How to Extend the Life of Your Dog
Did you know that all dogs yearn for a purpose and need lots of mental stimulation - even older dogs? Our family dog is almost 6 years old. While that converts to roughly 45 in human years, she has already entered her golden years and in the dog world is considered senior. But just because a dog has become “senior” it doesn’t mean that things are coming to a sad, hopeless end. Instead this is the time when they can relive their youth, feel re-energized and revitalized, learn a new routine, and take on new purpose.
Just as pet owners should carefully monitor their dog’s health and keep them out of harm’s way at all times, it’s equally as important to help them feel healthy and strong once more.
Is Your Dog a 'Senior?'
Between the ages of 6 and 10, dogs begin to exhibit signs of aging - like changes in sleep patterns, lower energy levels, relieving themselves indoors, and heightened social anxiety. If your dog is entering its golden years, it’s a good idea to start adjusting its daily schedule to ensure it remains healthy, happy, and strong in its old age. So here are some tips that will help your senior dog feel young again!
1. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Nutrition is probably the most important aspect of an aging dog’s life. There are varying views on how to properly maintain a senior dog’s diet. Some say older dogs, like older people, should avoid eating high amounts of protein. Others think that older dogs should steadily maintain the diet that they’ve always had. They argue that feeding dogs quality protein can help them maintain good muscle mass and make sure their kidneys function well. In any case, it’s better to speak with your vet so that you can work out a diet that best suits your dog’s needs. Make sure that it gets plenty of vitamins and minerals! Learn more
2. Never Stop Playing
Adequate mental stimulation is just as important as proper nutrition. Your dog may have become a little slower, but the more you encourage play the more it will feel constantly revitalized and energized. Just remember that your level of energy will influence your dog's, so be creative in how you encourage her to play and stay alert. We suggest going for a swim together, slow walks around the block or even joining a dog lovers group where your dog has a chance to socialize with others.
3. Keep 'Em Fit Not Fat
Over 52% of dogs in the US and Canada are considered overweight. “Obese pets have shorter life spans than non-obese pets,” says Dr. Richard T. Goldstons, author of Geriatrics & Gerontology of the Dog and Cat. Pet obesity can lead to a host of health problems like heart, lung, kidney and liver disease. Even if your dog is experiencing a decrease in energy levels, it’s still important to exercise daily in order to maintain a healthy body weight, and to keep the joints and muscles strong. With improved mobility, your dog’s body won’t have to work as hard when in motion. It will also reduce the chances of developing conditions like diabetes, hypertension and respiratory impairment.
4. Give Them A New Purpose
All dogs - even ones who are in their later years of life - yearn for a purpose. No matter how old your dog is, it needs adequate mental stimulation like interaction with other pets and people every single day. One of the best ways to give them this opportunity for mental exercise is to provide some sort of routine they can look forward to. They want to feel needed, to feel like they’re contributing to something greater than themselves. Therapy and service dogs are great examples of this, but any activity that allows your dog to perform simple, routine tasks with some sense of reward or fulfillment is perfect.
5. Teach Them Hand Signals
As with humans, a dog’s sense of hearing gradually diminishes with age. At the first sign of this, consider immediately retraining your dog to notice and follow hand signals. For example, you could teach it how to “come,” “sit” and “go potty” by associating those actions with specific hand signals and verbal commands for actions it’s known throughout its life.
6. Stick To A Daily Routine
Sticking to a daily routine will greatly enhance the quality of your dog’s life in old age. An example would be going out to potty at 7 am daily, then a short walk at 1 pm after a meal, a second small meal at 7 pm followed by a longer walk and potty again at 11 pm. Since senior dogs are already more prone to experience mental confusion and a decline in cognitive function, it’s extra important to let them look forward to activities that are predictable. Having a sense of routine will help reduce your dog’s anxiety and uncertainty, and significantly delay further mental decline.
7. Keep Those Gums Healthy!
When plaque isn’t removed from the dog’s teeth and gums, it will turn into tartar, which irritates the gums and causes gingivitis. If left untreated, this condition will gradually pull the gums away entirely, creating small crevices that attract even more bacteria, and lead to irreversible periodontal disease. “Their crowns look great but the problem is in the infection smoldering underneath the gum line that is just allowed to progress and progress,” Dr. Niemiec explains, “most vets would miss that.” For many years now, canine gum disease has been linked to heart disease and inflammation of the heart valves. So check with your vet to see what oral hygiene routine they recommend, then keep those chompers clean!