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  • Writer's pictureDr Lauren Davis BVSc MRCVS

Cherishing Your Golden Years : Essential Tips for Senior Dog Care

Updated: Jan 10

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This article was written by vet Dr Lauren Davis BVSc MRCVS. After qualifying from the Liverpool University Vet School, she became commercial director and clinical lead at a human healthcare company company making support surfaces for the NHS and care homes, for chronic pain, acute illness and end of life care. Her passion is educating dog lovers about caring for older dogs. She is also the founder of www.vetrelieve.co.uk, a company dedicated to providing beds designed to meet the needs of arthritic or older dogs.

Caring for a senior dog

You may have noticed your dog slowing down slightly or even some grey hairs appearing in their coat, this is perfectly normal as they approach their senior years.


The truth is that just because your dog hits a certain age doesn’t mean their health will start to decline overnight. Just like us humans, ageing tends to be a slow and gradual process that begins with subtle changes. Many of these changes can all too easily be missed.


As our dogs age, it’s really important to make sure we are changing their environment to suit their evolving needs.


Caring for senior dogs


TABLE OF CONTENTS



Caring for Senior Dogs


Just as you wouldn’t expect an older person to live in a home without modification, our older dogs also need an environment that helps them get the most out of their senior years.


What home changes you can make for your older dog does, of course, depend on both your dog and your home. Nevertheless, there are some common tips and tricks to make life a little easier around the house.


Here are my top 4 tips for making your home senior dog safe, based around the VetRelieve SAFE home pillars of Sleep, Access, Food and Exercise.


Infographic showing how to modify lifestyle for older dogs


Senior dog nutrition

 

1. SLEEP

Choose The Right Dog Bed

 

Getting the right bed under your dog is the thing I’m most passionate about! We all know how much the quality of your night’s sleep can change how you feel.

 

Just like for us, the bed or mattress your dog sleeps on impacts their ability to sleep well and deeply. Poor beds can cause increased morning stiffness, can be a struggle to get in and out of, and can put increased pressure on your dog's joints.

 

Make sure your dog’s bed is designed for senior dogs, has orthopaedic foam, and allows them to lie out straight if they want to.


Beds should be at least 10cm longer than your dog, measuring from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail.


VetRelieve Orthopaedic dog bed for senior dogs

Our VetRelieve range of dog beds, with their deep orthopaedic memory foam mattress, wool topper, and easy access, have been designed to be as supportive as possible.


With design principles rooted in the fields of biomechanics and orthopaedics, particularly the musculoskeletal system, the range of mattresses and bolster beds combine patent-pending orthopaedic foam technology with a luxury look and feel.


orthopaedic foam in a VetRelieve senior dog bed

Better still, the beds are handmade to order in Yorkshire and have passed robust pressure tests to ensure that your dog will get the best sleep possible. 


If you're interested, Smart Bark fully tested a VetRelieve orthopaedic dog bed, take a look at our comprehensive review VetRelieve Orthopaedic Dog Bed Review : Comfort for Older Dogs

If the VetRelieve bed doesn't suit, we also review a whole range of large dog beds available to suit all shapes and sizes



Best orthopaedic dog beds


2. Access

Dog Friendly Flooring

 

Every time your dog walks on a surface with no grip, such as laminate and tile, their feet slip a little. This causes dogs on slippery surfaces to change the way they walk, and these little slips can cause microtrauma to the joints. Think about walking on an icy road yourself!

 

Senior dog on a floor mat designed for dogs

Putting down rugs and runners, or investing in grippy floor surfaces such as carpet, can make a huge difference to how secure your dog feels moving around the home.

 

If that isn’t possible, consider at least a non-slip mat around their bed to help them when getting up and down, as this can be a tricky time for dogs with creaky joints.

 

Non-slip boots when your dog is out and about in icy weather can also be really helpful if they are happy to wear them.


Also consider anything your dog has to get into, like car boot liners, beds or crates, these should also have a non-slip base.

 


Senior dog health


3. Senior Dog Food

Make Food Fun

 

We know that staying slim is important for keeping healthy, especially for senior dogs. Around age 7 for most dogs and age 5 for giant breed dogs, metabolism slows, and your dog will require fewer calories. But that doesn’t mean mealtimes have to be boring!

