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

Tip #3: Speaking of the Vet …

You know how you’re supposed to get an annual physical? Annual is also fine for a young and healthy dog. But since dogs age faster than we do, that “annual” should turn into “every 6 months” as middle age hits Zippy’s rearview mirror. The earlier any problems are caught, the more likely they are to be treatable, and also the cheaper treatment is likely to be.

If you think something’s off, even something you can’t put your finger on, have your vet check it out, and never mind whether Zippy is due for a physical that month. In particular, if Zippy is gradually losing his zip, don’t chalk it up to “getting old.” My own Juni seemed to slow down late last summer and into the fall. That kill-the-plush-snowman episode in the vet’s waiting room? It happened after we started him on arthritis meds. Sure, he’s old, but he was also sore – and he didn’t have to be. Check out my episode Is Your Dog in Pain? where I describe many signs that dogs are uncomfortable or hurting.

Tip #4: Old Dogs, Cushy Beds

I’m big on giving dogs of every age a super-comfortable bed, especially if you want to keep them off the furniture. That goes double, triple, quadruple for the oldsters. If you’re already in, say, your fifties, you’ve probably noticed that sleeping in airplanes – I’m talking coach here – is a lot harder on you than it used to be.

I can’t prove the truth of any parallel for our aging dogs, but common sense suggests that a fancy gel bed, a recycled crib mattress, or a deep pile of quilts you bought at Goodwill is going to be more comfortable for Geriatriclini than a thin mat on the floor. And if you live in a cold climate or you keep the AC turned up high, an electric heating pad or a self-warming pad might not go amiss. Get one specialized for dog beds, please.

Tip #5: Injury Prevention

Just recently, a longtime client of mine reported some new signs of anxiety in her dog. A couple of her remarks made me wonder whether he was feeling well, so I advised a vet check before we met. Sure enough, Scooter had hurt his elbow jumping on and off the furniture.

Nobody in the household wants to keep Scooter off the couch or out of the bed, and anyway it would be quite a training project to change his lifelong habits. Instead, we’ll get Scooter some portable steps and teach him to use those instead of jumping. For the family car, a ramp would be in order if Scooter were too big to be lifted. My clients live in an elevator building, but if Scooter had to take stairs I would like to see them fitted out with nonskid treads. And if your own Scooter is really big and really stiff, you could get a harness or a sling with a handle on the back, to help him negotiate steps.

Tip #6: Have Patience

I mentioned in the intro that my Juni has lost a good bit of his hearing. Knock wood, his eyesight seems pretty much unaffected. But my dear old dog Izzy had lost much of both her sight and hearing by the time she died in 2010. As a result, she sometimes got disoriented in unfamiliar places. Hearing loss made her less responsive to my spoken cues, and it’s doing the same with Juni.

If your aging dog has lost some hearing, experiment to find the pitches he can hear best, and don’t assume he’s ignoring you or “blowing you off” when he doesn’t immediately do as you ask. Check out my episode on deaf dogs for more tips on hearing loss.

And, speaking of patience, if you’ve treated No Longer Zippy’s achy joints and he still moves slowly, do not be one of those people who hauls the old codger along regardless. For goodness’ sake let him stop and smell the flowers. Leaves. Fire hydrants. Yellow snow. Whatever. Thank you.

As always, you can write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I get so many questions that I can’t respond individually, but check out past Dog Trainer episodes – I might already have answered yours. And please visit me on Facebook, where I’m The Dog Trainer.>

Old dog and injured dog images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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).

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