Sharing a home with an older dog has a lot of benefits for pet parents. Older dogs are often already house-trained, and they are generally calmer and have lower energy levels than younger dogs. However, as they age, many senior dogs begin to lose their mental and physical agility. Pet parents need to take a proactive stance to retain the best possible quality of life for their senior dogs.
Fortunately, many environmental changes to support a senior dog’s health are available to pet parents. Here's what pet parents need to know.
Mental and Emotional Health
Keeping older dogs active and engaged helps keep their minds sharp and contributes to good emotional health. Senior dogs should remain as physically active as possible. However, pet parents should be mindful of signs that their dogs are experiencing pain or discomfort due to physical activity. Shorter, more frequent walks are usually better than long, once-a-day walks, and softer walking surfaces such as grass are easier on aging joints than concrete sidewalks or walking trails.
An old dog can learn new tricks. Pet parents shouldn't be reluctant to introduce mentally stimulating activities to their senior dogs. Teaching a dog how to balance a treat on their nose, for instance, is fun for everyone involved and has a tasty reward at the end of the training session. Older dogs can also benefit from puzzles containing treats and hide-and-seek games.
Switching up their normal routine also helps keep senior dogs mentally and emotionally engaged. Taking a different path in the park during daily walks, adding a shallow wading pool to the backyard for the dog to splash around on hot days, and generally exposing the animal to new experiences is recommended as a way to help them retain mental agility as they age.
The first step in creating a healthy home environment for aging pets is to perform a comprehensive hazard assessment of all household spaces, particularly where the dog spends the most time. Senior dogs may experience diminished eyesight, hearing, and general awareness, so it's important the home environment doesn't pose unnecessary safety risks. Here's what pet parents can do to make their home safer for their senior dogs:
Provide Traction on Slippery Surfaces
Decreased muscle strength and slower reflexes make senior dogs vulnerable to slip-and-fall accidents on slippery surfaces. Rugs with non-slip pads underneath them, adhesive floor strips on stair steps, and products designed to be applied directly to the paw pads can all help provide the traction that senior dogs need to navigate household surfaces safely.
Use rug runners or yoga mats to provide the necessary traction for high-traffic parts of the home. Long staircases and other household danger zones should be cordoned off for safety's sake.
Provide Elevated Food and Water Bowls
Older dogs often have difficulty accessing bowls placed directly on the floor because of decreased strength in their neck and upper spine areas. Elevated food and water bowls allow them to eat and drink in comfort.
Provide Low-Sided Beds With Sturdy Bedding
Senior dogs sleep more than their younger counterparts, so provide accessible bedding throughout the home. Low sides and non-slip bedding materials help them get in and out easily. Because senior dogs may be prone to incontinence, bedding should be washable and waterproof options are available.
Provide Assistive Aids When Necessary
There are a number of assistive aids available to pet parents for helping their senior dogs with mobility challenges. The most common include the following:
- Flip-out steps and ramps for getting in and out of vehicles or up onto couches and beds
- Rear-support harnesses to help dogs stand up
- Support slings to help dogs walk comfortably
- Hip braces for dogs experiencing hip dysplasia or arthritis
- Blind dog halos for helping dogs with severe vision loss safety navigate their surroundings
- Back braces for supporting spines
Joint supplements for dogs
Senior dogs often suffer from degenerative joint conditions that can limit mobility and make dogs more vulnerable to accidents and injuries. There are a variety of supplements on the market designed to promote good joint health for dogs.
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