 

Interactive feeding is great for making small amounts of food much more engaging for your dog, and can add some fun into a healthy diet.

 

Scatter feeding involves literally scattering your dogs food over an area, leaving them to find all the pieces. This is engaging for their brain, which can boost mood, and makes mealtimes longer and more involved.


Older dog using a slow feeder dog bowl

A step up from scatter feeding are puzzle bowls and lick mats. These create a challenge for your dog to get at their dinner, and many are customisable so you can change the difficulty of the puzzle to keep your dog interested without them getting frustrated.

 


senior dog exercise


4. Exercise

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

 

Little and often is where it’s at for older dog exercise. Go at their pace, and don’t encourage activity that gets them twisting, turning or starting and stopping rapidly. Unfortunately, ball chasing is really tough on joints, so if your dog likes ball games, it’s time to look for some other great toys that are safer.

 

Dogs with painful back legs may put all their power through their front legs as this is less painful. This can look like your dog is pulling on the lead, full of excitement! This is a tricky sign to pain to spot, so the best suggestion is to always see your vet if your dog's walking pattern changes at all.


Look to offer regular physical exercise which helps your dog's mental as well as their physical health.


Senior dog using a puzzle toy for enrichment

Puzzle toys not only provide opportunities for your dog to learn and problem solve they also allow for plenty of interactive possibilities for you and your dog. They're not for chewing, chasing, or fetching, they are primarily aimed at learning and concentration.


Consider starting a new training programme or adding some new and interesting dog puzzle toys to your collection – You can teach an old dog new tricks !

 


 


The important thing to remember is that by keeping a watchful eye for the signs of old age you can certainly help your four-legged friend.

With care and attention our senior dogs can live long, happy and very fulfilling lives. And the more we can do to help them, the better!



senior dog care


FAQ's


What Age is a Dog Considered Senior ?

Senior status in dogs varies greatly according to the breed and size of your dog. Amazingly, smaller dogs can live twice as long as larger dogs.


Smaller dogs tend to mature much faster and then age more gradually once they’ve reached maturity. A little dog such as a toy poodle or terrier isn’t considered senior until the ripe old age of 10 or 12.


At the other end of the scale, the big, giant breeds are considered senior citizens at the young age of 5 or 6. Generally though, for most breeds, a dog of around 7 or 8 years is considered to be a senior dog.



Should I change to Senior Dog Food?

If you think your dog is gaining weight as they mature, look for a food with less calories to help prevent weight gain.


Nutrition aimed at senior dogs is usually in the form of reduced fat content and increased lean protein and fibre. Look for a senior food with a fat level of around 8 % to 12%.


The vast majority of dog food companies have a low fat nutrition range aimed at senior dogs. The best will have high protein content but fewer calories to encourage lean muscle mass whilst helping to maintain a healthy body weight.



Do Senior Dogs have Different Health Needs?

The ageing process depends on a variety of factors including breed, genetics, and health problems.

Ultimately, if you have a senior dog with no health complaints and they’re functioning well, there is probably no need to change their diet.


It's worth noting that adding supplements to their diet could prove beneficial in maintaining their health.


However, if you have noticed the signs that your dog is slowing down mentally, physically or suffers with other diseases associated with older dogs, then changing to a senior diet and offering nutritional supplements is probably a good idea to slow the decline.


Nutrition and supplements are powerful tools in maintaining health, preventing, and helping to manage disease, unfortunately, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ for ageing dogs.


Every dog is different, but regular health checks with your vet are vital to help detect the onset of health problems as early as possible.


older dog walking on beach


dog paw graphic

The important thing to remember is that by looking out for your senior dog properly from the outset, you can help manage the inevitable ageing process, and ensure that your four-legged friend continues to live their best life.




Cherishing Your Golden Years : Essential Tips for Senior Dog Care was written by vet Dr Lauren Davis BVSc MRCVS, founder and director of www.vetrelieve.co.uk, a company dedicated to providing beds designed to meet the needs of arthritic or older dogs.




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