by Makani Kerwin
Somehow, it’s always a bit of a surprise when your dog begins to slow down on jogs or tug at the leash on longer walks. Old age is a very real stage in a pup’s life, one that comes faster than we tend to expect. Signs of this can sometimes mean sleeping more, taking longer to respond to commands, or changing in their eating habits. It’s always good to check with a vet to make sure that these are not signifiers of any abnormal illnesses, and just the beginnings of normal aging.
Although it can be frustrating to shift routines to fit the needs of senior dogs, it’s important to listen to their changes and accommodate accordingly so that your relationship can maintain in a healthy, loving way. A good place to start is by addressing key changes in diet and behavior. Implementing a few changes can make a big difference to ensure the best Golden Years for you and your companion.
To start, try and feed your dogs at the same time every day. As they get older they appreciate the comfort and routine of regular meals. As most older dogs are prone to weight gain due to inactivity, try and feed them foods lower in fat and calories and higher in nutrients. When dogs get age and are more prone to constipation, adding fiber to their diet in the form of wheat bran, steamed or canned green beans, or plain canned pumpkin in small amounts can be very beneficial.
Adding extra nutrients can also help boost your dog’s immune system and burnish their coats. These can include antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, omega-6 fatty acids such as gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). You can also try implementing fatty acids such as DHA, EPA, and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Supplements such as these can be hidden in food in the form of pills or baked into special meals themselves at home.
These have been shown to be useful for dogs with mobility issues due to arthritis or other joint diseases. If your dog is struggling with heart disease, consider a diet lower in sodium, or if it has kidney disease, try diets that help control phosphorus, calcium and other electrolyte levels. A trip to the vet can be very beneficial in getting started on the right diet for stage three in your dog’s life.
The changes in a senior dogs behavior can sometimes be one of the hardest to deal with as it can be hard to interpret their new challenges, making it harder to communicate. For instance, if you feel like your dog is ignoring your commands or not reacting to a ball you threw, it may be that he is experiencing a development of deafness or blindness. In the case of hearing loss, it can be useful to knock on hard surfaces to arise attention as dogs can often still sense vibration into old age. It’s also recommended to teach your dog hand signs at an early age so that they can rely on them more as they age. With the loss of eyesight, veterinarians suggest keeping rooms uncluttered, marking rooms with different scents or textured rugs, and keeping furniture in the same places to avoid your dog experiencing high clumsiness, knocking things over, or getting lost and confused in the house.
Sometimes dogs will experience more anxiety in their older days as they can have a harder time handling stress. This can be seen with visitors entering the home, interacting with new dogs, new noise phobias, in the form of separation anxiety, or simply random irritation and agitation. To reduce your dog’s anxiety, try more frequent short walks or food puzzles to increase mental stimulation, allow him extra space from strangers or simulation in public, and continue to work on separation training.
These are just a couple of tips and tricks, but it’s important to ready yourself for many changes come your dog’s senior years. Although they may not be as energetic and jumpy, older dogs can bring lots of love and positive changes to the home. Often they become more snuggly, more willing to be hugged and pet, and more comfortable with adorable pastimes like lying on your toes and licking your legs as you cook dinner.
I had some of my best memories with my Australian Shepard, Dragon, in his final years. They were full of more one-on-one time and sloppy kisses than ever. This can be the time for intimate bonding, cherished moments, and final connections that will last your lifetime. Try not to ignore or be agitated by your dog during these years, and remember them with empathy as your best friend, companion, and family. Enjoy these times so that you never look back and are able to keep them warm in your heart forever.
My name is Makani Kirwin, and I am a current undergrad at the University of California, Berkeley. I have two Austrailian Shepherds shared with my Mom, Dad, and older brother that remain back in my hometown of Ventura, California. My famiy grew up athletic and adventurous, and I have fond memories of taking my dogs on camping trips, hikes, and runs throughout my childhood. I grew up cherishing the love, friendship, and personal relationship one can have with their dog, and I am excited to be writing amongst other dog owners who feel that sense of connection.