- Exercise – every day!
Your dog will be more lively on weekend adventures if they’ve had a chance to keep their muscles limber with a 20-minute walk once or twice each day, instead of just stepping off the porch for a lazy pee. Regular walks will keep your dog jogging rather than slogging through their post-puppy years.
- Include time to sniff and explore.
When your dog was a pup, the house and garden were new and exciting. Your older dog is pretty familiar with them now, so let them spend some time sniffing and poking in the grass when adventuring on walks. A dog’s nose could be up to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own, and they “see” more with their sniffer than we can even imagine. Let them explore with their nose when you’re out and about.
- Give your dog something to think about.
Unfortunately, signs of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCD) is found in nearly 1 out of every 3 dogs over 11, and it gradually impacts almost every dog. As a dog’s brain ages, they may experience loss of interest, aimless wandering, loss of housetraining, and confusion.
Just as with humans, mental stimulation throughout life may slow down the progress of mental aging in dogs.
- Hiding treats around the house not only exercises your dog’s nose, it keeps their curiosity in high gear.
- Food puzzles will get the brain buzzing and the tail wagging.
- Life-long training makes for years of satisfaction and excitement. Don’t stop training just because your dog has mastered sit, stay, and come. Continue to add tricks and new activities to your dog’s repertoire throughout their life.
The ASPCA has five tricks that are not only fun for your dog, they can be helpful to your relationship, too!
- Massage for bumps and lumps.
Pup-cuddling on the couch takes on an extra importance as dogs grow older. Petting your dog all over is the best way to catch anything odd on or under their skin.
Most senior-dog lumps are benign soft fatty tumors. They may only need to be removed if they cause your dog some discomfort. Other bumps could be a developing abscess, a painful cyst, or even a cancerous tumor that needs medical attention.
Any time you find something that just doesn’t feel right, note the location and size, and schedule a trip to the veterinarian. Addressing bumps right away means a more comfortable – and possibly longer – life for your dog.
- Upgrade the bed to keep older dogs active.
As a puppy, your dog was probably happy to flop on any surface. They may be a bit choosier about comfort now that they are up in years.
If they have abandoned their super-cushy bed to stretch out on the pile carpet, it may be difficult to struggle out of a deep, soft surface. A firmer foam bed may be just the ticket.
They may avoid bouncing up into their favorite chair due to stiff joints. A step-up is a big help.
If your older dog snarls when pounced on in bed by a younger canine buddy, consider having one dog or the other sleep on a bed in their crate so the senior can have an unbothered snooze now and then.
Watch for the choices your senior dog makes and take steps to remove barriers to their comfort.
- Snip those nail tips.
Toenails get less natural wear when a dog spends more time lounging and less time playing. A younger dog can get by a monthly trim, but older dogs may need to have their tips snipped on a weekly basis. Extra-long nails make it hard to walk on slick surfaces, will change the way your dog carries their weight, and can cause damage to the skeletal system over time. Older dogs already are at risk of arthritis, and long nails can compound their discomfort.
Set a calendar alarm to remind you to give those nails a weekly check so your dog can trot gladly along at your side.
- Watch that weight.
Fluctuations in weight are a good indicator that something is up, health-wise.
Weight loss might be a good thing if you and your dog have added an extra walk to your day, but it can also be a sign of dental pain, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, cancer, or other hidden problems.
Obesity is the most common disease in dogs in North America, and the most preventative. Obesity puts your dog at a great risk of heart disease, osteoarthritis, and joint degeneration. It can also indicate an underlying health issue like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease.
If you don’t own an accurate scale or if your dog is too large to weigh at home, ask your veterinarian if you can swing by now and then to step on their lobby scale. Make these low-stress visits fun (treats and praise!) and your dog will learn to love rather than dread the vet.
By keeping a sharp eye on your senior dog’s weight and consulting your veterinarian if you notice unexpected changes, you’ll help your dog stay fit for a long and active life.