When our dogs get older, it can sometimes feel quite sad or overwhelming when it comes to trying to do what is best for them to help keep them happy, healthy and comfortable in the later years of their lives. Although seeing our dogs slow down and become older can be sad, there are lot's of ways we can help to keep them comfortable and healthy.
There are three main things to think about with older dogs:
Nutrition is hugely important for all dogs of all ages but especially important for older dogs. Ensuring older dogs have high quality food that caters for aged related issues to keep their body in the best health possible is vital. This not only includes their meals but also any additional supplementation that they may need on top of this.
Many dog food brands offer food marketed specifically at senior dogs. Senior dog food is often lower in calories and can contain supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. However, not all dog foods contain this and so it is important to check yourself, and you can always add your own supplements if needed. Other supplementation for joint health includes green lipped mussel, omegas, Boswellia, manganese and hyaluronic acid.
Another supplement that can be handy for older dogs is Turmeric, which is known for its naturally supportive properties in anti-inflammatory processes. Vitamin C can be used to support the immune system, Vitamin B can be used to help counter fatigue and improve appetite, and Vitamin E works as an antioxidant.
That is not to say that your older dog requires all of these supplements at once! There are lots of products out there which include a combination of supplements so you should be able to find one that suits your dogs needs. Examples of these are Riaflex Joint Plus and Yumove, which contain a selection of supplements that can be added to your dogs usual food.
Most of us know that exercise is hugely important for all dogs but most people assume that the need for exercise stops as dogs get older. Whilst older dogs are more prone to things like joint issues, osteoarthritis and muscle wastage and stopping exercise may seem like the most obvious answer, it is actually better for your dog to continue with regular, short exercise to keep joints moving and maintain muscle mass.
In addition to this, performing some basic stretches can help to keep your dog supple and mobile. Older dogs can benefit from regular osteopathy and physiotherapy sessions, as well as hydrotherapy to maintain muscle mass whilst putting less pressure on joints. In some cases where a dog really can't do much exercise anymore, simple things such as having to step up onto a raised bed can do wonders for keeping their joints mobile.
Our Osteopath Tony Nevin created this great video showing some simple exercises that you can do with your older dog that don't require much equipment, and which can keep your dog mobile regularly
When our dogs get older they tend to ache more and can become more sensitive to pain and changes. Just like humans, older dogs take longer to recover and any injuries can take longer to heal. Dogs are stoic animals and they may not show many signs of pain, and so you may need to be more aware of anything that could affect their comfort levels.
For example, if you have had a busy few days and they have done more exercise than normal they may feel a little stiff and will need a few days of low exercise to recover. Another example might be jumping on and off of furniture and the car. Whilst your dog may still be physically able to do these things, it can become more painful and probably isn't the best thing for them to be doing. Therefore, investing in some ramps or lifting them up and down can make a big difference in keeping pain to a minimum and avoiding causing injury.
Simple changes like investing in a comfy orthopaedic bed can do wonders for a dog's comfort levels. If a dog sleeps on a harder surface such as the floor or a thinner standard dog bed, this can cause stiffness and joint pain as there will be much more pressure on their joints and bones. An orthopaedic bed can help to relieve this pressure and not only are they much comfier to sleep on, they will also prevent your dog from being as stiff when they wake up.
Similarly, older dogs are much more sensitive to the cold and you may find that joint pain is worse in the colder weather. Investing in a jumper or coat can help to keep their joints warm and prevent stiffness in the winter months. In addition, dogs tend to run around more when it is colder in order to warm themselves up and an older dog that isn't able to do this may get cold.
Whilst all of these considerations become more important as your dog ages, a huge mistake people make is not considering these things whilst your dog is young. Prevention is always better than cure, and looking after your dog whilst they are young will really help them as they age. This is why it is so important not to over-exercise puppies, as this could result in damage to their bones and joints which can cause hip dysplasia and arthritis at a much earlier age. This is extra important with breeds that already have known health issues, such as Labradors. In addition to this, a lifetime of poor quality food will not do your dog any favours when it comes to them getting old, and so it is important to fuel your dog with the right things whilst they are young. So, if you are looking for ways to keep your dog healthy as they age, start now!