It’s A Dog’s Life
It seems that pets these days are living longer than ever thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and investment in care from animal owners. It is not unusual to see a dog that is in their teen years still active and relatively healthy. I say relatively because with age comes a few bumps in the road (so to speak). There are a variety of management techniques that can help families with older pets live an awesome quality of life through their golden years. Because that is what we all really want for our animal companions, isn’t it? We want them to have full and happy lives for the short time that they are with us.
1. Watch Their Weight!
Older dogs generally move less and have a slower metabolism than when they were younger. This means that they can pack on the pounds quickly. This can start a vicious cycle of gaining weight and then not moving well which leads to more weight gain and so on. Activity is important to weight management but the key to weight loss is controlling calories. Lean body condition is very important to general health, especially if there are mobility issues. With that thought in mind, make sure that the food that your geriatric companion is eating is of good quality, easy to digest, and not filled with empty calories from endless treats. Just like with humans, a healthy diet is important for basic wellness and a strong immune system.
2. Keep Them Moving.
Daily, regular exercise is important for mental stimulation as well as muscle strength. Muscle loss and hind end weakness are a common issue on our older pets. Give your animal companion a reason to get up and moving each day because once they go down (or don’t get up), things can progress quickly in a direction that we don’t want to go.
One option to consider is aqua therapy. Both the underwater treadmill and pool are great for holding on to muscle mass and for getting stiff joints moving again. Sessions every one to two weeks can set a healthy foundation for better walks at home. Remember the old saying, “A body in motion stays in motion”.
3. Change Their Environment As Their Body Changes.
Keep in tune with your pet’s changing needs for mobility and comfort as they age. One of the most common concern from dog owners is that their pet is having trouble on slippery floors. Many people have hardwood or tile through out their house which is beautiful to look at but hard to walk on for the weaker or unstable pet. An easy solution can be laying down a bunch of throw rugs for the dog to walk on so that they can avoid the slippery floors altogether. Some dogs do well with sturdy booties with traction on the bottom. In my experience, some booties turn and/or fall off as a dog walks if the dog drags a leg or doesn’t lift their feet well when moving.
Sometimes getting on furniture or navigating the stairs become an issue for older dogs. If a dog is unstable on the stairs, you may need to block them off to avoid falling if they attempt them unsupervised. In some cases, just limiting the number of times a pet has to go up and down the stairs is enough (up to bed in the evening and down for the day). Portable steps can be helpful for getting on furniture if that is a part of the normal routine that is important to both the dog and the family.
For the thin, bony dog a soft bed is essential. Just make sure that it is one that they can get out of! Some great dog beds are thick and comfortable to lay on but difficult to get out of. You may go through a few beds before you find the one that is right for your needs.
Older pets do not regulate their body temperature as well as they used to when they were younger. This means that heat in the summer or cold in the winter may have a big impact on an geriatric dog . Remember plenty of shade and cooling options during the hotter months. With the colder weather, consider adding in a dog coat or booties if your pet is outdoors for any length of time.
4. Helping Is Not Hurting.
Many of the older dogs have a hard time getting to their feet. Once we get them up and standing, most dogs can move on their own without assistance. Some pet owners have the misconception that helping their pet by using a mobility assist device will encourage their dog to become “lazy”. In reality, mobility helpers such as harnesses and hind end support slings can be life savers for people who have dogs (large dogs for sure) that have a hard time moving. These support devices can help with day to day tasks such as getting in the car, up the steps, and holding a posture for defecating and urinating.
I have come across a few dogs that absolutely hated any kind of harness or support help. This is where things like ramps or portable steps can be very helpful in certain situations. These dogs that really NEED help but refuse the best helper options can be a frustrating challenge.
5. Don’t Get Stuck On Their Age.
Sometimes, as pet owners, we focus too much on age and end up placing limits on our older pets. With the thought of “They are too old”:
1. We limit their mental and physical activity
2. We don’t invest in lifestyle changes such as weight loss or mobility helpers
3. We don’t include them in as many family fun times or play time as before
Dogs don’t care HOW they move as long as they CAN move. Maybe their gait has changed or their walk is a little slower. Maybe they can play ball for only 15 minutes instead of the hours of the past. The point is, they still want to walk and play and be a part of the family no matter how old they are. Try to see them as the puppy that they still think that they are (with in reason, of course!).
Looking into the eyes of an aging dog is both a wonderful thing and a bitter sweet one. We remember all of the great times that this furry family member has shared with us and are then reminded that their time with us is never long enough. Hopefully, with the help of some of these management tips, you can make the golden years of your canine companion as full and meaningful as the previous ones.