As senior dog parents, we’re always looking for tips on how to keep our senior pups healthy, happy and comfortable. What better source to look for that advice than those who share their lives with one!
From being patient and grateful for every day, to giving them daily walks and regular vet visits, these are just a few of the many helpful tips you’ll find in this article. Keep reading for more ways to give your senior the best life possible!
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I know how frustrating and frightening caring for an old dog can be, especially if they’re dealing with multiple health challenges. Whether it’s watching them endlessly wander because of dementia, taking forever to make it to the end of the block or cleaning up pee stains, please remember to be patient.
None of this is their fault, it’s part of the aging process. You certainly wouldn’t want anyone losing patience with you…right?
Treat them with kindness and love, and while you’re taking that leisurely stroll, practice mindfulness. Take note of your surroundings, smell the flowers as it were and enjoy being together. Trust me, you’ll miss it when you’re not.
Accommodate Their Needs
Stiffer joints means losing footing on slippery floors and struggling to get up. Yoga mats, interlocking rubber mats, booties and support harnesses will make a big difference. If they’re having difficulty climbing stairs, getting onto the couch or into the car, ramps and steps are the answer.
Elevating food and water bowls can make it easier, but be careful not to raise them too much. Forcing your dog to reach can cause bloat.
The bed they’ve loved for years may not suit their needs any longer, so it may be time to try something new. Look for one that offers extra padding, is lower in the front for ease of access, and is thick enough to offer support. Raised sides will give them something to lean against. It may be a case of trial and error to find the one he’s happy with.
One of my dogs, the love of my life Red, loved sleeping on a human comforter. It was big enough to offer lots of padding, but light enough for her to arrange it into any shape she wanted. I also kept a fleece blanket on it in the winter in case she needed extra warmth.
A night light in the hallway and/or bedroom will help guide your dog should he wander.
In my opinion, the dog stroller is the greatest invention. Even if your dog can still walk, bring it with you. He can walk as long as he’s comfortable, then put him in the stroller when he needs a break. Believe me, even a 9lb dog can get very heavy after carrying her for just 10 minutes!
We had a stroller for Red and we brought her everywhere with us. We recently bought a new one for Jack, because we were going on a staycation and knew how much walking we would be doing. We took him on buses and trains and not having to carry him made our trip so much more enjoyable.
We got a ton of attention which my husband is always in favor of. He believes the more people that see us, the more they’ll realise their old dogs don’t have to be stuck at home…and I agree!
Pee pads and/or diapers mean a lot less cleaning for you. I haven’t tried diapers on any of my dogs, but a lot of senior dog parents I know have and they’ve been a game changer. I used pee pads for Red, but because she was blind I had to cover my entire floor with them. Not the most attractive look, and I admit it made the house look messy, but at least I didn’t find pee stains on the carpet.
For more information about doggy diapers…read this⇒ Are Dog Diapers a Good Idea?
Even if your dog has mobility issues, he still needs to go for a walk. It’s okay if he can’t do an hour anymore, a slow 10 minute stroll down the street is good enough. Do that 2 or 3 times a day to keep him interested, give him the chance to meet new friends and breath fresh air.
Don’t forget your stroller!
Keep to a Schedule
I’ve always been a fan of having a daily dog schedule. That doesn’t mean they eat, sleep and walk at exactly the same time each day, it’s just to give a rough idea of what happens when. In my experience, many dogs with no schedule can often be on high alert, never knowing when they’re going out or when it’s time to eat.
It also makes it easier for us humans.
Regular Vet Checks
Regular vet checks are super important for every dog, but even more so for old ones. Ideally you want to see the vet every 6 months, more often if your dog has a condition where more frequent monitoring is recommended. Blood work, a urine test and teeth checked should be standard at each appointment.
Supplements and Alternative Therapies
Some dog parents are happy giving their pups medication, while others prefer a more natural approach. I don’t have a holistic vet anywhere near me, so I have no choice but to rely on my vet (who is excellent BTW!) who only recommends drugs. Having said that, I do try and find natural alternatives where possible (unfortunately that’s usually impossible without the help of a holistic vet), or at least add natural supplements when I can.
