They’ve given us the best years of their lives so don’t our senior dogs deserve the best for the rest of their lives?
All those years of devotion. All the shared memories. All that unconditional love.
My dog, Malarky, turned 17 recently and it’s had me thinking a lot about senior dog care and how to best care for her.
As she has gotten older and has gone through many typical senior dog changes, her needs have changed also. I do my best to keep up with her changes so I can be sure she continues to feel comfortable and safe.
When is a dog a senior?
How do you know when you have to start thinking like a senior dog parent?
When a dog is considered a senior depends on its size. Giant breeds are considered seniors when they are about 6 years old while a small dog hits senior citizenship at about 11 years.
If you are like me, you probably wonder how old your dog is in human years.
People used to think that every year of a dog’s life was equal to 7 human years, but now we know that the age comparison depends on the dog’s size and that what a year is equal to changes. You can get an idea of your dog’s human age equivalent with this dog age calculator. As a 17year old Jack Russell, Malarky is like an 84-year-old person.
And now that you have a human age to compare your dog, know that age is just a number, and just like in people you may find that in real life, dogs of the same age may age differently. At 17, Malarky has hearing and vision loss, but she moves around really well. Many people think she is younger than she is.
What Changes Will You See In Your Senior Dog?
For a lot of dogs, the changes seem to come on gradually. You may almost wonder if you are really seeing something different.
Regular vet visits are important to help stay on top of health problems, but they are especially important if you start seeing a change in behavior. It’s really easy to assume something is just due to age, but changes in health can also cause some of these behaviors that we think are “normal” for old dogs.
For example, Malarky started doing a lot of circling and pacing this past year, almost like she was confused. Those behaviors along with some house-soiling problems made me wonder if she had canine cognitive dysfunction. Instead, she was having GI issues that were causing her pain and making her do these behaviors By working with our vet, we were able to reduce the discomfort and saw a huge improvement in how she was acting.
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Senior Dog Hearing Loss
With Malarky, the first change I noticed was with her hearing. If I didn’t know better I would have thought she was just ignoring me when I called her, like she had selective hearing. But the reality is that sometimes she couldn’t hear me because of where she was located in relation to me and which direction she was facing in or she couldn’t tell what direction the noise was coming from.
Her hearing has gradually gotten worse to where now at 17, she doesn’t hear anything unless it’s a really loud noise right next to her and often she startles from the noise.
How you can help your older dog with hearing loss
While we can’t stop hearing loss from happening, there are some things we can do to help our dogs navigate their new world and keep them safe.
- Use hand signals.
- This is where being proactive pays off as teaching hand signals when your dog can still hear and you can pair it with a cue word is much easier. But don’t let that stop you from working on hand signals with your older dog.
- Use a flashlight or vibrating collar to help get your dog’s attention.
- Having another way to get your dog’s attention when they can’t hear very well can be a big help when they aren’t right next to you such as when they are out in the yard.
- Don’t sneak up on your dog.
- They can’t hear you coming toward them so give your dog a warning before doing anything that may startle your dog. Something like stomping your foot or gently touching them so they know you are there can keep them from getting scared and you from getting bit.
- Prevent loud noises.
- When your dog first starts losing their hearing, loud noises like fireworks or smoke alarms can seem to come from out of no where and startle them. Trying to be aware of when they are likely to occur can let you make a plan to keep your dog protected when they happen.
- Don’t let your dog be loose.
- Your dog is not going to hear you calling. They aren’t going to hear a car come. Keep your dog safe by keeping them on a leash or in a fenced in yard
Senior Dog Vision Loss
Malarky’s eyesight has been a little slower to worsen and it’s only been in the last year that I’ve noticed it having an effect on her. Her cataracts are much more visible.
Some things you may notice as your dog’s vision diminishes is that they become more cautious about using steps or jumping off furniture especially in areas of low light. They might become jumpy when touched or when someone moves too quickly toward them.
How you can help your older dog with vision loss
- Don’t change their environment.
- Dogs with decreasing eyesight can navigate pretty well as long as they know the lay of the land. Once things change , they can have difficulty and get stressed. Try to keep things the same. If you do change the environment, put them on a leash and take them around so they can get used to the new layout with you by their side.
- Put up barriers
- There are time you will need to keep your dog safe by putting up a barrier to keep them from going a certain way. Stairs are a good example as a fall down them could severly injure your dog. Adding a gate can keep your dog safe.
- Keep their area well lit.
- While dogs may not see things as clearly as they used to, they may be able to make out light and shadows and less likely to bump into something.
