It is no surprise that man’s (and woman’s) best friend is now living longer than ever before. Over the past few decades, dogs have been promoted from a mere working animal to a beloved member of the family. Families with dogs have become ever more conscientious about meeting all of the needs of their canine companions. A major part of every responsible dog owner is ensuring that the pup receives the best veterinary care and home health care that is available. As dogs age into their senior years, the need for optimal health care increases. While the exact needs of each dog may differ, there are a few habits that may help to ensure that your own elderly dog is living the best and healthiest life possible.
- Exercise is essential for top health of all dogs but is especially crucial for senior or overweight dogs. Just like in humans, an elderly dog who is overweight will not be able to cope with age-related conditions as well as an elderly dog who is fit. One of the primary conditions that exercise can help reduce the risk of is arthritis.
- Nutrition is just as important as exercise for an aging dog. Even though exercise is important for older dogs, chances are the amount of exercise required will decrease as the dog ages. As the amount exercise decreases, the number of calories needed will also decrease. If you feed a slower, senior dog too many calories and do not exercise the dog as much, the risk of becoming overweight will increase. As you work with your vet to create the best, lower-calorie diet, keep in mind that your dog may need additional nutrients or supplements added to the diet. One example of a helpful supplement is glucosamine, which can improve the health of joints in your dog.
- As your dog ages, you will want to become aware of any alterations to his or her behavior. Even subtle changes, such as food and water intake, elimination habits, or emotional signs can help signal issues with health. As your dog’s number one advocate, you will be the first line of defense against declining health. Keep notes of all changes in your dog’s behavior. One example of a change you would want to notice is any sign of diminished hearing or sight capacity. As you begin to notice signs of decline, you will want to adjust your dog’s environment accordingly. This may mean cushioning objects that a dog with limited sight may bump into or teaching a dog that is losing hearing a few basic sign language signs for commands.
- If you decide to teach your dogs sign language commands, keep in mind that old dogs can and should be taught new tricks. As their physical abilities decline, their spirit can prosper from being kept engaged through mental stimulation. Use your creativity to teach your dog new games and tricks that help them to use their strengths and challenges them in areas that are declining. Using their nose to find out which hand is hiding a treat is one such trick you might want to teach.
- Whereas a younger dog might only need to see the vet for a health checkup once a year, an elderly dog needs to be checked out at least once every six months. Keep this schedule rigorously so that any health issues that might arise can be spotted as soon as possible and you can begin correcting the issues immediately. Also, any time you suspect something may be different or wrong with your dog, contact your vet immediately. Even if the issue may seem little or unimportant to you, it might signal something much more serious is in the works. The sooner you get your pup to the vet, the sooner a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can get made.
- While a vet is always necessary for ensuring your dog is healthy and receiving proper treatment, do not entirely shun the idea of alternative medicine. Traditional veterinary solutions should never be ignored, but there are numerous holistic alternatives available for everything from arthritis pain to constipation. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are common forms of alternative medicine, but should never be administered without first consulting with your vet. Always notify your vet of any holistic treatment solutions that you are trying on your pet to avoid any conflicts with traditional medicine or practices.
- Make some simple changes to make sure your aging dog is as comfortable as possible. For example, if your dog has arthritis, you may want to consider purchasing a ramp or set of stairs so that your dog can reach your bed easier. For the dog that sleeps in his or her own bed, there are many options available that are more comfortable for an aging dog with arthritis.
With just a few changes to your current lifestyle, you can help make sure that the remaining years that your dog has are happy, comfortable years.