5 Tips for Helping Your Senior Dog Live Their Best Life
Written by Courtney Bryson
It didn’t even cross my mind that she could be getting older.
The first time I saw Bella stand up more slowly than her usual spring loaded leap into wooing husky action, I asked her if she’d slept on her leg funny.
My mind’s eye still sees her as the mischievous teenage husky that once removed a lid from the crock pot on the stove, liberated the marinating steaks, and replaced the lid so no one was the wiser for nearly 15 minutes.
But the truth is, Bella is now nearing her 13th year. While she still loves to have zoomies in the yard when mornings are crisp and cool, she spends more time resting on her fluffy dog beds than terrorizing neighborhood steaks.
In this blog, I’m sharing 5 tips for keeping your old dog young. Over the last nearly 12 years of working with dogs in rescue & professionally, I have learned a lot about aging (and not just my own achy knees) and what we can do to keep them comfortable and young at heart for as long as possible.
I hope these tips also help you build on the incredible relationship you share. Please feel free to pass these tips on to anyone you know who might enjoy them!
1. Play With Food
Sometimes as dogs age, they become less playful. There are fewer zoomies and toys don’t hold the same appeal, but play is as important to a 10 year old dog as it is to a 1 year old dog. An easy way to keep them playing, is to make feeding time a game.
The Muffin Tin Game
- Take a Muffin Tin (extra tiny dogs can use mini muffin tins with golf balls or ping pong balls)
- Add treats or kibble to the each slot
- Cover with a ball (tennis balls work well, but try different options)
- Let your dog figure out how to get to the food!
The Muffin Pan Game is perfect for keeping your senior dog engaged in dinner time! It works anywhere and helps teach your dog problem solving skills which keeps their mind young.
Don’t be afraid to get creative! Put peanut butter in one, kibble in another, a bit of hot dog, or a favorite treat. And, if your dog gets frustrated, make it easier. Try feeding only half his dinner as a game or replace tennis balls with lighter “ball pit” type balls.
2. Speaking of Food – Choosing the Best Food
First things first, if your vet recommends a certain diet needed to maintain a medical condition like diabetes or cardiac diseases, please go by your vet’s recommendation. These tips are not meant to be medical advice.
The senior dogs I have known fall into two categories. One: dogs whose metabolism seems to slow down and they gain weight easily (these dogs are my spirit animal). And two: dogs who become less interested in eating and struggle to maintain their weight.
For dogs who seem to gain weight, choosing a Senior Pet food or “Less Active” formula which will have fewer calories can help. You can also shift treats to things like baby carrots, peas, and apple slices, so you don’t have to slow down on the treats, but can still cut calories.
If your senior dog falls into the not as food motivated category, palatability will be your biggest challenge. I’ve had great success with low sodium chicken broth, bone broth (which has lots of great benefits), and even adding baby food with dog safe ingredients to make the kibble more exciting.
Whichever category your senior dog falls in, her senior years deserve the best. I love websites like DogFoodAdvisor.com to compare dog foods. For all my dogs, I try to stick with a food rated at least 4 stars.
Ps. I’ve even had success with making homemade dog food. If you’d like the recipe, just send me a DM on Instagram. I’m happy to send it right over. I’ve NEVER had a dog turn down this food!
3. Don’t Stop Exercising
As your dog ages, they need a little more time to warm up at a slower pace, even if they are still pretty active.
Starting your walk a little slower for a few minutes to get the blood flow going can go a long way to preventing injuries.
Physical exercise keeps your dog’s body younger and helps stop your dog from losing muscle mass and suffering from joint pain. Exercise stimulates your dog’s heart, lungs, muscles, joints and brain.
And, it’s really good for you too.
Not only does moving with your dog either through play or walks, count towards your own exercise goals, it also gives you some time to just enjoy the incredible relationship you have!
4. You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Come up with a few simple tricks to teach your dog. This helps keep both your brains engaged and forming new neural pathways.
“Spin” is a really easy trick that many dogs can perform regardless of most physical ailments.
Here’s a quick link that will take you to a video all about teaching this trick.
If you’re local to the Lawrenceville, Georgia area, you should also check out scent work from my friend and professional dog trainer, Paula Nowak with Canine Country Academy.
5. Schedule A Trip to the V-E-T
Your senior dog needs regular visits with your veterinarian. In fact, many veterinarians recommend that senior dogs should be examined twice a year!
A thorough physical examination by your veterinarian may reveal health issues that can impact your pet’s life and comfort level, such as dental disease, arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease and more.
While your vet is your best resource for medical advice, you are also your dog’s very best advocate because you know them best.
Be sure to keep tabs on any new lumps or bumps that turn up so you can have your vet check them. You can make your daily petting sessions even better for your dog by incorporating a full body massage that also lets you check for any changes. You should also report any behavior changes to your vet, like drinking more water, having accidents, lack of appetite, or irritability as all can be signs of common age related diseases.
You should also be prepared to talk about baseline tests, like routine senior bloodwork, urinalysis, and other tests your vet may recommend. Knowing where your dog is now can really help you plan for the future.
Hopefully these 5 tips about feeding, playing, exercising, & caring for your senior dog will help you both enjoy these golden years.
And, if your dog is age 10 or older, you should be a part of the #10over10 Senior Dog Project. Sign up below to get all the details!
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Courtney of CM Bryson is a pet portrait and lifestyle photographer who takes interesting narrative photographs of all sorts of pets –– cats, dogs, donkeys, you name it. She has an amazing ability to capture the fun-loving side of your pets, as well as their deep attachment to you, all while also being able to stage hilarious photoshoots that bring out the inner comedian in your little guys. Whether you’re looking for a serious, high-concept portrait or a hilarious photo of your pet sure to make you giggle for years to come, Courtney might just be the pet photographer for you.