As our pets age, their eyesight gets a little weaker, they become a little slower and they may not be able to hear as well as before. But the love they have for us is still the same. Our dogs have stuck with us all their lives, through thick and thin, and it’s time to return the favour. During this stage of their lives, our senior dogs need our love and care more than ever.
This World Health Day, let us acknowledge the changes that take place and understand how to make our elderly dog more comfortable. Many of the issues that senior dogs face are similar to those of humans. From failing eyesight and weaker bladder control to bone and joint diseases like arthritis. Small changes in our daily routine, a few adjustments to their diet and regular vet visits can make the world of difference to our pet.
This will affect your pet’s ability to go about their daily routine such as walking, eating, and seeing their favourite toys. They may bump into things or miss a step while climbing down stairs. But there are measures you can take to work around them. Eg. You could cover any sharp edges on furniture with soft Styrofoam, so even if your senior dog bumps into it, they won’t get hurt. Also, if you are leaving them on their own at home for a few hours, set up a ‘safe zone’ bound by door barriers or a playpen, so your pet is safe and won’t accidentally get hurt. You could also let your pet rest in a large crate.
Weakened bladder control is common in senior dogs so, be sure to take your pet out for pee breaks more frequently during the day. You could also invest in pee pads to give your dog easy access to a pee spot. If your pet has incontinence (lack of control over the bladder) having stain and odour removers at hand will be very useful to keep your space clean and smelling pleasant. On the other hand, if your pet is straining to pee or not peeing as much as usual, this could be a sign of kidney problems. Please consult your vet immediately.
Joint-related diseases like arthritis could also set in. This will make it difficult for your senior dog to run, climb stairs and jump down from platforms as they used to when they were younger. Use a pet ramp to help them get to the ground. Jumping down will only put more stress on their joints, causing them more pain. Switching their beds to low-lying orthopaedic beds that not only offer soft comfort but support to their aching joints will help your pet sleep better.
The smooth, tiled floors of your home can also make things difficult for your elderly dog. Your pet’s paws are not able to find a suitable grip on these floors. This makes movement especially difficult for senior dogs and can even contribute to making conditions like hip dysplasia worse. Using non-slip socks and booties will help your pet get a better grip.
In general, pay close attention to your pet. Notice things that are out of the ordinary as these could be signs of a larger internal problem. There are special supplements for older pets to ease specific conditions—for example, a taurine supplement. But make sure you get the dosage and supplement checked by a vet before you start your pet on it. Be sure to pet your dog and feel their back and body for any new bumps or lumps. If you do feel one, get it checked by a vet immediately. Some older pets have a harder time breathing. While playing is necessary for them, make sure your pet doesn’t overexert themselves.
Oral hygiene is extremely important for dogs of all ages. Brushing your pet’s teeth every day will prevent the formation of plaque and tartar and keep dental diseases away. Not only is dental disease painful, it leads to loss of teeth which makes it difficult for your senior dog to eat. If you notice that your pet is chewing on only one side of their mouth, this may be because the other side is causing them pain. Studies have shown that dogs with periodontal disease are more likely to be diagnosed with heart conditions and other organ damage.
Pets too suffer from mental health issues including dementia in seniors. Canine cognitive dysfunction has many of the same symptoms exhibited in humans. This includes repetitive behaviour, disturbances in their sleep cycles, howling, whining or barking at odd hours, staring at walls and even disorientation. They have difficulty in finding their way inside their homes. Many pet parents see these symptoms and chalk it up to their pet ‘getting old’. However, early recognition and diagnosis is very helpful. So it is important to keep an eye out for any of these symptoms.
Has your pet’s daily routine been ‘eat, play and love’? Well, as they get older, their meals and playtime may get modified but the ‘love’ part will always stay as strong as always.
In their senior years, dogs need to eat smaller meals and some senior dogs may experience constipation. Get your vet’s advice on a good diet for your senior dog.
Senior pets may have difficulty in bending to reach their dog bowls, so invest in a raised diner so your pet can eat comfortably.
Their energy levels could also drop so they may not be able to run around the park as much as before. Instead of concentrating on highly physical activities, try to include interactive toys to their routine. A KONG toy stuffed with treats or Nina Ottosson toys will exercise their minds. Take them for shorter walks and let them sniff around as much as they want. Sniffing out new scents is a form of mental stimulation as well. Games like hide and seek are another way to get your pet involved in indoor activities, especially during monsoons when they can’t go out as much.
Senior pets may develop separation anxiety. To calm them down during stressful periods, use soothing music and lavender oil. If your senior dog loves to be around people, place their dog bed in a room where most of the family gathers or spends their evenings in. This will help make your pet feel included and loved.
Speak to your vet about a diet that meets your dog’s nutritional needs in addition to suiting his or her lifestyle. Senior dog food often has added nutrients that help to boost brain activity and ease heart conditions. There are certain foods that your pet should not eat, so get a list of these from your vet as well.
Their diet should not encourage a gain in weight because this puts added stress on their joints. Smaller meals are generally encouraged. Food that includes glucosamine and chondroitin help in strengthening their joints. Omega fatty acids contribute to a healthier coat. Golden paste which includes antiseptic turmeric helps to keep your pet’s immune system strong.
Protein-centric food is an important part of their diet. This is because older dogs are less active and tend to lose muscle mass. You should check with a vet about adding a multivitamin supplement as well.
Make sure your pet has access to fresh, clean water and ensure that your pet is drinking enough water. Older pets are prone to dehydration.
Visit a trusted groomer more often so your pet needs less grooming and less time on the table. They may find it difficult to stand on the grooming table for long hours. Less grooming equals less standing. Use a softer dog brush that is gentler on your pet’s coat. A gentle massage with a massage brush or glove will encourage blood circulation as well. Keep a watchful eye out for any changes on your pet’s coat and body including for lumps and bumps.
Remember to keep up your pet’s oral hygiene. You can use dog-friendly toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental wipes and dental chews to help scrape off plaque and tartar.