Taking Good Care of Your Old Dog

Old dogs can be happy dogs! 5 tips to help your dog age gracefully and stay healthy.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #226

My dog, Juniper, turned 12 earlier this month. Good Old Dog, an excellent guide to caring for older dogs put together by the Tufts University veterinary school, tells me that makes him about 77 in human years. (Equivalents vary depending on the dog’s weight.) He’s lost some hearing, but there’s a spring in his step, and the other morning he embarrassed the heck out of me at the vet’s office by grabbing a plush snowman off a display shelf and throwing it around. You’ve got to love a geriatric hooligan, right?

So, this week, 5 things you can do to help your aging dog keep the fun and humiliation coming..

Tip #1: Keep Your Dog at a Healthy Weight – Or Get Her There

Old joints get creaky and sore. The heavier the load they have to carry around, the harder it is on them. And since dogs tend to become less active as they age (like people), the calorie intake that kept your Dogalini svelte when she was 4 may pork her right up when she’s 8 or 9.

Talk to your vet about your best doggie diet strategy, because it may vary depending on how much weight Dogalini needs to take off and on her overall state of health. As a general rule, the winning combination involves cutting back on high-calorie food and adding exercise. There’s no need for your dog to feel famished, mind you. With your vet’s okay, add some low-cal but tasty padding to meals – ground vegetables mixed with meat broth, a little low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, and mashed sweet potatoes, for instance.

Tip #2: Keep Exercising (Mindfully)

I know, this all sounds exactly like the advice you get about your own health, doesn’t it? It’s “use it or lose it” for dogs as well as for us. But whether you’re taking weight off your dog or whether she’s been a lean, mean running and jumping machine all her life, be mindful of her limitations.

As dogs age, they can’t regulate their body temperature as well as they used to, so they don’t tolerate heat and cold as easily. Their hearts and lungs are weaker. And 80% of North American dogs over 8 years old have arthritis. So your 10-year-old Zippy who’s a fool for fetch can fetch himself right into collapse or days and days of soreness. Think about turning those long runs into long sniffy walks. Play short rounds of fetch, and mix them up with scenting games.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).