Those of us lucky enough to share our lives with a dog understand how difficult it is to see them get old and not be able to do some of the things that bring them joy. We would be doing them a disservice if we tried to ignore their ageing and continue with these activities regardless. We have to adapt our lifestyles, our homes, and our ideas about how to spend time with our elderly dogs to give them the best life that they deserve.
There are a lot of articles out there telling you what you shouldn’t be doing with your older dog – stop that ball throwing, stop going for long walks, stop those zoomies on your slippery floor. So let us focus on what we can do to make sure we all enjoy those last few years with our treasured companions.
The daily walk is not just about exercise. It is about sniffing, seeing their doggy friends, enjoying some different sights and sounds. However, some sense is required. Avoid extremes – extreme length, extreme intensity, extreme terrain, extreme weathers and temperature, you get the idea. Be prepared. If it is raining, pop a coat on (both you and your dog!) and make sure you have a nice warm towel to gently dry them afterwards. If it is warm, take some drinking water and make sure you both take time to regularly rest in the shade. Find walks with nice gentle terrain – soil, grass, sand – and avoid steep inclines or steps that they may have to jump up or down from.
As many as 4 out of 5 dogs over the age of 8 years old suffer from osteoarthritis. Bear this in mind when deciding on the length and terrain of the route. Regular and consistent exercise is important in these dogs to keep them moving, keep the weight off them and maintain muscular strength for as long as possible. If they are in pain, keeping boredom at bay can be an excellent way to distract them from that pain, obviously also discuss using pain medication with your vet. Feeding a joint supplement containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, MSM and omega 3s can keep those joints in optimal condition for longer.
If your dog is really struggling, or recovering from an injury, then why not go for a stroll in a doggy pushchair? It will still give your dog a chance to experience some new sights and smells and keep their mind active. Also, I can guarantee you will get lots of “awwww”s from passers-by!
Some dogs are obsessed with their balls! Ball throwing can result in lots of feel-good endorphins and many dogs will continue to chase after balls despite any pain or inflammation it may be causing. We cannot rely on them to tell us when they want to stop! If you think you dog will really miss playing with their ball, think of other, more gentle, ways to introduce ball play. Roll it along the floor for them to intercept or play hide-and-seek with it.
Swimming is a great low-impact exercise that our senior dogs can enjoy. It doesn’t put as much strain on the joints, strengthens muscles and helps to keep the weight off. If you are not certain that your dog will enjoy the water, start with a gentle paddle in shallow water or make an appointment with a canine hydrotherapist, who may use an underwater treadmill or have a swimming pool for your dog to take a dip in. Hydrotherapists are in the best position to guide you on how to introduce swimming into your dog’s routine, while also making sure duration and intensity are just right for your individual dog.
Despite the saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks! It can be a fun and bonding experience for the both of you. Puzzle feeders are a great source of mental stimulation, as is some gentle scent work. Consider feeding a senior supplement full of brain-boosting B vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids to maintain that cognitive ability for as long as possible.
It can be really difficult seeing your beloved pet decline as they get older, there is even a term for it – anticipatory grief. Speak to your vet if you have any worries or want some reassurance. By adapting your lives and homes to encourage your elderly dog to remain active and alert for as long as possible, you will get to create many happy memories well into their senior years.