If you are like me, you never want your pet(s) to age. Couldn’t they just stay young and spry and with us forever?! Sadly, no. Like us, the process of aging affects our wonderful four-legged family members. Throughout your dog’s entire life, he/she will go through many physical changes and stages. Learning to identify, understand, and respect the changes that are taking place will make the aging process easier for both of you.
Senior changes are often slow to develop, and because of this, you may not even notice them until they are more severe. It is important to be aware of any changes, small or overt, in your dog’s behavior, physical health, emotions, and approach to life. Addressing age-related changes early is beneficial in slowing down or even preventing the issues from escalating or becoming chronic over time.
Some signs your senior dog may display include: slowing down, limping, developing arthritis or other degenerative conditions, yelping when playing, not being able to walk as far or play as long, sleeping more, having trouble with stairs, getting up, and getting into / out of the car. However, just like for us, there is much you can do to help ease the aging process for you and your dog.
Tips For Helping Your Senior
My number one recommendation of course, is massage!
Keep in mind that most of our pets’ number one goal in life is to please us and keep us happy. That being said, many pets will not show obvious signs of pain until that pain is severe. To avoid the pain reaching this severe stage, be mindful of your pet’s age and subtle signs of change.
As your pet ages, massage is a great tool for assessing any physical issues your pet may be experiencing. Massage is also a valuable preventative tool. As a massage therapist, I can detect areas in your pet’s body that are tight or stiff, have muscle tension, knots or muscle spasms, issues with mobility, areas of inflammation, areas of restricted movement, and reduced range-of-motion. Any one of these conditions can cause pain.
Some key benefits of massage include:
- Reduces pain caused by muscle tension, stiffness, spasms, and inflammation
- Improves muscle tone, flexibility and range-of-motion
- Increases the release of endorphins
- Improves circulation of blood and movement of lymphatic fluids
- Stimulates the immune system
- Decrease anxiety and stress
- Encourages relaxation
- Promotes deeper and easier breathing
More Help For Seniors
As a canine massage therapist, I often talk with clients about adaptations that can be made to help their senior pet. Adaptations can be as simple as keeping your pet’s nails short, or as extensive as a wheelchair. Some adaptations are:
- Runners with Rubber Backing – great for any area with a slick floor, such as hallways, areas where your pet likes to lie, in front of food dishes, etc. I bought many inexpensive runners for my senior lab. Because the runners gave her traction she felt much safer and more secure, and thus her anxiety was greatly reduced. I could also throw them in the washing machine when needed.
- Shorter & More Frequent Walks – exercise is good for our senior dogs–it keeps their joints moving and their spirits young. Walks also give our seniors a sense of normality.
When walking with your senior, keep the pace a bit slower so as not to tire him/her out too soon. It is also important to do shorter, but more frequent walks. Often our dogs want to walk and walk and walk, but then the next day they are exhausted and sore. Another consideration is that your dog may not tell you when he/she is tired because of wanting to keep up with you.
Don’t be in a rush when walking your senior, enjoy the stroll and the time together!
- Heating Pad – a warm (not hot!) heating pad can be placed over your dog’s low back and hips after a walk to help soothe and relax the muscles.
- PAWZ – I used these for my lab and we both loved them! PAWZ are disposable booties that look like latex balloons. I used them for two reasons:
1. She dragged her back leg and the PAWZ protected her nails and paws from getting abrasions
2. She wore them in the house because they stopped her from slipping on the wood floors
If you do use these in the house, be sure it is only for short periods as dogs sweat through their paw pads.
I know there are many other types of booties out there, but this is the one I had great results with.
- Ramps – great for pets who are no longer safe waking up/down stairs, or need help getting into/out of the car. Things to consider when purchasing a ramp: it’s walking surface and traction, the amount of weight it holds, it’s stability, and the length, steepness, and incline of both the ramp and the area you need to cover.
- Stairs – great for pets who need some extra help getting on and off his/her favorite piece of furniture. Stairs come in a large variety of designs, heights, number of stairs, step depths, and weight bearing ability. Steps are usually very easy to move around as well.
- Keep Nails Short – long nails can be very painful for dogs to walk on. Long nails can also affect a dog’s gait, and the last thing you want is for something that can be easily avoided to impede your senior dogs gait.
- Brush Teeth – it is especially important to keep your senior dogs teeth clean so as to avoid having to knock him/her out for a teeth cleaning, or worse, teeth pulled. It is also important to brush your senior dogs teeth to avoid any type of mouth or gum infection.
- Elevated Food Bowls – great for taller dogs so they don’t have to bend down to eat. This is even true for smaller dogs who may not have needed a raised dish when younger. It’s all about making your senior dog more comfortable and safe.
- Sleep & Bed Situation – every dog is different, but many love an orthopedic (memory foam or egg-crate foam) bed. These beds provide support and extra cushioning for senior dogs’ achy joints.
However, I discovered that my senior girl did not prefer an orthopedic bed. I am not sure why, but I think the bed was too challenging for her to get off. After trying a number of different beds, I discovered her favorite place to sleep was on two stacked soft bathroom rugs (with rubber backings so they did not move).
I also know that many seniors prefer to lay on the cool floor. The firm coolness of the floor may feel good on achy joints.
- Sling – typically used with larger dogs that need help standing up or need support for the hind limbs when walking. The store-bought slings usually have handles at each end, making them easy to hold on to. However, a towel or piece of very strong fabric can be substituted.
- Bracesj, Splints, & Wraps – great for dogs with “wrist” and “ankle” issues. I often see dogs with arthritis in these weight-bearing joints. Braces, splints and wraps all provide extra support for these important joints, and help to both relieve pain and assist the dog in walking more “normally.” There are both custom made and premade ones available.
- Harnesses – in general I feel that dog harnesses are a much better choice, especially for dogs with arthritis in the neck or back. There is a wide variety of harnesses designed specifically for senior dogs. Typically these harnesses are very supportive and comfortable. The harnesses designed for seniors typically have 1 – 2 handles on the top to give owners an easy way to assist their dog in getting up and moving around.
- Dog Strollers – often used for smaller dogs who may tire easily or are no longer walking comfortably. Owners may use a stroller to get their dog places, or even just to take them outside for a walk.
- Dog Wheelchairs & Carts – deciding to use a wheelchair or cart can be a very difficult decision. However, it does not have to equate the end. Wheelchairs and carts are typically used with dogs that have limited hind end mobility and strength. Depending on your pet’s condition, using a wheelchair or cart can help the rehab process by allowing your dog to achieve greater mobility.
There are many factors to consider when buying a wheelchair or cart for your dog. Although many companies sell directly to the consumer, it is beneficial to work with a vet or canine rehab therapist.
I hope you have found the above information beneficial! Regardless of your dog’s age, they remain our babies to the end of time.