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There's no question about it, old dogs are special. There's something about the unwavering loyalty of a grey-faced dog that could melt your heart. Living with an old dog can present some unique challenges. To help ease the transition into old age, here are a few great and subtle changes you can make to ensure they still have wonderful quality of life.
Yoga Matts or Similar for Traction
Older dogs often have trouble getting up and moving around on slippery surfaces like tile or wood floors. Rather than investing in carpeting your whole house, try Yoga mats or carpet runners in the high traffic areas. This will help your dogs grip as they move around and will minimize the impact on joints and ligaments that's created from sliding.
If mats aren't an option, a product like non-slip boots or Dr. Buzby's Toe Grips could be a great way to help your dog out. I used these when Reggie had a leg injury and they were very helpful on slippery surfaces.
Another way to improve your dog's movement everywhere is to keep their nails trimmed short. Long nails can drastically change the shape of your dog's foot and over time, can cause major damage. Keeping your dog's nails trimmed down short enough that they barely reach the floor will improve the long term health of the foot and will allow your dog to move around using the pads of their feet for grip instead of riding on their nails.
Older dogs can experience changes in how they deal with the cold. Loss of muscle, arthritis and slowed blood circulation can all contribute to making your older dog uncomfortable in cooler weather. They may require some additional clothing to help them stay warm when out and about or even in the home. Consider coats and boots for your senior dog, especially in the really cold days of Winter. If your senior really suffers in the cold, leave them home on those cold days. Use some brain games in the warmth of the home to drain some of their energy and keep them mentally stimulated.
Now may be the time to invest in big, comfy, warm dog beds - even if your dog has previously seemed to dislike them.
Raised Food Bowls
It can be hard on an old dog to try to eat with a food bowl on the ground. Consider raising it so they don't have to reach down for their food. There are stands that are available commercially, but you can improvise and just use a box or a pile of books.
Stairs can be a big obstacle for older dogs. A ramp in high traffic areas can be a real saving grace for dogs who have mobility issues. You might consider ramps in other areas as well, like the car or any furniture that your dog frequently uses. This will help your dog continue to be able to get up on these surfaces, while minimizing the damaging impact that's created when they jump off higher places.
Be Aware of Changes
Be aware of changes in your dog's demeanour, attitude and movement. If they are feeling stiff, sore or tired, you may see changes in them. Don't ignore them - they could be giving you early insight into a future problem. You might consider taking a video of your dog moving at least once a year (I do this on their birthdays). That way, you can spot changes from one year to the next rather thank missing small changes that you might not notice in day-to-day life.
Watch for changes in their play. If you notice they're no longer interested in playing with other dogs or people in the home, this could signify that they are hurting.
Take the time as you are touching grooming them to search for lumps and bumps that are new. Small lumps, like sebaceous cysts can be fairly harmless, but other small lumps could be the sign of a bigger problem.
When your dog becomes a senior, it's a good time to get to the vet for a Wellness Exam, whether you suspect problems or not. This should include routine blood work to give you a window into what's happening in their bodies. It will also give you a baseline so that when you do blood work again, you'll be able to spot any changes. I typically do a wellness exam every year once my dog turns 7 years of age.
A few pre-emptive changes can make all the difference for your senior dog's quality of life. Hopefully we are blessed with many wonderful years with our older dogs.
As always, Happy Training!