All dogs age eventually, and with it comes ailments that may require special care. These times can be frustrating and scary for both of you. But, if you anticipate these changes you can prepare for them in advance. With a few helpful hints you can turn their golden years into a more pleasant experience for the whole family.
Average dog years: young (0-6 years) middle age (7-10 years) geriatric (11 years and over)
1. Most ailments come on slowly, so we as dog owners do not notice the failing eyesight or hearing loss, yet these changes can cause strange behavior in your dog. For instance many older dogs become more needy. They may become glued to your leg or may vocalize if you leave them in alone in a room. They may express separation anxiety by barking or whining when you leave the house. This is normal and can you really blame them? Life can get scary when you start to lose your faculties. Always be patient and gentle with your aging pet. Realize they will have to rely on you more and more for their basic needs.
2. As they age dogs develop aches and pains. Sixty-five percent of our four legged pals will get arthritis at some point in their life. Most arthritis appears as a dog ages, but old injuries and surgeries can also cause arthritis to set in. You may not have noticed that your pet has slowed down. Their daily walks have turned into short jaunts to relieve themselves. Getting up and down can be painful and they seem may fall more. The best remedy for an aging, arthritic dog is to put them on a home-cooked diet, but more about this in a bit.
3. Dogs get confused, forget where they are and may work their way into a corner and not be able to get out. They may run into things. This is not funny to them and should not be to you. They have feelings and get embarrassed. Your poor pup is frustrated by the changes happening in them. They need compassion more than anything. Help your pet adjust to aging, by keeping their schedule as regular as possible. Keep their feeding times and walk times the same. Try not to move things around in the house and do not leave stuff out where they can trip over it. Dogs thrive on routine especially as they age. And more than ever they need lots of hugs and reassurance.
4. As your pet slows with age so does digestive system. They may not be able to digest the preservatives and additives in commercial dog foods. You may notice runny stools or they may vomit more than usual. Some older dogs even develop allergies to their commercial pet food. This is why a home-cooked diet is so important at this time in their life. Starting now you want them to get their nutrients from whole, fresh, human grade foods. Ground turkey, fresh fruits, vegetables and yams are a great substitute for kibble and canned food.
Fish three times a week is essential to make sure your pet gets their omega 3 fatty acids. Since your pet is not as active they do not need to eat as much. Try feeding smaller meals more frequently during the day. Snacks like yogurt with fresh berries are terrific for aging dogs. The probiotics in yogurt and the antioxidants in the berries help aid the immune system. If you have not already done so this is a good time to add a multivitamin to your pet's home-cooked diet. You may eventually have to add selective supplements, for various ailments but a home-cooked diet and a multivitamin is a great place to start.
5. Your pup may sleep most of the day. As they get into their golden years they require more sleep. Although sleep is important your dog should get out frequently during the day, not only to relieve themselves, but to stretch their legs. Idleness can cause stiffness, so make them get up and move during the day, but do not overwork them.
6. Aging dogs often leak or have accidents in the house. These are the times you have to remember how much unconditional love your pet has shown you and return the favor. Puppy pads and doggie diapers, what a great invention! They come in very handy when incontinence is a problem. They now make doggies wipes so you can keep their hind- quarters clean, too. Having you dog take more frequent potty breaks may help keep them from leaking or having bowel movements in the house. If your dog does have an accident in the house do not scold them they most likely do not know they did it.
7. Be sure your aging pet has regular vet check ups. This way you can catch things before they get out of hand. A geriatric dog should see the vet for a regular check up every six months as opposed to yearly. And be sure to keep their teeth clean as this prevents other illnesses.
8. Know when to say good-bye. As heart wrenching as it is, your pet needs you to be strong and show them kindness. They will tell you when they are ready if you listen.
We all want to enjoy our pets for as long as we can. Help them by understanding that as they get older they may need special attention. By preparing ahead of time you can eliminate a lot of the frustration that comes with caring for an aging pet. Remember their love is unconditional.