Our furry friends are more like family than just mates, and it pains us terribly when they age – sometimes ungracefully.
Tim Norris, dog healer and founder of canine myofunctional therapy (canine massage), acupuncture and dog rehabilitation service Both Ends of The Lead, walks us through how to care for an older dog to guarantee them a long and pain-free life.
1. Do not overfeed your dog
This can lead to heart disease and joint problems. Feed your dog a nutritious diet to keep them at a healthy weight.
These are two ways you can do a ‘self-check’ on your dog to see if they are not overweight.
- Stand so that you have a view of your dog from above or over them. You should see there is an obvious waistline just behind their ribcage.
- If you are unsure, run your hands lightly down the side of your dog’s body and you should be able to feel their ribs.
If you are still not sure if you are overfeeding your dog after doing the checks, then you should speak to your vet and get their advice.
There are many variables that determine how much to feed your dog. If you feed them a kibble diet, then the recommended amount to feed is usually stated on the packaging.
If you have bought your food from your local vet, then they will normally recommend how much to feed specifically for your dog.
If you do decide this suits your dog better, it’s recommended you seek out a certified animal nutritionist to guide you on how much to feed and also how to balance the meals appropriately for your dog specifically.
If you have a dog that appears underweight, then it is advisable to check with your vet to see if there are any conditions your dog may have that is stopping them from putting on weight.
Most pet food brands have a senior range, which will usually include more omega 3, 6 and 9 for bones and joints. Try these ideas on how to care for an ageing pet.
2. Don't exercise your dog too much or too little
Many breeds of dogs are classed as a senior dog once they reach seven years of age, so it’s important to adapt the way you exercise them to minimise the impact on their joints and help them age more safely.
High intensity chase games like throwing a ball can increase the risk of injury and joint problems like arthritis for senior dogs.
The jumping, twisting and turning can put a great deal of excess strain on an older dog’s body and although many senior dogs will still enjoy chasing a ball, you should consider if this really is the most appropriate and safest way to exercise a senior dog.
3. If your dog is old, don't throw a ball too much
If you do still throw a ball for your senior dog, it’s good to spend at least five minutes warming up their muscles first.
This can help reduce the risk of an injury for them.
If you ever see your dog uncomfortable or slowing down when chasing the ball, this is a good time to stop.
If they are sore after chasing a ball or stiff the next day, then it would be wise to stop throwing the ball for them and find a different way to exercise them.
4. Make sure your home is safe
If you have floor surfaces like floorboards, vinyl or tiles, these can be very slippery for an older dog, making it easy for them to fall and injure themselves.
Placing non-slip surfaces down in areas that your dog uses heavily can help make the floors safer for your dog.
5. Use a step if your dog jumps on and off furniture
If your senior dog likes to jump up on the couch or bed, think about having a halfway step so they can get up and down easier. This will help to reduce the impact on their joints and the injury risk.
I have treated many dogs who have damaged muscles and ligaments jumping off a bed or couch. They are very avoidable injuries, so using a halfway step or not letting them up on the furniture would certainly have helped in these situations.
I have recently helped a 15-year-old poodle called Cino who has arthritis and damaged his leg jumping off the couch. Cino responded very well to acupuncture and massage. I also showed his owner how to massage Cino’s muscles and use a heat pack for his arthritis. The good news is that Cino is no longer in pain and his owner now has a ramp to help him get up and down off the couch.
Another dog I worked with recently was a 10-year-old English staffy called Alfie. He tore knee ligaments jumping off the bed and I was able to help rehabilitate Alfie without the need for surgery.
A crucial part of Alfie’s rehabilitation was the personalised home care programme I developed for Alfie’s owners to follow. This helped Alfie recover faster and get back to running the house again… but no more jumping off the bed!
The personalised face-to-face or online home care programmes are an important service I offer. Having the owner actively involved in the process of helping rehabilitate their dog can make a huge difference to the outcome… just like it did for Alfie.
6. A calm, relaxed home can help your dog feel less stressed
Stress can affect our dogs in very similar ways to how it affects us. We can all recognise the impact stress can have on our own health. Our dogs are like sponges and will often show signs of stress when they see that their owners are stressed.
Many dog owners testify that their dogs recognise and respond to their emotional states. So, doing all we can to minimise our own levels of stress is a great starting point to help keep our dogs calm and healthier.
Being mindful of what your dog is exposed to in the home environment is important. Be aware of what the triggers are that stress your dog and then do all you can to minimise the impact of them if they are exposed to them.
The key to a relaxed home environment for your dog always starts with a relaxed dog owner.