Here are some supplements and alternative therapies you may want to consider, depending on what’s going on with your dog, but I do recommend you do your research and speak to your vet before trying something new.
Feeding bone broth regularly. Click this link for more information and the recipe.
Probiotics for gut health. This is particularly important if your dog is taking medication.
Joint support such as Glucosamine and New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels.
Laser therapy, acupuncture and hydrotherapy are highly recommended by senior dog parents for pain relief due to arthritis and other joint issues.
Take Extra Care of Your Dog’s Teeth
Whether that’s daily brushing, using dental treats/chews, water additives or dental surgery when required, caring for your dog’s teeth is very important, particularly as he gets older. Gum disease is not only painful, but can cause more serious issues.
I know many people are afraid of putting an old dog under anesthesia, and that’s perfectly understandable. However, avoiding surgery because of that may not be the right call. I suggest you speak to your vet about your concerns, and together decide whether it’s riskier to do it or avoid it.
Red had dental surgery a few times over the years, the last when she was around 15. She also had dementia, kidney issues and a heart murmur, but we went ahead anyway. I have tremendous confidence in my vet, and I knew that it was the right thing to do and it was. Only once a dog is under can a vet every truly know the extent of the problem, and hers was worse than we thought. Believe me, she felt so much better when it was over.
Jack has also had a couple of dental surgeries, but then I found out about a groomer that does cleanings, and now he goes on a regular basis. It’s not expensive, takes about 30 minutes and my vet said she does a great job. I don’t think it means he’ll never need surgery again, but I do think it will be a lot longer until he does.
Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of an old dog with health issues can take a toll on you, the human caregiver, both physically and emotionally. That’s why it’s so important to schedule “me time.” I know it can be hard, especially if you’re doing it solo, but I recommend you try.
Find a friend, neighbor or family member to stay with your dog for an hour while you take a walk or a drive. Meet a friend for coffee, take a class, go shopping or head to your nearest park and just read a book. Even 30 minutes will do you more good than you realise.
Before I realised Red had dementia (I never had a dog with dementia before, so it was all new to me), she would wander for hours. She would also constantly drink and then pee where she stood. I took her to the vet several times, expecting him to tell me her kidney disease had progressed or she had diabetes, but he could never find an answer.
I was so stressed I didn’t know what to do with myself. There were times when I had to get out of the house, so I would take a walk along the beach or around the block. Anything that would help me re-charge my battery. This break, no matter how short, allowed me to be more patient with her and understanding.
We usually hear about caregiver burnout when it involves caring for a person, but the burnout is just as real if the recipient has 4 legs.
Keep Them Warm in Winter
Old dogs tend to feel the cold a lot more than younger ones, so it’s important to ensure they’re warm and comfortable throughout the winter months. That means a coat when they’re outside, and if you live in a snowy climate, boots will protect their paws from the cold and the burning from the ice. If they refuse to wear booties, at least use paw wax.
This means keeping them warm in the house as well.
- If your house is on the cool side, a sweater will help. Red wore a sweater in the house for months, even though I like my house warm.
- Keep the bed away from any drafts like an open window (if you like air flow even in the winter!) and vents.
- If you have hardwood or tile floors, put a blanket or yoga mat under the bed so the bottom doesn’t get cold.
- Throw a fleece blanket on the bed for extra warmth.
Keep Them Cool in Summer
As important as it is to keep your old dog warm in the winter, it’s just as important to keep him cool in the summer. Heatstroke can be deadly, so keep your dog out of the heat as much as possible and well hydrated.
- Walk your dog early in the morning and later in the evening
- Stick to the shady side of the street
- Be careful of hot sand and pavement
- Make sure your dog is drinking
- Invest in a cooling vest, bandana and mat
Don’t Get Rid of Them When They’re Sick
You may be surprised, and yes even horrified, to learn how many senior dogs are abandoned in shelters, only for the staff to discover a host of health issues. Sadly many are killed, the lucky ones saved by some of the amazing senior dog rescues started by incredibly kind and compassionate people.
Your dog is a member of the family, so please don’t give up on him just because he’s old! I know health challenges can come as they age, and how expensive vet bills can be.