- Use different textured surfaces.
- You could use textures like adding a carpet just before you go down the stairs as a way to alert your dog to what is coming.
- Don’t sneak up on your dog.
- Just like when your dog has hearing loss you want to give a warning before doing anything that may startle your dog.
- Don’t let your dog loose.
- They might seem like they are very good at navigating, but it only takes a few seconds of confusion for your dog to get lost. Keeping them in a fenced or on leash is the best for their safety.
Senior Dog Mobility Issues
The next change I noticed with Malarky was she started to slow down. She was no longer a Jack Russell pogo stick but was keeping 4 on the floor. Jumping from the floor to the couch or bed was no longer easy. Instead, she used the step I kept for the dogs. Going up and down the steps to the second floor got harder and harder for her, while the few steps into the yard took more effort.
For me, this is the hardest change to see in our senior dogs, but there are things we can do to help them maneuver around and stay involved with the family.
How to Help Dogs with Mobility Problems
- Keep them active.
- Moving helps aging joints stay moving so you want to continue to provide your dog with appriopriate exercise.
- Talk to your vet about supplements.
- There are a lot of different supplements on the market now to help with arthritis in dogs so talk to your vet about which might benefit your dog. You may have to try different supplements before finding one that works best for your dog.
- Talk to your vet about pain control.
- Being in pain affects more than just movement, it affects their overall well-being so talk to your vet about when you should consider starting them for your dog.
- Use nonslip rugs or yoga mats.
- The floor can get a little slippery and harder for our senior pals to keep their grip. Use non-slip rugs or yoga mats on your bare floors will help give your pup some much needed traction.
- Try toe grips or non-slip socks.
- Get ramps or steps to help your dog get up onto your bed or furniture and into your car.
- Use a support harness.
- While little dogs can be moved easily, bigger dogs may need a little more help with support while getting up from a down or while walking.
- Consider a stroller or a wagon.
Senior Dog House Soiling Issues
House soiling issues can be frustrating and requires a lot of patience. The very first thing you should do is get a vet check to rule out any health problems that might make your dog need to go more often than normal. Health issues like kidney disease, diabetes, and IBD could make even the most trustworthy housebroken dog have problems. Ruling
How to Help Dogs with House Soiling Problems
- Get a thorough vet exam
- Usually house soiling problems are a symptom of another health issue. Kidney disease and diabetes can cause dog’s to need to urinate more. Pain from arthritis can cause a dog to have diffculty getting up and letting you know when they need to go. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can make them forget they need to go.
- Keep a good urine odor remover on hand.
- Be prepared for accidents with a good odor remover on hand so you can tackle to spot immediately.
- Use puppy pads
- You may find it helps to have puppy pads laid on the floor for your dog to use when they can’t get out or to catch any accidents. They are also good for sopping up accidents that happened. Just place the absorbant side down and step on it to help it soak up urine, then use your odor remover.
- Use washable bed pads.
- Washable bed pads are great for those who prefer a re-useable option rather than use the disposable puppy pads. These are also great to lay on top of your bed or furniture to catch any leaked urine your dog may have when they sleep.
- Consider a dog diaper.
- For some dogs a diaper might be a good option. With these you do need to watch to be sure your dog doesn’t develop any skin problems from having moisture held close. Breaks from the diaper and frequent baths might be neede to prevent the problem.
- Use gates to limit where your dog has access.
Senior Dog Comfort
As your dog ages, aches and pains can make them feel some discomfort so they could use some help staying comfortable.
- Get an orthopedic bed.
- An orthopedic dog bed provides more supportive cushioning than a regular dog bed and helps releive the pressure on your dog’s joints.
- Use elevated bowls.
- Raised bowls can help dog’s with neck and back pain since they won’t have to bend down to eat or drink. It also helps keep them in an upright position so they don’t slide off their front feet.
- Help them stay cool with a cooling mat and warm with a heated bed.
- Get them a winter coat
- Loss of muscle mass means that your dog can get cold much faster. Keep them comfortable when they have to go out in the elements with a comfy winter coat.
- Change their grooming routine.
- Whether you groom your dog yourself or take them to a groomer, you may find your dog isn’t as tolerant of being groomed. Arthritis can making standing for the time it take to groom them painful. Shorter more frequent grooming sessions might be a better idea and for dogs that get clipped or scissored, a shorter style might be a good idea.
Malarky and I might not have the big adventures we once had, but that’s okay, the small moments we have now are just as important and precious as anything we’ve ever done in the past.
And being able to care for my old friend and make her golden years the best is an honor.