pain.
An elderly dog doesn’t need that much exercise so keep the walks shorter and maybe put a few more short walks in during the day. An elderly dog might also have trouble keeping house clean so more walks can also help him/her relief himself/herself more often and keep him/her from having accidents inside. Avoid having your dog jump up in the car but help him/her in and out using a ramp or simply by caring him/her. Also avoid stairs and don’t call your dog unnecessarily when he/she is lying down – go to him/her instead if you want to give him/her cuddles.
Besides the walk, a good massage is nice for anyone with sore joints and muscles and helps the blood circulation which in turn keeps the joints stronger and healthier for longer. Your senior dog will also have trouble regulating his/her heat, so make sure that he/she has a nice cozy bed maybe even close to a heater so he/she can stay nice and warm during those cold months of winter. This of course also goes the other way. You need to make sure that your dog doesn’t get too warm during the summer, and make sure he/she has a place to go to where he/she can cool off.
“I might be old, but I can still think”
The phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” might be true for humans but certainly not for dogs. Dogs can learn throughout their life and it is important that we as their humans keep their mind sharp and keep giving them mental stimulation – letting them sniff after their food in their basket or giving them that frozen stuffed Kong filled with goodies for them to yum up is essential even for a senior dog (If you want more ideas for enrichment click here).
In fact, due to the shorter walks I would say it is even more important to incorporate mental enrichment in your senior dog’s everyday life to keep that mind sharp. It might take longer for him/her to learn a new trick but that doesn’t make it impossible and think of all the fun you will have while training. When his/her mind does start to weaken and he/she starts to forget the things he/she used to know, stay patient with him/her and instead focus on the stuff that you can still do.
“I will stay calm when you are stressed”
You might have noticed your dog is starting to react different when you take him/her out. He/She seems a little more nervous and doesn’t want to socialize with the dogs or humans you meet anymore. Older dogs are easier stressed and can become anxious. It is important that you listen to these signs, as your dog’s anxiety might worsen if you keep putting him/her in situations that he/she is uncomfortable with. He/She might not enjoy the dog pen anymore, so maybe it is better to have him/her play in your yard with his/her best friends – a dog play date! He/She might want to be closer to you or have more alone time, either one should be respected and nurtured.
Keeping up your dog’s daily routine helps him/her from becoming anxious, along with continuous mental stimulation to keep him/her engaged and tire him/her out. If you want to go out, then maybe leave him/her at home where he/she is more comfortable or get a pet-sitter to come and be with him/her while you are away. Most importantly, stay patient – your dog, no matter age or condition, will pick up on your mood as fast as you can think it, and your irritation will cause his/her anxiety to rise which will not help the situation at all.
Of course, there are many more things you should be aware of as your dog age – nutrition, dental care (Want to learn how to brush your dogs teeth? Read How to brush your dog’s teeth – A 7-step guide) and maintaining his fur to mention a few. Always keep up with your dog’s yearly vet appointments and although there might be more issues arising as your dog age be there for him/her and in return you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you made his/her life as good as you could and you were with him/her all the way through <3