Caring for a Senior Dog

4January 2021

As our dogs age, it’s important to adapt how we interact with them. As with humans, dogs will slow down as they age, some may lose their sight or hearing, and many have joint and muscles pains. There are, of course, many other illnesses that can come on as our pets age. The first thing to do is to be sure to keep up with your regular vet visits, shots, and medications. If you notice your older dog acting out of the ordinary, I generally recommend talking to your vet.

Aside from taking our dogs to the vet for obvious reasons, there are many other things we can do to help our dogs be comfortable in their senior years. Our oldest dog right now is Caravaggio. He is a Great Dane and German Shepherd mix and is just shy of 13 years old. When he turned 10 our vet told us that he was basically over 100 (in human years). Larger dogs age faster and therefore live shorter life spans. Having a large dog that is almost 13 is a true blessing. However we have noticed a slow decline over the last few years. Caravaggio has joint pain and has lost some of his sight and most of his hearing.

Go Slow. Engage in Canine Enrichment
The first and easiest thing you can do to help your aging senior dog is to slow down their activity as needed. Most dogs still want to be involved in your activities and do the fun things they always enjoyed like walking, running, swimming, hiking, and playing. Just because our dogs are getting older and may not be as physically able to keep up, doesn’t mean they don’t want to. Find new ways to engage your dog in more mental activities as the physical activities need to be scaled back. Look into Canine Enrichment ideas. These are activities that will engage your dog mentally without wearing them out physically. Some basic examples include sniffing treats out of the grass, eating dinner out of a puzzle or activity ball instead of a bowl, or giving your dog his own area to dig (like a sand box or designated dirt digging area).

Remember Your Dog’s Limits
Caravaggio wants to go for hikes and long walks, but he is no longer able to keep up. If I let him go for as long as he wants, he will be tired and in pain for the next few days. This means that it’s my responsibility to help keep him healthy by restricting him when he doesn’t do it himself. When we hike now, I go to places that have less inclines or rough terrain, and we go for shorter periods of time. When we go to the beach, Caravaggio would literally swim until he dropped. So I will allow him a few fetches into the water, then make him lay down and rest for a few minutes. Then I will throw a few more balls for him, then he must rest. This prevents him from becoming overly exhausted. I have changed his walks from 1-2 long walks a day to 3-5 shorter walks. I also allow him a slower walk and allow him to sniff more and take his time. Sniffing on walks is another great Canine Enrichment activity.

If your senior dog is losing some sight or hearing, they are often easily startled. One helpful trick that I have learned is to “announce my presence.” Whenever Caravaggio is sleeping (which is much of the time these days) and I need to wake him, I will touch him gently but firmly on his side to let him know I am there. Petting your dog on the head or with a light touch can startle your dog awake and scare them. I have found that the simple touch on the side helps prevent this. Be sure your touch is not too light, you want the touch to be gentle but firm enough to allow the dog to feel your energy.

Caravaggio has lost a lot of his hearing the last few years. This makes it impossible for him to hear me most of the time. Although he has lost some of his eyesight, his eyes are much stronger than his hearing. So for us, using sign language and hand signals has been incredible helpful in communication. Our dogs all learn hand signals for the basics, so he already had a good start, but there were some Cues I never gave a hand signal to. These included: Yes, No, and Go Potty. Adding these few extra simple hand signals has really helped us, and I can honestly tell he appreciates that I have taken the time to find a way to still communicate with him with his new disabilities.

Schedule Changes
Adjusting your dog’s schedule to their changing needs is important. As your dog ages, they will likely need more frequent trips outside to go potty. Feeding may also need to be adjusted. I have noticed that Caravaggio does not always want to eat his regular meals. Some days I may need to add a little flavor enhancer like rice or tuna to ensure he eats his meal. It may also be helpful for some dogs to switch from the regular two feedings per day to 3 or 4 smaller meals throughout the day.

Remember that as your dog is aging, they are less aware of their surrounds. This can be dangerous. For us, Caravaggio losing most of his hearing has dramatically changed my level of control. Before I was able to give him a verbal command on a walk or hike and he would immediately respond. This made it possible for me to allow him off leash on many adventures. Since he is now mostly deaf, he is not able to hear my commands, and this puts him in danger. I had noticed a few times on hikes he had fallen behind and seem to be confused as to where we were. He also almost walked out into traffic once. Since this is an obvious safety issue, I must now keep him on leash to be sure to keep him safe.

