by Jennifer Nelson
Dogs, like we humans, change as they age. They may have less energy, develop arthritis, or lose their hearing or sight. It’s our job to help them age gracefully into their golden years.
Christy Nielson of Phoenix took her senior black lab Jeb, 15, to a geriatric specialist once he had trouble getting around. “They put Jeb in a harness and started twice a week treadmill therapy to allow him to build muscle strength without pain,” she says. Nielson was so pleased with the result that she credits them with helping Jeb get back his dignity and have a better quality of life until it was time to cross over the rainbow bridge.
“I tell pet owners all the time that old age is not a disease,” says Judy Morgan, DVM, author of From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing. Morgan thinks a geriatric provider can be helpful. “Yes, senior pets may require a little more care, but they are well worth it. Age is just a number,” she says.
Dogs become senior as early as six years of age (for giant breeds) to 13 years of age (for small breeds),” says Leilani Alvarez, DVM, head of integrative and rehabilitation medicine at NYC’s Animal Medical Center.
Here’s how you can help your senior pet to age gracefully.
Making Your Senior Dog’s Life Easier
Install Stairs and Ramps
For dogs that may have trouble getting on or off furniture or in and out of the car, try ramps and puppy stairs. For pets with decreased vision, gating off staircases may be best for preventing injuries on the stairs.
Prevent Slips and Falls
Senior dogs lose some traction on their foot pads and can slip on hardwood floors, leading to injuries. Make sure your home’s throw rugs, area rugs, and rug runners have rubber gripper pads beneath them to give your dog the ability to remain stable when walking. Also, hair grown in between the paw pads can make dogs more prone to slipping, so clip the hair in between the pads often.
Check for Vision and Hearing
Older dogs may have decreased vision and hearing, making it harder for them to navigate. “Even if your pet has been trained to stay within the boundaries of the yard, this may change with age,” says Morgan. “An old dog that wanders off is at high risk for getting lost or being hit by oncoming cars, so a fenced yard may be necessary now.”
Buy (or Make) New Beds
Soft bedding or orthopedic beds can help older pets with arthritis and decreased muscle mass. They provide support and extra cushioning that the floor doesn’t offer.
Maintain Predictable Floor Plans
For dogs that have decreased vision, rearranging furniture can be their worst nightmare. Sticking to a predictable floor plan can help them feel safe and get around easier. Keep floor clutter cleared, as well.
Next: Taking Care of Your Senior Dog's Health
The term for the knee cap
An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness
A disease of the joints in which the cartilage and bone become degenerative
A type of system that is used to compare animals within a given group to one another
A medical condition in which the joints become inflamed and causes a great deal of pain.
A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.