Too often we take those we love for granted, and we need to be reminded to treasure each and every moment. If you have been reading my posts over the last few weeks, you may have noted that this has become somewhat of a running theme. But each time I notice my seniors displaying the signs and symptoms of old age, I feel a bit of panic, because I am not ready for them to leave me. And while I know I may still have them with me for a couple more years, it’s heartbreaking to imagine a time when they won’t be by my side. I’ve written about celebrating our time with our seniors, and trying to find activities they enjoy, but what else can we do for our special seniors?
The first thing we can do to care for our seniors, is to make sure they visit their veterinarians frequently. Senior dogs, like senior humans, may develop health issues as they age. Allowing your veterinarian to run senior blood panels enables them to catch diseases or problems before they progress and become life threatening. You live with your dogs, and you may not notice a change in their weight, gait or personality if it is gradual. By taking your senior for regular check-ups, the doctor may catch changes that you might have missed.
Dogs can lose muscle as they age, and to help prevent the atrophy of those muscles, you should walk your dogs as often as possible. Keeping them at a healthy weight, and keeping them moving, will help them not only live longer lives, but also to have a better quality of life. Don’t rely on the backyard for their needs, get them out walking, it’s good for both of you! You will keep their minds active, by giving them new sights and smells to explore. You will keep their bodies’ healthy, and you will spend time focused on them, away from the distractions of the internet, television and phones.
Play with your dogs, they may no longer demand playtime like younger dogs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still enjoy it. When I get down on the floor and grab a toy and initiate a game of tug or catch, Abby and Holly just light up. You can see the happiness in their eyes, in the wag of their tails and by the little prance that returns to their step. They may not be able to run and play like they used to, but short bouts of gentle play can really brighten their day.
Some seniors love to sleep on the couch or your bed, but they may no longer be able to climb up on higher surfaces. Remember they may suffer from the aches and pains associated with aging, so make sure to provide them with a comfortable place to sleep and rest. They make ramps and stairs for dogs, and they also sell orthopedic dog beds, which are designed for senior dogs. They may cost a bit more than regular dog beds, but the added expense is worth it.
As they age, dogs can also develop dental disease, so get their teeth cleaned by a veterinarian. Dental disease can lead to infection and can cause health issues in other organs. Also, pain from tooth decay and abscesses can make eating painful for seniors, and cause them to lose weight. Try brushing their teeth every day, it will help keep their teeth clean after the veterinarian does a professional cleaning. Just be sure to use products designed specifically for dogs, human toothpaste should not be used on dogs.
Consider giving your senior a joint supplement, which can aid in relieving joint stiffness and pain. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best supplement for your dog, as not all supplements are created equal. What might work for some breeds may not be what’s right for your dog. Your veterinarian can advise you on what works and what doesn’t.
Consider changing your dog’s diet, as your senior doesn’t have the same nutritional needs that she had in her youth. They make dog foods to cater to the needs of senior dogs, with added glucosamine and chondroitin for their joints.
And last, to enrich your seniors’ remaining years, consider creating a bucket list for your dog. It may sound silly at first, but it can be a fun way to spend time with your dog. You can add new places to visit and new things to try. You can add favorite pastimes too, like long car rides, walks in the woods, swimming in the lake, camping or playing fetch - the sky’s the limit. But you want to start doing these activities while your senior is still able to enjoy them, there is no better time than today. Hug them often, give them the best care you can, and when it's time to let them go, stay by their side so they aren't scared and surrounded by strangers. Remember, you have family, friends, work and hobbies...they only have you.