Old Dog, New Tricks: Caring for an Aging Pet

As the pet parent of a 15-year-old Pit Bull and 14-year Doberman, I’ve been fortunate to watch both Mabel Mae and Zoey age gracefully into their twilight years while maintaining much of their spryness and grit. But each day, I encounter signals they have achieved senior citizen status: the onset of pain and stiffness from arthritis and the frequent and necessary bathroom breaks. We fondly remember the wee pups we welcomed into our homes years before, but the reality is their bodies and minds are shifting, and so should their lifestyles. Here are a few tips to help safeguard and care for your aging pet.

A senior Labrador Retriever mixed breed dog with gray fur on its face.

Shake that booty.

You may notice that your pooch is less active these days. Understand that — just like grandma — your pet is feeling their age, but this development should not exclude them from exercise. Geriatric dogs require daily walks to help relieve stiffness and loosen up arthritic joints, but be prepared to return home when they display signs of fatigue. Keep their reflexes sharp with a game of fetch but tailor sessions to the scope of their mobility and energy limits.

Don’t slip up.

While certain breeds are susceptible to joint problems, many pets will begin to display mobility issues as they age. Osteoarthritis is a common culprit, causing pets to slip on hardwood floors. Keep toenails trimmed, lay down nonslip surfaces around the house, and provide your pups with ramps.

That’s how eye roll.

Many dogs develop cataracts or other visual deficits as they age. Veterinarians can treat your doggos baby blues through surgery, but it’s probably not necessary until their vision severely affects their quality of life. Until then, a few modifications should make your buddy’s life more happy and secure. Dim lighting amplifies vision problems, so leave a light on in your pet’s favorite areas. Avoid significant changes to the layout of your home: imagine if someone turned out the lights and rearranged your furniture! Take Fido for walks when it’s still light out and choose paths that are free from obstacles. Keep them away from strangers and children if they act aggressive or frightened.

Unleash their best with every bite.

While your pet would undoubtedly love to relish in an early bird dinner special, their shrinking metabolism may cause indigestion if they overeat or consume too much fat. Just like humans, overweight pets have shorter life spans than pets who maintain a healthy weight — laying off the table scraps, reducing portion size, and switching to high-quality and low-fat senior pet food may help.

Every sip counts.

Although your pup’s food intake may decrease, your dog may quickly become dehydrated if they don’t have access to plenty of water. Consider upgrading to a pet fountain or scatter a few water bowls around the house near their favorite spots.

Urine big trouble.

Of course, water in equals water out, and that water needs to go somewhere — the inconvenient truth: your dog will require more frequent potty breaks and greater access to the outdoors. You might consider investing in potty pads for their beds and other areas where they enjoy stretching out in case of leakage.

Your best friend’s new best friend.

In the end, the doctor knows best when it comes to the health of your aging pup. When Rover turns 7 or 8, request a blood panel so your vet can spot deviations later on. Your doc may want you to schedule twice-yearly senior checkups; be sure to mention any changes in your pet’s physical appearance or behavior, so your vet can properly diagnose and make treatment recommendations. Even subtle changes are worthy of discussion.

They have devoted many years to your friendship.

Just because your pup is looking a bit frailer than they used to doesn’t mean their love for you has diminished; they have given you years of friendship and provided a furry shoulder to cry on. Return their devotion and loyalty with more affection, snuggles, and playtime to make their golden years the best they can be.

“Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a little out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well.” — Bennie Wilcox.

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