Perhaps your once spritely pooch has reached old age, or maybe you’ve adopted or inherited a more senior canine. Either way, looking after an older dog comes with its own set of responsibilities, and so it’s best to be prepared to alter your habits to ensure your dog is as happy and healthy as can be in its later years.
Here are some tips to make the whole process easier for you and your dog.
Just like humans, an aging dog is likely to have increased aches and pains, meaning they will certainly require more frequent trips to the vet than younger pups. Be aware of this, and watch out for any health issues that you think your dog may be suffering from. Whilst you can browse some of the most common diseases that affect dogs here, you should also keep an eye on the general state of your dog’s eyesight, breathing and eating pattern, and look out for any lumps or bumps that may appear on its body. If you suspect something may be wrong, take your canine to the vet – it’s better to be safe.
As your dog grows into old age you may notice they have less of an appetite than they did as a puppy. This is the case for most dogs, and you should try to reflect this change by adjusting what you feed them.
Dogs Trust note how specially created ‘Senior Dog Food’ is a better option, as it contains the right nutrients for your elderly canine:
“As they become less active, older dogs can be prone to putting on weight. Switching to a complete senior diet that may be lower in protein or fat will help keep extra weight off," says the trust.
Consider tracking what they like the eat and how often they do, so you can work out an eating plan that suits them. For example, you may find that eating little and often works best. If you’re stuck, however, it always helps to get expert advice from your vet.
Your dog will undoubtedly want to take things at a slower pace as they grow older. Make sure they have a dedicated area in the house which is positioned so there will be minimum disturbance, and leave them to rest when they don’t seem like playing. Consider buying a bed designed with senior dogs in mind – they will usually have orthopaedic support which can help if your dog has any joint problems. It’s a good idea to position the bed in a place where food and water are nearby, as well an easily accessible route to get to the toilet if need be.
Don’t worry, though – older dogs don’t just rest all day! If you’re on the lookout for a loyal and friendly companion but don’t have the capability to look after a livelier pet, getting a senior dog from a rescue shelter can be a great option.
While the saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, that certainly won’t stop them trying. Old dogs still require regular exercise, even if their energy levels aren’t what they used to be. The trick is to find a balance, so your dog is getting the amount of exercise it needs without feeling overworked.
You can find this balance by taking your dog out on a couple of short walks a day instead of a singular longer one, and assessing when it seems to be getting tired. Each dog’s stamina will differ, but remember that you can consult with your vet if you’re still unsure.
As well as physical activity, you must make sure that your dog is mentally stimulated. This is particularly important in old age as regular mental activity can result in a more sociable and happier animal. This can be achieved by simply engaging in a form of regular playtime with your dog, whether that be a traditional game of fetch or a more complicated toy puzzle.
Mental stimulation can also come from visiting new environments, having the capacity to explore, and meeting new dogs.
Owning an older dog is extremely worthwhile, but you should be aware that like all pets, they come with a lot of responsibility. Be aware that elderly dogs will usually take longer to get around and won’t always be in the mood for playing. However, they should engage in physical and mental activity as regularly as possible. Remember, there’s life in the old dog yet!
RSPCA Cymru, which looks after the welfare of many older dogs in rescue centres across Wales, said: “Owning a pet is extremely rewarding – and in rescue centres across the country, there are countless animals seeking a second chance of happiness and a forever home, who would make the most amazing companions.
“Pets can make such an amazing addition to the family, and offer so much – so they always deserve our care and respect. It’s equally important to remember that they require a huge commitment. Owners must always be ready to care for them depending on their specific welfare needs, and remember that they have a legal duty of care to their pets under the Animal Welfare Act.
Giving an older dog a loving home in its later years is a wonderful thing. While they might not want to run around and play as much as in their younger days, older dogs give their owners plenty of love to make up for it. If you are caring for an older dog, make sure you take it to a vet for a health check and pay close attention to its needs.
Don't forget to take out the right dog insurance for your new-to-you pooch, as they might need it. You may need to shop around, but many insurers – including Admiral – are happy to cover older dogs.