If you need emotional help caring for him, find support among friends and family, and if you need financial help search “help paying vet bills” and type in your area. How about starting a GoFundMe page, which you can get up and running in a matter of minutes.
Watch For Changes in Behavior
While I don’t want you to be stressed watching him every second of the day, it is important to take note of any changes in behavior. Don’t dismiss them, assuming it’s to be expected as a natural part of the aging process.
If you do notice anything, even if it’s just something that seems “off” please see your vet. Unfortunately, not all vets are as interested in old dogs as they should be (I say this from my own experience, and the stories of too many other senior dog parents), so make sure he or she takes you seriously. If not, find one who does.
Catching something early increases the chances of it being treated successfully or at least managed.
Don’t Take Anything for Granted/Cherish Every Moment
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all lived our lives this way? How wonderful to have the ability to cherish every moment and be grateful for everything we have, and everyone we share our lives with.
Well, perhaps we can learn that lesson as we care for our old dogs.
Time is precious, so live in the moment and cherish the time you have with your grey muzzled best friend.
Take Lots of Pictures and Videos
It goes without saying that we’re always taking pictures of our dogs, but as they get older you want to make sure you take as many as you can. Although I thought I took a lot of pictures of Red through the years, after she died I was struck by the very sad thought, I would never be able to take another picture of her again. Oh how I wish I had taken more.
Teach Hand Signals
It’s possible your dog’s hearing may diminish over time, so using hand signals is a great way to keep the lines of communication open. There are lots of videos on Youtube that will get you started.
Have No Regrets
It may be hard, but try not to have any regrets when it’s time for them to leave you. Regret will eat at you, so always know you’re doing the best you can.
Do the Things that Make Them Happy
Make a list of all the things you dog loves to do, and do them! Humans call it a bucket list and believe it or not, lots of senior dog parents make one for their dogs.
For great ideas on what to put your list, read this article ⇒ Bucket List Ideas for Your Senior Dog
Be Aware of New Ways to Communicate
The way your dog communicates with you over time may change. For example, if your dog has trouble walking, he may not be getting enough water or can’t go to the door as often to signal he needs an extra pee break. If he’s started barking more than usual, he’s probably trying to tell you something.
Try and predict his needs by taking him out more often, like after a nap for example, and placing more water bowls around the house so he doesn’t have too far to walk.
Trust Your Gut
If you think there’s something wrong, you’re probably right! Call your vet and express your concerns. I know in some areas it’s still difficult to get an appointment, and many people have said how long they’re waiting for calls to be returned. Don’t let days pass, if you haven’t heard from your vet keep trying, show up at the clinic or find another vet. If you’re very worried, go to an emergency hospital.
Be Your Dog’s Advocate
Very similar to the above point about trusting your gut. You are your dog’s advocate and the only voice your dog has.
Keep Them Excited About Life
Just because your dog doesn’t walk as much as he used to, or is having a little trouble seeing or hearing, doesn’t mean he can’t still be excited about life. Don’t think since he lays on his bed all day that’s all he wants to do. Put him in the stroller and walk to a new park. Go for a drive and stop at a dog friendly café for a snack. Teach him a new trick and visit a doggie friend he hasn’t seen in a while.
Buy Carpet Shampoo in Bulk!
One of my group members added this, and I thought it was so hilarious I had to include it. It’s also true!!
Be There for Them
They have been by your side through your life journey, be there for them through theirs.
No Two Days Will Be the Same
One day your dog may be acting like a puppy, the next he barely gets out of bed. One day he’s eating everything you put in front of him, the next he goes on a hunger strike. There will be some amazing days, and some more challenging ones, but every day he will rely on you and you will experience the joy of having him in your world.
At the end of the day, it’s all about loving them and giving them the best life you can.
Let Them Go When It’s Time
The hardest thing in the world to do, but this is when you have to love them enough to let them go when it’s time.
No one ever wants to imagine, let alone experience life without our favorite furry companion, but sadly there are many dogs that suffer because their person can’t say goodbye.
Please don’t let that happen. Know you’ve done your best and be strong enough to give them this last gift of peace, and an end to their suffering.
What is your best piece of advice? Sharing helps others so please leave your comment below.