Welcome to the 14th post in our Dog Training blog series. This ongoing series features guest posts by local professional dog trainers and highlights some of the big questions they address to their clients. Today's post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Dog Training.
Caring for an older dog is very rewarding and satisfying. Older dogs know their owners very well and have a wonderful grasp of all their commands and your routines. Senior dogs tend to have less exercise requirements and can be very content just hanging out and lounging with their human partners.
Exactly when a dog is considered a senior mainly depends on the breed. Larger dogs (such as a Great Dane or Mastiff) may attain senior status around the age of 5 or 6 while smaller dogs (like a Chihuahua or Pekinese) may not reach their golden years until around 10 or 12 years of age. Besides breed and size, diet, genetics and environment all play a major role in a dog’s life expectancy.
The proper combination of attention and preventative care can help extend the lives of dogs, just as modern medicine has extended the life of humans. To ensure that your dog lives a long, happy and comfortable life, think about implementing some of the following strategies into your pet care routine.
- Observe your dog’s diet – It is common for older dogs to have some issues with food, including loss of appetite, problems chewing food, digestive problems or obesity. Check with your vet concerning the best exercise and diet plan for your older dog. Changes in diet may include decreasing carbohydrates to maintain a healthy weight or adding more fiber to their diet to help with digestive issues. There are also supplements available, such as glucosamine or fish oils, that can be added to their food to help with joint pain.
- Don’t forget your dog’s teeth - As your dog ages, good dental hygiene is vital. To prevent painful dental disease or decay, regular brushing or professional dental cleaning is recommended. Dental treats and toys can be used if your dog does not enjoy having their teeth brushed.
- Visit your vet more frequently - Just as older people visit their doctor more frequently, it is important that your senior dog goes in for a vet checkup at least twice a year. Your dog will benefit from more frequent vet visits. Senior dogs might need additional examinations, dental care or blood tests. Furthermore, certain breeds may be more to susceptible to certain ailments such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer or hip dysplasia. Early detection is important before something becomes a major issue.
- Adjust your dog’s exercise routines - Aging dogs may experience pain and not be able to enjoy all the activities that they did at a younger age. It is still extremely important, for proper health and general well-being, that your dog gets a suitable amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Shorten your walks and keep a close eye on your dog’s breathing and movement. Make sure that you do not over do it. Training and interactive toys, such as food puzzles, will help maintain an active brain.
- Adjust your house - Just like when you had to puppy-proof your house, you now need to adjust your house to accommodate your older dog’s specific needs. Consider using a ramp for getting in the car or on the bed if a dog has hip or arthritis issues. Make sure that food and water are in easy reach, especially if your dog has vision problems. If you live in a cooler climate, you may consider a heated bed for your senior dog since these can help relieve achy muscles and joints. If your dog has problems rising, you may want to use some non-slip surfaces to prevent falls and to make it easier for them to keep traction when getting up.
- Keep a close eye on your dog - Watch your dog’s appetite, behavior, exercise patterns and dental issues. Regularly check for any new lesions, lumps or bumps and bring them to your vet’s attention. You know your dog best so just keep a look out for any sudden changes and trust your instincts.
Even though taking care of a senior dog may be a little more effort for the owner, it is a small price to give to your lifelong companion. Your dog has been a wonderful friend to you for many years and it is now time to return the favor by making sure they are comfortable, healthy and safe. Your furry family member will appreciate all your extra work! As always, stay calm and confident and be the leader that your dog wants and needs.
This post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Training. For more information or to learn how Adam can help with your dog needs, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.