Dogs are living longer and longer these days. With better vet care and better food, it seems that our dogs are naturally living longer lives. But with those longer lives can come some almost inevitable aches and pains. Your senior dog may suffer from some problems associated with growing older. Fortunately, there are some holistic approaches to helping him enjoy his golden years.
You should start by making sure that your senior dog is eating the right diet for his age. There are some foods marketed specifically for older dogs but these are not always the best choice. Some of them are geared toward keeping the weight off older dogs and, to be honest, sometimes an older dog needs to gain weight instead of worry about losing it. Don’t try to keep your older dog too thin.
There is no reason to cut down on your older dog’s protein intake unless he has a specific kidney problem. At one time it was thought that senior dogs could not handle the same levels of protein as younger dogs but this has been shown to be untrue. You can continue to feed your older dog the same protein level as when he was younger unless he has a kidney problem.
Whatever you feed your dog you should make sure that it is a food of high quality that is meeting all of his nutritional needs. Some people will cook for their senior dogs to make meals more appealing. This is fine as long as you make sure your dog is getting all of the nutrients he needs.
Older dogs often experience a dulling of their senses. They do not smell things as keenly, see as well or even taste things as strongly as younger dogs. Anything you can do to make their meals tastier may encourage them to eat more. If you call your older dog and he doesn’t come, don’t assume that he doesn’t want his dinner. He may not have heard you.
Your older dog will need to have a senior dog check-up when he sees your veterinarian about once a year starting when he’s about seven years old. Your vet can perform some tests and take a complete blood panel to check your dog for any potential health problems. These check-ups are a good way to prevent small problems from escalating into something major.
You should also ask your veterinarian to check your older dog’s teeth. Many times an older dog will seem to lose his appetite and stop eating. Your dog may lose weight and start to decline. This is often attributed to simply being “old.” However, it’s often due to having teeth problems. Your dog may have a bad tooth that needs to be removed. Once the tooth is removed your dog will likely regain his appetite, start eating again and regain lost weight. Your dog may have several more healthy years to live if you will simply have his teeth checked. One good sign that your dog may be having dental problems is very bad breath. If your dog is refusing food or barely eating and he has bad breath you should definitely take him to the vet for a dental check-up. It could save your dog’s life.
Many senior dogs can begin to slow down due to the aches and pains that come with arthritis. Arthritis usually occurs when the lubricants and cartilage between joints starts breaking down. Some arthritis is often quite normal for many dogs. It can be much worse if your dog has any degree of hip dysplasia or other joint problems.
Your vet can often give your dog some pain medication for serious pain associated with arthritis. However, for mild pain and discomfort there are many good joint supplements. Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, SAM-e and others have all been recommended to help with arthritis, hip dysplasia and joint discomfort. Many people also use supplements with shark cartilage in them for arthritis. Supplements containing New Zealand green-lipped mussels have also been recommended for arthritis and joint pain.
There are a number of very good products for senior dogs to help their mobility and give your senior dog a “lift.” You can ask your vet to suggest something for your dog, talk to friends or breeders, or browse a good selection of supplements or senior dog products to make a selection.
You can also make things easier for your older dog by giving him soft, warm places to sleep. A good orthopedic bed is a great choice but your older dog may also like to have a soft place to sleep in various rooms. Try placing some soft rugs or bathroom mats in different rooms where your dog likes to snooze. You may want to place a covered heating pad on his sleeping spots if they are in drafty places.
If your dog is beginning to stumble because of mobility problems or because he doesn’t see as well as he once did, make sure you tack down any area rugs or remove them. This should help your dog keep his balance better.
There are many good ways to help your older dog live a happier life as he ages. Old age can be a very pleasant, comfortable time for your senior dog if you try to plan ahead and take precautions for your dog. Enjoy these final years together and treasure them.