7 tips to help your senior dog age gracefully
Who doesn’t love seeing a peppy senior pup walking down the street? There’s something extra lovable about a maturing dog with a graying muzzle and gentle demeanor. Even if your aging pup isn’t showing signs of slowing down, they can still be susceptible to age-related health problems. Taking extra steps to ensure your seasoned pup stays healthy and active will enhance their quality of life (and yours!). Not sure if your dog is a senior? The lifestage of your dog is largely dependent on its breed and size. As a general rule of thumb, larger dogs tend to age more quickly than smaller dogs. Dogs can start using their AARP card at age 10 if under 20 lbs, age 9 if between 20-60 lbs, age 7 if 60-90lbs, and as early as age 5 for dogs over 90 lbs.
Here are some tips on how to keep your senior dog healthy and active:
#1 Proper Nutrition
One of the most critical aspects of keeping a dog at any age healthy and active is providing them with a well-balanced and nutritious diet. AAFCO, the U.S. advisory group for the animal feed industry, does not have a separate nutritional profile for senior dogs, but veterinary nutrition experts tend to agree that your aging pup may do best on a slightly different diet as they head into their golden years.
In general, senior dogs tend to need fewer calories, less fat, additional dietary fiber, and benefit from supplements targeting cognition and mobility. It’s important to be mindful of treats and be careful to measure their food portions properly to ensure they don’t gain excess weight as their metabolism slows down with age.
#2 Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining your senior dog's health and well-being. Even though your senior dog may not be as active as they once were, they still need daily exercise to keep their muscles and joints healthy. Low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming are excellent ways to keep your senior dog active and mobile. If your dog’s stamina for walks goes down, consider breaking up your walk into multiple 10-minute strolls.
#3 Annual Veterinary Checkups
Regular veterinary checkups are crucial for senior dogs. Older dogs are more susceptible to health problems such as arthritis and cancer. Therefore, it is essential to have regular checkups to catch any potential health issues before they become more serious. Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests or prescribe medications to help manage any health problems that your senior dog may have.
#4 Extra Comfort
As your senior dog ages, they may experience joint pain, arthritis, and other health issues that may make them less comfortable. Keep an eye on your maturing dog to see where they may be experiencing discomfort - this may mean avoiding long sets of stairs, taking extra breaks during car rides, or providing a cushioned bed to support for their joints and muscles. Dogs tend to hide discomfort and pain well, so keeping a close eye on where your dog hesitates or seems uncomfortable can help you adapt
#5 Mental Stimulation
Keeping your dog’s brain engaged is almost as important as regular physical activity. As dogs age, their cognitive abilities may decline, and they may become less interested in playing or interacting with their environment. Providing your senior dog with mental stimulation through games and puzzles can help keep their mind sharp and engaged. Meal times can be a great way to incorporate training and games without adding additional treats or calories. One fun (and low-cost) mental stimulation activity is to roll up their food in a towel. Start by laying a towel flat on the ground and sprinkle some of their food throughout the towel. On the short side of the towel, start to carefully roll up the towel tightly and keep food distributed throughout the towel. Once your towel is rolled up, you can try to twist it into a knot or let your dog get to work unraveling the towel as-is.
#6 Targeted Supplements
The best way to ensure your dog gets the proper nutrition it needs is to feed them a diet tailored to their lifestage. However, if you’re feeding an adult diet and want to address early signs of aging, supplements can be a great choice. There are many supplements available that can help improve joint health, cognitive function, and overall vitality. Glucosamine and chondroitin are two of the most commonly recommended supplements for senior dogs with mobility problems, as they can help reduce inflammation, improve joint lubrication, and slow down joint degeneration. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help support joint health and reduce inflammation.
#7 Dental Care
Tooth decay is a common problem in senior dogs, and it can lead to painful and costly dental issues if left untreated. To avoid tooth decay in senior dogs, it is important to maintain a regular dental care routine. This could include brushing your dog's teeth regularly, providing them with dental chews and toys, and scheduling regular dental checkups with your veterinarian. Senior dogs may also benefit from dental cleanings, which can help remove tartar buildup and prevent tooth decay. Additionally, feeding your dog dry food with larger pieces can help oral care (more information here).
Keeping your senior dog healthy and active is a labor of love and requires a combination of proper nutrition, frequent exercise, veterinary checkups, comfort, mental stimulation, supplements, and good oral hygiene. By following these tips, you can help ensure that your senior dog enjoys a healthy and happy life in their golden years.