With any luck, you’ll have a senior dog at some point in your life. As a mobility specialist, I have a special place in my heart for senior dogs. They require special care and a shift in consciousness from you, the pet parent. Simple things that were once easy for these dogs can become daunting, difficult tasks — like walking across the tile to quench his thirst or making it outside to relieve himself.
His golden years don’t have to be a significant struggle. If you listen closely, he’ll tell you what he needs. Below are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you begin – or continue – the journey with your aging companion.
Keep ’em Active!
Avoid “shrinking world syndrome” by continuing to present mental & physical challenges for your dog. His metabolism is slowing as a result of aging, so keeping him moving will also keep the weight off – an important consideration if your dog suffers from any joint pain.
Even if the walks get shorter or if he can’t easily walk, the time outside to sniff and look is just as important as the physical exercise. It keeps his mind active & processing the world around him. Consider it Sudoku or the Sunday crossword for dogs.
Reshape His World
If you can manage it, get down on all fours & take a look at the house from your dog’s perspective. Now consider what it might be like if you had mobility issues. That water bowl seems an awfully long way from his favorite napping spot. The tile floor is treacherous, even when dry. The living room furniture creates a long, twisty maze.
Give him a wide berth on his commonly-traveled paths and cover them with carpet or area rugs. Keep him hydrated with an additional water bowl near his favorite spot. Consider a memory foam bed or other soft, but supportive, material.
Hit the Water
Swimming is an excellent exercise for senior dogs. This non-weight bearing activity provides a great way to get some exercise, increase lymph movement (which supports the immune system), and burn excess energy without all the pounding on painful joints.
Don’t worry if you dog has never tried swimming. They can learn new tricks and may come to look forward to a weekly dip in the pool. (Lessons are available!)
Take His Temperature
Senior dogs are less tolerant of very hot and very cold temperatures. Just because he’s wearing a fur coat doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the cold air that sinks down around his bed on the floor on a January night. Don’t be afraid to cover him up in fleece on a cozy bed. Heat is also an issue for aging canines and our Arizona summers can be especially difficult. Make sure he has plenty of water and access to shade or a cooling source at all times.
Take Time to Reassess
If you’re active with your dog as I am with my two, Helen and Dottie, it’s important to take a look at what you’re asking your aging dog to do. It’s easy to assume that because you love an activity; he does too. Take an honest look at the physical & mental toll these activities take on him. Even therapy dog work is incredibly taxing.
Decide if you can alter the frequency or duration of the activities or if you’ll have to consider eliminating them altogether. Start taking note of his energy level after the activity & even the day after. Just pay attention & he’ll tell you what he needs.
Aging isn’t a disease. His body will go through normal changes such as graying hair, decreased immunity, hormonal changes, decreased bladder and kidney function, some form of neurologic decline and others. Talk to your veterinarian about how to distinguish between normal changes and signs of illness.
Arizona has amazing indoor and outdoor opportunities to spend quality time with your dog. No matter his age, your dog can enjoy all the sights, sounds, smells of the desert — even if it’s nothing more than relaxing on a blanket by the trailhead.
Remember, mobility is life.
~Kate Titus, CCFT, CTMT, CSMT, FP-MT
Canine Mobility and Fitness Specialist
A Loyal Companion Mobility and Swim Center
Kate Titus is a mobility specialist. She provides orthotics, prosthetics, wheelchairs, and swim and fitness programs for dogs of all ages at her facility; A Loyal Companion, in Tucson, Arizona. She is also the author of the A Loyal Companion book series, (which you can pick up at AZ Dog Sports!!) You can also read more about her and her facility in Tucson here: www.aloyalcompanion.com