While it can vary between breeds, many dogs are considered ‘senior’ by 7 years of age and there can be lots of extra considerations for these most special of friends.
Firstly, get a good team on board including vet and complimentary therapists (hydrotherapy physiotherapy etc). Work closely with them to have a plan in place for regular vet checks and wellness exams.
Did you know that 80% of dogs over 8 years suffer from some form of arthritis (https://caninearthritis.co.uk/). Dogs hide pain really well! So even if you think your older pet is well, be sure to watch them closely for behavioural and physical changes that may indicate they are in pain.
Adapt exercise to suit your older pet, which may mean shorter walks or smaller more frequent strolls. Have a good balance between physical and mental exercise. Increase enrichment to help keep your dog moving especially on these cold winter mornings. Snuffle mats/balls, food toys and chewing can all work muscles and joints effectively. Scent classes are perfect for older dogs! They are low impact and provide a tonne of mental stimulation as well as really using that incredible nose. Visit Pawsitive Connection for more information on dog sport programs here.
Common behavioural changes we see in older dogs include;
- increased noise sensitivity and anxiety
- sudden onset of aggressive behaviours such as growling when being brushed or groomed
- intolerance of close contact (like cuddles and hugs)
- not wanting to play, refusal to follow cues such as sit or down (it may be uncomfortable)
- sitting down on walks and not wanting to go further.
This can be labelled as ‘stubborn’, but it can often be related to pain and tension in the body. Sometimes you must be a dog detective to work out the little clues that may be related to pain. If you are concerned, please talk to your vet team. Older pets can also suffer from hearing and vision loss. They may not hear you if they are sleeping and you walk near them so may startle, they may not hear you when you call. Be sure to discuss any behavioural changes with your vet first, as it may be related to a medical condition.
Dog to dog relationships can change over time. You may find your older dog is less tolerant of other dogs (especially bouncy puppies) and may be only comfortable in a small circle of friends. If you take your senior dog to the dog park for example, make sure they are actually enjoying the experience. Gentle walks with other adult dogs may be more their vibe.
Joint support and weight management are particularly important in the older pet. Consider a healthy fresh food diet with adequate levels of omega 3 fatty acids – cold water marine fish such as sardines are a great addition to the diet. Also, using a joint support supplement may help your older pet. Supplements based on marine sources have the most evidence in improving mobility. Note that supplements should not be a replacement for pain relief and veterinary treatment. Promote good gut health by using probiotics and prebiotics and reduce processed foods where possible. Ensure water and food is easily accessible – some pets may benefit from raised bowls, and make sure water is available in several areas of the house so your dog doesn’t have to move too far.
Some older pets can struggle moving around on our smooth hardwood or tiled floors. Consider nonslip matting and rugs on floors/stairs and introduce ramps to replace stairs around the house, if possible, onto the bed/sofa and into the car. Ramps should be taught flat on the ground first then the angle gradually increased. You can also get nonslip booties and socks if your dog can tolerate them.
There are so many ways we can make our older pets more comfortable. With understanding, education, and a whole lot of love, we can enrich their lives well beyond their senior years.
“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.” – Sidney Jeanne Seward
Shop for all your pet’s needs online at https://www.vetnpetdirect.com.au