How do you care for an elderly dog?

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For all dog owners, the day will come where your precious pooch starts to show signs of slowing down. It could be a little distinguished grey around the eyes, or getting tired on long walks. Now your pet is moving into the elderly stage of their life, it’s time to consider how to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Dogs age at different rates so it can be difficult to know when they’re entering the elderly phase of their lives. The smaller the dog, the longer their lifespan, so that will begin to give you an idea of when they might be entering OAP status.

If you’re unsure, you can always head to your vet for a health check and they’ll be able to assess if your dog is in need of elderly care.

So you’ve determined your dog is in need of some extra TLC as they are now eligible their free bus pass, but what are the main things you need to consider for their ongoing comfort?

What do I feed my elderly dog?

It’s always a good idea to get the advice of your vet. Each dog is individual with varying needs and if there are any pre meditated health issues this will have an effect on the food they require. But in general, the following will serve you well when feeding your elderly dog.

Portion control

Your dog is likely to be less mobile as they get older, so make sure their food portions reflect this. Older dogs can be prone to gaining weight, so important to ensure they’re eating only what they require.

Nutrients

Older dogs may be prone to constipation, so start adding a small amount of fresh fruit and veg to their diet. Dogs often like raw carrots or apple slices (seeds removed). These can be fed as healthy, low fat treats throughout the day.

Supplements

If your dog is getting a bit stiff in the joints, they may require some additional joint supplements to keep them mobile. Like human supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin will be beneficial to keeping them supple. Omega 3 and fish are great for brain and heart health. You can try adding some Omega 3 oil to their food or even some tuna.

Feeding times

Unless otherwise stated by a vet, feed them twice a day so as not to give them too much food in one go, which puts a strain on their digestive system. Also ensure that you haven’t walked them within 30 minutes before their food and an over afterwards. Too much activity before or after eating can promote bloating.

Bowl height

As your dog gets older, it may become uncomfortable for them to bow their head low to eat from their bowl. A number of raised bowl holders are available to being the bowl up to a more comfortable height for them to feed from.

Finally, if your dog is really struggling to eat then get them checked by your vet to make sure there isn’t an underlying condition causing them to be off their food.

How much exercise does an elderly dog need?

It’s vital that you keep your dog moving as they get older as it helps to keep them mobile. Your dog will most likely still be excited to go for their walk, so there’s no need to deny them the pleasure.

However, consider breaking up their walks throughout the day and covering less distance. An average of thirty minutes a day is suitable for with rest stops as required.

Swimming can be beneficial for arthritic dogs as there’s minimal pressure on the joints. Hydrotherapy is another great option providing numerous benefits. If your dog does love a swim, remember to dry them well when you get home as older dogs struggle to maintain body heat more than younger dogs.

If your dog is going deaf or blind you’ll have to keep a close eye on them as they’re more likely to wander off somewhere and hurt themselves. In this instance, it’s a good idea to keep them on a lead. Long rope leads are now widely available giving you metres worth of length to allow your dog to ramble freely while tethered to you. Be on the lookout for cyclists or anything that might startle your dog if they can’t see or hear them.

Mental stimulation is as important as physical, and there are a number of inventive ways to keep your dog’s ageing brain firing on all cylinders. Scent games are a great way to keep them their mind working. You can take chopped up hot dog sausages or their favourite treats out with you and hide them in a safe area for them to follow the trail.

Keep a close eye on the temperature. Older dogs struggle more in too hot or too cold conditions. Get them a jacket for walking in colder weather. If it’s hot, go out at the coolest times of the day or skip the walk altogether and find some indoor games you can play to give your dog some activity and stimulation.

How often should I get an elderly dog groomed?

If you have a breed of dog who has always required regular grooming, you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons of going to the groomers as they get older. For the most part, as long as you keep your groomer informed of any new physical ailments your dog develops so they can provide the right level of care and time to your dog, it won’t be a big change. But be aware it may now take a bit longer to groom them, especially if their joints are stiff or sore.

Another factor to consider when your dog gets very old is whether going to the grooming salon is still necessary. A time will come when you have to consider your dog’s comfort over style. In breeds such as Shih Tzu’s, Bichon Frise’s, Yorkshire Terrier’s, Schnauzer’s, etc, their fur will need regular care to prevent matting, but if you are used to having a breed standard cut, it may be better for them to have it clipped short all over. Remember, your dog’s comfort is the most important thing at this stage and having to stand for hours on a grooming table to achieve an aesthetically pleasing style is not always what’s best for them now.

If you have a double coated, large breed dog, getting them groomed is going to be much more difficult in old age. If they struggle to stand, then the hours spent bathing and drying them won’t be an option anymore. However, you can speak to your groomer and request they just use the blaster dryer and brushes to take out the worst of the undercoat, which cuts the grooming time in half.

As a final resort, you may want to consider a groomer coming to your house to keep your dog comfortable. Assess your dog’s requirements as they get older and work with your groomer to decide what’s best. They are there to help, and they will care as much as you do about the comfort of your dog.

Choice of dog bed is important

Finally, ensuring your dogs gets the best sleep possible in their old age is vital. As they get older and their joints stiffen, you might want to consider a memory foam orthopaedic bed or dog mattress which cushion the pressure points that may now be sinking through their old bed and resting on the floor.

Consider water resistant fabrics if your dog is prone to incontinence in their old age. These beds are easier to clean and you can still get ones with sufficient padding for their joints.

On warm, sunny days consider having an easy clean bed you can bring outside for your dog to lie on (gel cooling mats are a great way to keep your dog cool too). As they get older, lying on stones, wooden decking or concrete will be harder on their joints and they will stiffen up a lot faster.

In general, assess how your dog likes to sleep. Do they curl up or sprawl out, and get a bed that suits their sleeping habits.

With these adjustments, and keeping an eye on your dog as they go through the stages of growing old, you’ll be able to cater to them as their needs develop and change. And remember; if ever in doubt, consult your vet.

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