Caring For A Senior Dog

A senior labrador dog sitting in a brightly lit home

When your dog grows old, it’s a magical and delicate time. Dogs age much faster than humans so their bodies and minds need extra special attention as they reach their twilight years. That could be as early as 8 years old for some large dogs or closer to 15 years for smaller dogs. 

To keep your senior dog in good health you need to think about a variety of factors. 

Today we’ll cover the following aspects that could impact your dog’s life as they age:

  • Dietary changes
  • Exercise needs
  • Mental health
  • General tips

If you want solid, first-hand advice on caring for a senior dog, read on! 

Dietary Changes 

Though many dogs can continue eating the ways they always have, you can support your dog’s healthy ageing by feeding them age-appropriate food. Many dog food brands will have a senior collection. This food will be fortified in vitamins and minerals that can aid your dog’s mobility and mental capacity.

Sometimes older dogs develop sensitivities to the food they’ve always enjoyed. This is due to the digestive system changing with age. If you notice that your dog can’t tolerate grain-heavy dog food anymore, consider a grain-free option. 

Another aspect of diet you may want to consider is supplementation. Remember those vitamins and minerals you may find in food? Some things you can add to your dog’s routine yourself for a well-rounded diet. 

Look out for:

  • Green-lipped mussel powder - for mobility 
  • Fish oil with omega-3 - for joint inflammation 
  • Vitamin C and/or E - for promoting cognitive function
  • MCT oils - for cognitive health such as memory and learning abilities

Overall, we have the same philosophy when it comes to dogs of all ages: feed them the highest quality dog food you can afford. 

As your dog gets older, the quality of their food will become more important so now’s a great time to upgrade!

Exercise Needs

All dogs need exercise. Even if your dog is struggling with mobility issues, it’s important they move in any way possible. 

If your dog can tolerate a short daily walk, that’s ideal. However, many dogs are too tired and too achy to do that. Work with your dog’s rhythm. If they can only walk to the end of the street or around the kitchen table before tiring out, meet them where they're at. Unless your dog is depressed (which we’ll get to) your dog will enjoy the short walk all the same! 

In some cases, your vet may recommend physical therapy to ease mobility issues. You can ask the professional how to best exercise your dog if they have severe arthritis. Vets may also prescribe medications for joint pain which will help get them moving again. 

Mental Health Concerns

Many old dogs are just as lively, happy, and fulfilled as they were in their youth. It’s beautiful to see! Even if your dog is losing their sight and hearing, which are both common in old age, they’re rarely upset about it. 

Luckily there are only two conditions that you should be wary of in old age; doggy depression and doggy dementia. 

  • Depression

    Depression is relatively rare in dogs but can happen more frequently as they age. For example, dogs can grieve the loss of a fellow dog who has died, and that can lead to depression. Joint pain can also cause low mood as it would for anyone! If you fear that your dog has depression, talk to your vet about available treatments.

  • Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS/Dementia)

    CCDS is more common than depression. Your dog can start to feel anxious at random and bark throughout the night. It sometimes manifests as appetite changes and mood swings too. Unfortunately, you can’t do much about CCDS other than promoting a healthy mind with puzzle games and good nutrition. 

General Advice

All dogs age slightly differently - even within the same breed. Your pup may exhibit all the signs of ageing or none of them! 

Here is a list of “normal” signs that your dog is growing old:

  • Greying fur, around the face and paws especially
  • Increased thirst
  • Stiff joints and slowed mobility
  • Bad breath
  • Fatigue leads to more napping and less activity at home
  • Saggy skin in certain areas
  • Reduced strength and muscle mass
  • New fat deposits under the skin (usually harmless lipomas)
  • Weight changes
  • Cloudy eyes from cataracts

None of these things are particularly cause for concern unless they change dramatically in a short period of time or impact your dog’s quality of life. 

Otherwise, embrace this new phase! Your senior dog is still the joyful, warm and loving dog they always were. The best way to care for a senior dog is to keep that in mind. Play, laugh, cuddle, wander - your dog can still have a fulfilling, exciting life right into their twilight years!

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