Older dogs can also sometimes be more “cranky” around others (this is usually due to some sort of physical pain). Some other dogs may wish to take advantage of this weakness, this can make an older a target. Be extra careful who you socialize your older dog with and be sure that the other dog(s) are not too physically pushy, as this could easily hurt an older, more fragile dog. Caravaggio will still, on occasion, play at the park with his 3-year-old sister dog. She is young and strong and can be a little pushy. One day when they were playing she actually knocked Caravaggio down. He was fine, but I now more closely supervise play and assist Caravaggio in letting other dogs know when they have gone too far or are playing too hard.

Caravaggio’s all time favorite activity is swimming. He loves it! He would go swim every day if he could. We noticed about 2 years ago that he wasn’t able to hold himself up out of the water the same we he used to. This was due to his age and diminished physical ability. To help ensure that he got to continue enjoying his favorite activity, we got him a dog life vest for safety. (Ruffwear has the best dog life vests!)

Take it One Day at a Time
Remember that as your dog ages, his/her needs will change as well. Find new ways to enjoy your time together to ensure your dog’s golden years are happy ones!

Additional Article Information by Jessica Brody.
Treat Your Senior Pet Right in 5 Affordable Ways

Though it can be challenging to care for a senior pet, you can find joy in sharing small moments every day. Caring for your furry friend doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of cash, either. Make your pet’s golden years special with these affordable tips.

Stock Up on Affordable Staples
At any stage, your dog’s necessities are the same: healthy food, grooming equipment, and of course, treats! Though you may need to look closer at your aging pet’s dietary needs before shopping, there are ways to make their must-haves more manageable.
To start saving, you can shop online via retailers like Walmart or PetSmart. Free shipping and frequent sales can help stretch your budget, but a Walmart coupon, discount codes, and cashback offers extend it even more.

Set Up a Quiet Kennel Space
Most older pets are already kennel trained. But ensuring that your senior pup has a quiet place to relax is essential. Make sure your dog has a comfortable and supportive bed and some peace and quiet away from the bustle of your household. Again, take a moment to do your research to find the best deals for such an item.
Since many older pets can become hard of hearing or lose sight, helping them feel safe and secure is necessary. At the same time, the AKC notes that senior pets may also struggle with problems like anxiety and changes to their sleep cycle. Remaining sensitive to your pooch’s changing needs can help both of you rest easier.

Cook for the Both of You
Food is probably the way to your pet’s heart, even after all these years. But too many pre-packaged treats may not be healthy for your pup. Most dogs can handle additives and sodium with no problems, but dogs with health problems like kidney disease or high blood pressure may need to avoid salty foods.
A cheaper alternative to store-bought treats is cooking for both you and your pet. While on-sale treats can be a fun splurge, you can cook healthy and easy to chew meals and snacks for your dog, too.

Make Medication Time Less Stressful
Getting your senior dog to take their medication might be the most trying part of your day. To help ease the process, consider asking your vet for a liquid formula whenever possible. If that’s not an option, try hiding your dog’s daily meds in their regular food dish. Wet food may conceal the scent and taste of most medications.
You may also hide pills in a special treat of sliced meat, a piece of hard-boiled egg, or even cheese, depending on any health conditions your pet may have. Failing these methods, you can try a device to deposit the medication into your dog’s throat manually. However, this can be tough on pet owners and their fur babies alike. A pricier last resort might be pet-store pill “pouches,” if there’s room for it in your budget.

Stay Active But Slow the Pace
Many older dogs develop weight problems from relaxing around the house too much. At the same time, they might be dealing with arthritis or other conditions that make it tough to get around. But Dog Time recommends keeping up your regular walks — just at a slower pace.
Maintaining a routine is always ideal, but your walks may need to be shorter than they used to be. Sticking closer to home can also comfort your dog, though you may still need to bring a water dish (a basic and affordable kind will do) or even a doggie stroller to ensure your pet’s wellbeing.
Pampering your aging pooch may seem like a big task. But with a few comforting routines and some affordable extras, your senior dog can enjoy their golden years in the best way possible — right by your side. Ready to help your senior pet or new pup be their best self? Visit Such Good Dogs for training tips and more.