Caring for Senior/Older Dogs

12th June 2019

Dogs give us so much unconditional love, companionship, loyalty and protection throughout their lives. As dogs age (in general, dogs aged seven years or more are considered senior), they do rely on us to provide a little extra patience, attention and care to accommodate their changing needs.

By letting your senior dog set their own limits, they will help you understand their new needs for care. Avoid pampering them, and allow them to maintain their independence and dignity.

Have your dog checked by your vet to rule out any age-related health issues. Ask your vet about what to expect with your aging dog and how you can help your dog continue to feel relaxed and comfortable; for example, canine massage, aromatherapy or a specially tailored training program.

Below are some helpful tips for understanding and managing the changing needs of your much loved senior companion:

Hearing loss

  • Age-related deafness in dogs is quite common and often one of the first changes owners notice in their senior dog.
  • Make use of your dog’s other senses, like sight and smell, to communicate with them. Introduce hand signals to convey simple commands. Be sure they are always consistent, obviously different from other signals, and visible to your dog from a distance.
  • Try to get your dog's attention with a high-pitched whistle or a hand clap.
  • If your dog is totally deaf, try using light to communicate with them, such flicking a lamp on/off or using a torch..

Loss of sight

  • As dogs age they can develop sight-related issues, such as cataracts.
  • Dogs with poor or no vision can learn to adjust quickly if they continue living in familiar surroundings. Avoid rearranging your furniture so your dog can continue to navigate in your home from memory.
  • Use your voice to guide your dog to you.

Sleeping habits

  • Realise that your senior dog will likely sleep longer and more deeply.
  • A senior dog may startle more easily if their hearing and sight aren't what they used to be.
  • To awaken a heavily sleeping dog, gently stroke their shoulder or place your hand by their nose to let your scent gently rouse them.

Stiff joints

  • Allow your dog a little extra time in the morning or after a nap to stretch their legs and work out the stiffness in their joints.
  • Avoid over handling your dog or coaxing them up with treats. They'll get up to go outside in their own time.

Coping with stress or changes to their routine

  • All dogs, but especially older dogs, thrive on structure and routine. Keep your senior dog's routine in place as much as possible to keep them stress free.
  • Separation anxiety, aggression, noise phobias, and increased barking can develop or worsen in older dogs.

Increased sensitivity to temperature

  • Because they may feel the heat or cold more intensely, your dog may change their usual sleeping locations.
  • Place thick, soft beds in their crate and around the house so they can nap more comfortably.

Visitors and household activity

  • Elderly dogs may not enjoy the extra hustle and bustle around the holidays or if workmen come to your home.
  • If your aging dog is cranky around visitors, pop them in a quiet place in your home where they won't be bothered and can feel secure. Be sure they have a soft bed to lie on.

Children

  • Remind children to be respectful of your older dog. Because of their achy joints and possible loss of hearing or sight, older dogs are sometimes more wary of children and their high-energy activities.
  • Always provide supervision when dogs (of any age) and kids are together.

Avoid discipline for aging-related behaviours

  • Your aging dog can't help it if they accidentally toilet in the house or are grumpy around children.
  • If they make a mistake, just tend to the situation-i.e., take them outside to toilet more frequently or guide them to a quiet place in the house-and take steps to avoid such occurrences in the future.

Increased dryness of his coat and skin

  • Brush your dog's coat more often to help stimulate the production of natural oils in their skin, and use a shampoo specially formulated for dry skin.
  • Ask your vet about dietary supplements (such as fish oil) to help their skin and coat.

Changing dietary needs

  • As their body ages, your dog will need different amounts of proteins and other nutrients. Talk to your vet about feeding your dog a "senior" formula or one which can meet your dog's changing nutritional needs.
  • Avoid letting your dog gain weight. Excess weight can put strain on joints and internal organs. Keeping them trim will keep them healthy and comfortable in the years ahead.

Barriers for safety and protection

  • A secured baby gate will prevent your unsteady older dog from risking a fall on stairways and will protect areas of your home from toileting accidents.

Keeping healthy in mind, body and spirit

  • Take time to work with your dog on basic obedience a few times a week to help keep them in shape both physically and mentally.
  • Take them on shorter walks and outings to keep them active and encourage their sense of fun.
  • Never push your dog to exert themselves more than they are able. Watch their body language and breathing patterns for signs that they may be getting tired.

Many people think that bringing a puppy into the home will help make your older dog feel young again. While this may be true in some cases, remember that your senior dog may not be able to handle stress or new situations very well, and a puppy brings new levels of high activity and changes to routine that affect everyone. This could result in the senior dog snapping at the puppy so it leaves him alone. So you will need to monitor the puppies behaviours around an aging dog. He may very well need frequent time outs.

However, if your senior dog still enjoys relatively good health and is sound in mind and spirit, a puppy may brighten their days. In fact, some dogs are happy to step up to the task of teaching a new pup the rules and routines of your household.

Your aging dog deserves your unflagging affection, understanding and love. As you continue to care for them, remember that you are giving back to them as much as they have been giving you.  

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