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> How to Help Your Dog Age Gracefully
How to Help Your Dog Age Gracefully
It starts with a few gray hairs mixed in around his cold, wet nose and an extra few seconds of stretching when he wakes up.
All of us who have dogs will eventually have to face the realities of old age. Just as the years make a mark on us, our dogs are affected by time, too. Maybe she can’t run quite as fast chasing the frisbee, or maybe he needs some extra rest after a day at the dog park. Her hearing or his eyesight might not be quite what it used to be.
But with a little foresight and some patience from the family, your dog can age gracefully and stay healthy, comfortable, and active.
Exercise and Play
As your dog gets older, you will need to gradually modify his activity. For instance, he might not be able to go on long runs by your side, but short, frequent walks around the block are still important for his health and for your relationship. Also, be sure to keep him stimulated with toys that engage his mind so he can stay sharp!
As your dog gets older, he will probably need to go out a little more often. A dog that used to be able to “hold it” all day might start finding that more difficult. Keep a close eye on his needs. When the time comes, have a plan in place so that he can have a chance to get out during the day to do his business and stretch his legs.
Even though dogs’ ears are far better than ours, their hearing still fades with age. If you taught hand commands when he was learning obedience and tricks, helping him adjust will be a lot easier. He will continue to respond to the hand signals even when he can’t hear the words you’re saying.
Catching his eye is the hardest part! Experiment to see if there are specific frequencies or sounds he still responds to. Your dog might not be able to hear the higher “uh” and “ee” vowels in “Fluffy”, but a deeper resonant “Aw” sound in the middle of “Dog!” he might still be able to hear or feel.
It’s natural for a dog’s eyes to get cloudy and his vision to fade as he gets advanced in age. Be sure to give him extra time to navigate the house, keep him by your side on a lead when he’s in unfamiliar places, and let him sniff…a lot. Try to keep the furniture and floor-level objects in the same place he’s used to. And don’t laugh when he bumps into things. He still has his pride, you know.
As dogs get older, just like people, they get a little stiffer in the joints. Keeping them active with mild, low-impact exercise is enough to keep most dogs loose and comfortable. As the joints get a little tighter, consider a heated bed to keep him comfortable.
When your dog’s needs change, be prepared to adjust your schedule a little for him and be creative in how you incorporate long-term treatments like medicines or exercises into his routine. Pills wrapped in your dog’s favorite foods (bread, cheese, and peanut butter are great options) might even become treats instead of trials.
Be more aware about the chance of accidents. You may need to keep him contained to areas with easy to clean flooring, and you might need to keep him in areas where he doesn’t risk falling.
Vet visits begin to change when your dog grows older. Health issues become more common in old age, and you will be faced with difficult and sometimes expensive decisions. Whenever possible, build a relationship with a vet you trust early on to make these decisions clearer.
Be sure to ask lots questions — What will the test tell us? How will we treat differently based on the results of a recommended test? Will this treatment improve or prolong his quality of life? Also, if you understand your vet’s fee structure ahead of time, it could save you from surprises during an emotional decision.
Also be sure to talk about how to adjust routine vaccinations, exams, and treatments as your dog ages.
Sadly, the day will come when you have to make the hardest decision of all. Only you know what’s right for your dog and your family. Discuss this before the time comes so you can avoid conflict when you’re wrapped up in the emotions of the moment. Decide ahead of time what types of treatments you’re willing to consider, and when to simply focus on making your dog as comfortable as you can. Trust your vet to help you when the time comes.
Ultimately, many dogs can live a very long and happy, if modified, life well into their teens. He might be frustrated when you don’t let him do all the things he used to do, but he’ll appreciate the love and attention — and rest — that he deserves in his old age.