Helping Your Senior Dog Live Their Best Golden Years
Just like people, our senior pets often need help to live in comfort as they age. Each pet is unique in his or her needs and you know your pet best and are therefore their best advocate. We are always willing to work with you one-on-one to help bring comfort, health and longevity to your furry family members. This is meant to be a general guide of products and helpful hints to make this possible. If you find something that works well for you, please feel free to share it with us!
Mobility and Pain ManagementThis is an area that many people struggle with in their older pets. Pets are also very good at masking pain, which makes our job even harder. Signs of pain can range from very subtle to very obvious. Some signs of pain to monitor include, but are not limited to:
- Stiffness, especially after resting for a time
- Using their front legs more than their back legs to get up from laying down
- A change in the way they walk
- Unwillingness to do activities they previously enjoyed (ex. Play ball, run, go for walks)
- Restlessness, pacing or circling (often while panting) before struggling to lay down
- Difficulty going up or down stairs
- No longer able to jump into the car, on the bed or couch
- Feet slipping out from under them or falling
- Walking at a slow pace
Some dogs may also experience neurologic symptoms such as a “drunk” walk, scuffing their feet (look for abnormal wear of the nails especially on the top), and knuckling.
Pain medications are a cornerstone of keeping your pet comfortable and mobile, but these are best discussed on a case-by-case basis with your veterinarian. Joint supplements (many with glucosamine and chondroitin) are widely available over the counter but there are products that are of better quality. We recommend Cosequin, Dasuquin, Movoflex, and Flexadin. Many animals also benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of omega fatty acids (we recommend Grizzly’s Salmon Oil) with an added bonus of helping their skin and fur.
Another way to help with your pet’s mobility is to improve their traction while walking or getting around. One of the simplest ways to do this is with runner rugs and yoga mats for any slippery floors in the house (linoleum, tile, hardwood, etc). Some people don’t want to have rugs all over their house, so there are several products that can help.
- Paw Friction - https://pawtology.com/
- Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips - https://toegrips.com/
- Walkee Paws - https://walkeepaws.com/
- Booties – these often take time to acclimate your pet to and many cannot be worn all the time because they can cause skin issues due to retaining heat and moisture
Making sure your pet’s nails do not become overgrown and also keeping them at an ideal weight can also greatly help your pet!
If your dog has trouble getting up or doing stairs there are several hind end harnesses that can help you assist your pet without hurting your own back. We recommend the Help ‘Em Up Harness or for shorter pets the Bottoms Up Leash. In a pinch a towel or folded bed sheet can also be used. If you prefer handles, take out the side panels on a reusable grocery bag use this as a sling.
For pets that have trouble standing to eat or drink, consider using raised water and food dishes. If you find your dog’s legs slowly slide out from under them when they are eating or have taken to eating laying down, using an exercise peanut to support their back end can help them stay standing to enjoy their meal.
Many older pets can develop urinary incontinence. This often is noticed first as finding urine soaked into their bedding or on the floor after they get up. It is important to distinguish between urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence. There are medications that can be used for urinary incontinence (Proin and Incurin). However, it is also important to keep their sleeping areas clean and hygienic. Many senior pets need extra thick bedding or orthopedic/memory foam beds, which can be quite expensive and need to be protected. Some owners like to use training/pee pads on the bedding, others like to place plastic sheeting under blankets or hospital absorbent pads. Some owners opt for dog diapers, but care should be taken to change these frequently to prevent urine scald and skin problems.
Waterless shampoo and wipes are extremely helpful to keep your pet clean and smelling fresh since bathing too frequently can cause skin issues.
If your pet has an accident, don’t forget they are often as upset as you are.
“Doggy Alzheimer’s” or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a very real thing in our senior pets. This is seen in such behaviors as disorientation (pacing, walking around aimlessly, confusion at basic tasks, vocalizing, getting stuck places, failure to recognize people or other dogs, reduced responsiveness to verbal commands), change in interactions with family members (either becoming more clingy or more reclusive, less enthusiasm to greet people, even fear or aggression), changes in sleep (sundowning, vocalization at night, reduced daily activity, increased sleeping during the day) and changes in house training (urinating or defecating indoors, failure to indicate the need to go outside, having accidents right in front of you).
Unfortunately, there is not a magic solution to this condition. But many things can still help your pet.
There are many nutraceutical products geared towards senior pets; look into these products carefully or ask your veterinarian. Purina has a food to help with senior cognition called Bright Minds.
It is important to give senior pets mental stimulation such as interactive or puzzle toys, playing games with them or snuffle mats, as well as just engaging with the family can help senior pets.
Finally, some senior pets can develop anxiety either from decreased senses (loss of hearing or vision) or from cognitive decline. There are several non-prescription products that can help with anxiety such as the Thunder Shirt (if it is situational), a calming pheromone called Adaptil, and supplements/nutraceuticals like Purina Calming Care probiotic, Zylkene, Solluquin and Anxitane. Some pets will also need prescription anxiety medications. Some these medications are used only when needed, others will need to be given daily. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your pet needs prescription anxiety medication.