Those white hairs near the snout are always a reminder of their age even when we don't want to remember it. However, contrary to popular belief, there are several ways pet parents can encourage a better quality of life for their senior pet through comfort, exercise, mental stimulation, and much more!
Did you know - the size/breed of the dog determines when they turn into senior dogs? For example, a Great Dane is considered a senior at 6, whereas a Pug is considered a senior at 9. Small breeds reach adulthood earlier than medium and large breeds but turn into senior dogs much later. Whilst the quality of care remains the same for senior dogs, there are additional measures we need to take to ensure they stay relaxed, comfortable, and pain-free.
Senior dog diets, dry and wet, are specially formulated to help dogs to cope with age-related problems. One of the primary reasons for pet parents to switch to a senior-dog diet is to prevent obesity. Obesity and old age are almost too common for every dog in India and around the world and unfortunately, excess weight predisposes them to a number of chronic health problems such as diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, skin infections, elbow-joint problems, and cancer. Besides keeping older dogs on the skinny side, senior dog diets help with boosting immunity, aiding digestion, maintaining appetite, and improving vision. For most dogs and their parents, switching to senior dog food of the same brand works better than choosing a whole new brand of food altogether. However, in cases where your preferred brand of dog food does not have a senior category, you can opt for palatable wet food or senior-dog dry food. Whilst selecting senior dog food, remember to look for good-quality protein, high fiber, and little fat. This is necessary to facilitate the optimum transportation of nutrients whilst maintaining a healthy weight. In addition to this, high-quality protein found in broth and bones, contains amino acids such as chondroitin and glucosamine that are required to repair degenerated cartilage at the joints and to relieve pain. They also contain antioxidants that fight oxidative stress and reduce inflammation. Supplements with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids help with digestion, brain function, mobility, vision, and heart function.
As our dogs grow older, we often give up on providing them with basic physical activity, even if it is a few walks around the block. However, exercise and physical mobility are important now more than ever - the only question is, how much exercise and of what kind? Exercise is needed to keep their muscles strong, whether it's their legs or their heart. It also helps to maintain healthy body weight and keeps their minds engaged. The best way to exercise a senior dog is to exercise them in short intervals - brisk 15-minute walks four times a day. In addition to this, it is important to have low-impact activities such as swimming and treasure hunts. Remember to warm up before physical activity with gentle stretching and watch out for signs of exhaustion during activity. If your dog feels tired during the walk, allow for plenty of rest and start again. The best toys for senior dogs are plush toys, rope toys, fetch toys, and interactive toys.
3. Mental Stimulation
Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise for senior dogs - it keeps their minds active and prevents cognitive aging. In other words, the more your dog uses their brain, the slower their brain ages. Introduce your dog to varied challenge levels with all kinds of interactive toys, like sniffer mats, KONGs, puzzles, LickiMats, etc. It is best to ensure they engage in mental activity at least 2-3 times a day for 30 minutes.
With the senior dog label comes the need for comfort, hence, it is our responsibility to ensure our senior dogs spend the rest of their lives in maximum comfort. That said, here are a few changes you will need to make for them -
5. Home Adjustments
As your dog grows older, limited mobility hinders its ability to get from one place to another, even getting up to its favourite spot on the couch! In order to ease their access to things around the house, you can choose to build/buy ramps or stools that connect the ground to higher places such as couches, beds, or even to the next floor. In cases where your dog finds it difficult to climb, you may want to use an elevator or a smooth ramp to help with access.
6. Routine Medical Check-ups
Senior dogs benefit from medical check-ups every 3 months or earlier. This is because many underlying diseases do not show signs until the very end when it is often already too hard to treat. Hence, routine scans and bloodwork can help to catch any underlying disease early and nip it in the bud.
Now that you know how to take care of your senior dog, here's wishing you and your dog years of good health and togetherness!