Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Caring for Ageing Dogs

Caring for Ageing Dogs

A guide on how to look after your dog’s changing physical and mental needs as they age.

As our beloved dogs enter their golden years, it’s essential to adapt our care strategies to meet their changing needs. Ageing dogs require tailored approaches to ensure they have the best possible quality of life, which they certainly deserve after their lifetime of dedication to us!

In this blog post, we will explore  behavioural changes you might see in your elderly dog, and plenty of simple ways you can adapt to your dog’s changing needs around mental stimulation, diet, and physical activity.

Understanding the needs of elderly dogs

As dogs age, their physical and cognitive capabilities evolve, requiring us to make adjustments that support their overall wellbeing. By considering mental stimulation, dietary changes, and exercise routines, we can help our dogs maintain their health, vitality, and happiness as they age. 

Behavioural changes in ageing dogs

As dogs age, along with physical changes like greying hair, it’s common to observe certain changes in their behaviour. Some of the changes you may notice include a decrease in energy levels and activity, reduced mobility or stiffness, changes in sleep patterns, increased sensitivity to noise or touch, potential hearing or vision loss, decreased appetite or changes in eating habits, increased restlessness or confusion, and possible changes in social interactions. 

In particular as your dog’s sight and hearing decline, their cognition can start to slow too and they may become a little confused at times. Normally they become more dependent and attached to you and the family. 

As their senses start to fade or their pain levels increase, they may also become more reactive to other dogs, people, general touch or certain noises and stimuli. If you see a shift in your dog’s behaviour, see your vet to assess any changes going on in your dog’s body so that you can better understand their needs. You may need to get your dog on pain medication, ensure you’re giving them plenty of obvious warning as you approach if their hearing has gone downhill so they don’t get a fright, you may need to give them a quiet space to retreat to if you have loud visitors (especially kids) coming round, or you may need to monitor their interactions with other dogs more carefully.

Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can help address any underlying health concerns contributing to these behavioural changes and provide appropriate guidance for your ageing dog’s care.

Mental stimulation for senior dogs

Elderly dogs benefit greatly from low-impact mental stimulation activities that engage their minds and prevent boredom. While they may no longer be fit for boisterous play, jumping, chasing and agility style challenges, there are plenty of activities  they can do which will help promote cognitive function and provide a sense of purpose. They will still love to use their brain! Here are some examples:

Gentle Walks and Nature Exploration: Take your senior dog on short, leisurely walks to explore the neighbourhood or nearby parks. Let them sniff around and engage their senses at their own pace off-lead or on a long-lead or retractable. Choose a variety of locations each week to provide different scents and experiences for them to enjoy, so it’s a more stimulating experience!  A dog’s sense of smell is more incredible than we’ll ever be able to truly grasp, so allowing them to explore the vast world of smells they have access too is the best mental stimulation you can provide, while also providing light exercise.

Puzzle Toys and Treat Dispensers: Use interactive toys designed for senior dogs that challenge their problem-solving skills. These toys can be filled with treats or kibble to reward their efforts, keeping them mentally engaged.

Scent Games: Engage your senior dog’s sense of smell by hiding treats or toys around the house or in the backyard. This activity allows them to use their nose to locate hidden treasures, providing mental stimulation and light physical activity.

Basic Training and Tricks: Continue training sessions with your senior dog, focusing on low-impact exercises. Teach them new commands or reinforce existing ones, such as paw shakes, “stay,” or “spin,” to keep their minds sharp and strengthen the bond between you.

Massage and Tactile Stimulation: Spend quiet time with your senior dog, offering gentle massages to provide physical relief and relaxation. Brush their coat or use grooming tools designed for relaxation to provide tactile stimulation, which can have a calming and engaging effect.

Dietary considerations for ageing dogs

As dogs age, their nutritional needs change, and it’s important to adjust their diet accordingly. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best approach for your senior dog’s dietary requirements:

Quality Senior Dog Food: Transition to a high-quality senior dog food that provides the necessary nutrients to support ageing bodies. Look for formulations designed specifically for senior dogs, which may include joint-supporting ingredients, easily digestible proteins, and supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. If your dog’s teeth and gums aren’t what they used to be, soak dry biscuits in warm water or broth to soften them and provide additional hydration. 

Portion Control: Obesity is a common concern for older dogs, so follow your vet’s guidance on portion control and feeding frequency to ensure your senior dog maintains a healthy weight. Excess weight will add further pressure to joints in your dog’s body as they get older. 

Supplements: Your vet may recommend certain supplements to address specific health issues commonly associated with ageing dogs. These may include joint supplements, omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive health, or antioxidants to support immune function.

    Exercise and physical activity for ageing dogs

    Maintaining an appropriate exercise routine is crucial for the overall well-being of ageing dogs, however it’s important not to overdo it. Consider the following when engaging in physical activities with your senior dog:

    Low-Impact Exercise: Opt for low-impact exercises such as leisurely walks, swimming, or gentle play sessions. Short, frequent walks are preferable to long, strenuous outings. Be mindful of any physical limitations or discomfort your senior dog may have, adjusting the duration and intensity accordingly. Some dogs won’t be able to resist pushing themselves too far, even if if means suffering later, so make sure you’re conscious that you can’t always follow their lead. 

    Balance and Coordination Exercises: Engage your senior dog in activities that promote balance and coordination, helping to maintain muscle strength and joint flexibility. Simple exercises like balancing on a foam pad, walking over low obstacles, or slow movements like “sit to stand” repetitions can be beneficial.

    Mental Stimulation during Exercise: Incorporate mental stimulation into your senior dog’s exercise routine. For example, you can hide treats or toys along the walking route for them to discover, encouraging sniffing and exploration.

    Good luck with this next phase of your dog’s life…

    Caring for ageing dogs involves an approach that addresses mental stimulation, dietary adjustments, and appropriate exercise to ensure we offer them the best possible quality of life. By providing tailored mental activities, a well-balanced diet, and engaging but not strenuous physical routines, we can support the overall health, cognitive function, and emotional wellbeing of our senior companions. 

    With your love, attention, and proper care, your dog can enjoy a fulfilling and happy life in their golden years.

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