It can be difficult to watch our beloved dogs grow old. Caring for your senior dog comes with some challenges and need for changes in routine. Just like when humans age, senior dogs will need us to adapt to help keep them comfortable and content.
Determining if your dog is a senior dog varies a bit depending on the size of their breed. Giant breed dogs like Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes are considered senior by the time they are 5 or 6 years old. More ‘regular’ large breed dogs like German Shepherds and Labs are considered senior between 8-10 years of age.
Factors like arthritis, cancer or other illnesses can cause your dog to age more rapidly requiring senior-type care earlier in their life. Let’s talk about what you can expect from life with a senior dog and things you can do to help keep your older dog more comfortable.
Ways you will be caring for your senior dog
While some dogs will age with grace, slowing down a bit but not showing any outright ailments or serious discomfort other won’t be as lucky. Here are some of the more common issues that senior dogs face, and a bit of advice about what you can do to help them.
Arthritis in senior dogs
Arthritis is extremely common in dogs, particularly large and giant breed dogs. This is a condition wherein your dog’s bones start to rub together because the cartilage between their bones deteriorates. This causes pain whenever your dog moves.
There is no cure for arthritis, so you will need to symptom-manage in the best ways possible. With the help of your vet, you can try a variety of different pain medications and anti-inflammatory pills and supplements. One treatment option that is gaining popularity due to its effectiveness is glucosamine supplements to help repair damaged cartilage and decrease symptoms.
Weight gain in senior dogs
Many older dogs begin to put on weight because they simply aren’t moving around or exercising as much as their younger selves. Additionally, your senior dog’s metabolism will likely slow as they age.
For these reasons, you may need to adjust the amount of food they get at each meal or switch to dog food that is lower in calories. Be wary of dog food that is labeled “senior dog food” because (unlike puppy formulas) this is not a regulated term. For more information, read about choosing the right dog food for your dog.
Incontinence in senior dogs
Old dog incontinence is a common issue for many senior dogs. It is most common in spayed females. Both of the senior female dogs I’ve had in my life suffered from leaking as they aged. It is thought to be caused by hormonal imbalance, spinal or neurological problems, and in some cases recurring UTIs or bladder infections (source). Sometimes it is just deemed a part of old dog syndrome.
If your dog is leaking urine schedule an appointment with your vet. It’s important to rule out an infection that requires antibiotics to treat. Beyond that, your vet can prescribe a medicine that will help solve or improve the problem.
Other ways to manage is to keep a towel or sheet on your dog’s sleeping space that you can change daily, regularly rinse/bathe your dog’s hind (our husky’s fluffy hind fur absorbs a lot of her leaking), and up the number of times you take your dog out daily to help them keep their bladder empty.
Dental disease in senior dogs
Proper dental care is important for all dogs, but in senior dogs, dental disease can lead to serious issues with your dog’s organs, ability to eat, and general comfort level. If your dog is suffering from bad breath, has visible tartar and plaque build-up, or behavioral changes related to chewing and eating, it’s a good idea to bring them to the vet.
Just like tooth pain is seriously uncomfortable for humans, it is not pleasant for dogs either. Your vet will be able to determine how to treat your dog’s dental disease. It may involve tooth extraction or may be reversed with proper dental care.
Cancer and other diseases in senior dogs
Unfortunately, many senior dogs develop more serious diseases such as cancer, epilepsy, and heart disease. These more serious diseases will involve regular vet visits and care plans. It can be difficult as an owner to weigh the cost of treatment and decide the right approach to your senior dog’s care.
If you have pet insurance, you will have a wider range of options available because the cost will not be as big of a factor. Lean on your vet during this time and together you will be able to make the right choices for your dog and family situation.
How to make an old dog more comfortable?
Now that we’ve covered some of the more common ailments you may face when caring for your senior dog, let’s take a look at the top tips for making an old dog more comfortable in general.
Make your home friendly to a senior dog
Because so many senior dogs suffer from arthritis and just slow down in general, consider making some adjustments to your home for them:
- Investing in a high-quality dog bed will save your dog from repeatedly jumping on and off the furniture which may aggravate their joints. Our dogs LOVE this one
- Consider placing water bowls on each floor of your home so that your dog doesn’t need to do the stairs more than necessary
- Look into ramps to help your dog get into the car, or simply lift them
- If your dog’s pain is severe, use a dog lifting harness to help support their weight on walks or around the house. We used this with our dog when she was recovering from surgery
- Use entrances with fewer stairs if and whenever possible
Pay attention to temperature for your senior dog
Senior dogs can have more difficulty regulating their body temperature. They may not be able to sustain cold temperatures or heat as well. Take extra care in how long your senior dog spends outside in the cold or heat.
If it seems appropriate, you can get a blanket-like coat for your dog to wear in winter. Also, check out our tips for keeping your dog cool in hot weather.
Feed a high-quality diet including supplements to your senior dog
Keeping your senior dog healthy and increasing their longevity involves feeding them high-quality dog food. In addition to choosing the right food to maintain a healthy weight and ensure they are getting the right nutrients, it’s recommended to add supplements.
Omega-3s and DHA are great for joint, skin, coat health and more. Fish oils are an excellent way to provide your dog with these benefits. Above I mentioned adding a glucosamine supplement if your dog is suffering from arthritis.
Keep up with daily, modified exercise for your senior dog
As your dog ages you will need to modify their daily exercise, but don’t skip it altogether. Your senior dog still benefits from moving their body and the mental stimulation involved with daily exercise. You might need to opt for shorter more leisurely walks, or offer an outdoor change of scenery that doesn’t involve too much movement.
We find that our dog’s arthritis appears less painful on days when she gets 1-2 short walks, especially first thing in the morning. The movement seems to help her pain rather than make it worse. Swimming can also be a great way to help an older dog get some pain-relieving exercise.
Schedule regular vet visits for your senior dog
Most important in caring for your senior dog is regular vet visits. It’s important to collaborate with your vet on treatment and symptom management to keep your old dog more comfortable. They will also be able to spot warning signs of underlying issues and help address things before they’ve progressed too far.
Keep your senior dog happy
With these tips and advice, caring for your senior dog will be a little bit easier. Aging is natural for all dogs, and while it’s tough to watch just do what you can to keep them comfortable. Above all, your love and commitment to them will make a big difference in their quality of life.