Our happy senior dogs can develop many of the same physical problems that humans experience as we age, such as heart disease, diabetes, vision problems, joint issues and weakness. You might also notice behavior changes such as confusion, increased vocalization, more anxiety, changes in sleep cycles and house soiling.
For many four-legged friends north of 7 years old, their favorite game of catch might feel too strenuous. They might not be able to jump up to their favorite seat by the window, or they may not be able to hear us call them in for dinner. Though dog seniors may need a little extra paw-holding, it’s more honor than burden—especially after all the times they’ve been there for us over the years!
If you’re wondering, how do I make my old dog happy, here are 7 ways to have a happy senior dog and help them navigate these new challenges.
1. Show Your Senior Dog Lots and Lots of Love
“The main advice I can give for any older dog [parent] is to just give them lots of love,” Cichocki says. “That’s what Jada loves most.”
Special time together, even if it’s just cuddling on the couch, is what our happy senior dogs cherish most. And, fortunately, that’s very simple for us to deliver!
2. Take Your Senior Dog on Special Outings
Taking your senior pet for a short walk around the block, out for a car ride or even a day trip can make them feel special and loved. Elizabeth Megan, pet parent to an 18½-year-old Shih Tzu named Baxter, brings her senior pet on family outings.
“To keep him happy and comfortable, we have increased the number of family outings that we call an adventure,” she says.
And you can teach an old dog new tricks, Wilhem says.
“Just because a dog may already know how to sit and lay down, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy attending a positive dog training class to have a fun weekly outing,” she says.
3. Give Your Senior Dog a Social Life
Dogs love to be with their humans, so if your dog has always loved company, consider putting play dates on your calendar.
“I have friends, human and canine, over for [my dog] to interact with,” Salsman says. “She doesn’t really play with them, but she loves the attention and brings out all her stuffed animals to show them.”
Some changes you might see, even in happy senior dogs, is “less tolerance for younger or very active dogs who might be invading their space,” Coughlin says. At her facility, she finds that “some older dogs love when the younger dogs come in, and some even get more active.”
She advises pet parents to honor their dog’s social habits and get to know what their canine companion does and does not enjoy in their new season of life.
4. Give Your Senior Dog Extra Grooming Sessions
Regular grooming is important as dogs age because they can develop more matting with less activity. An incontinent senior dog also needs their hair in the potty area clipped short and checked daily to ensure the area is clean, dry and not irritated, Dr. Morgan says.
Senior dogs can start to struggle to reach all areas on their body.
“Dogs may not be grooming themselves as much, so daily brushing keeps the coat oils spread throughout the coat,” Dr. Morgan says. “It’s also a great way to check for new lumps, bumps, cuts, scrapes or irritation.”
Plus, the affection and attention feel good to our pooches!
5. Watch Your Senior Dog More Carefully
You may be used to letting your dog out in the backyard on their own, but as they age, they might need you to keep an eye on them while outdoors.
“Dogs with decreased hearing and vision may get [confused], wander from the yard accidentally and not be able to find their way home,” Dr. Morgan says.
At this stage of life, to have happy senior pets, we need to manage environments more by offering support so they don’t get into situations where they can get in danger or hurt others, Coughlin says. For example, an older animal also may have trouble holding their bladder and need more potty breaks.
“Some dogs left alone use a belly band or other diaper product, or puppy pads,” Coughlin says.
6. Help Your Senior Dog Maintain a Healthy Diet
Dana Cichocki, who has a 10-year-old Pit Bull rescue named Jada, says she does her best to make sure Jada eats well.
“We give Jada joint supplements and fish oil pills to help keep her joints from hurting and her heart ticking,” she says.
Dr. Morgan has five senior dogs in her household, with the youngest at 7 years old. She gives her elder dogs a boost with joint dog supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids for brain, skin and joint health.
“Omega-3s help with joints, brain and skin,” she explains. “So does hyaluronic acid, which is also good for eyes. Glucosamine, chrondroitin and MSM are good for joints.”
7. Double up on Vet Visits
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that we take our happy dog seniors to the vet every 6 months. Early detection is crucial, especially at their advanced age.
“Semi-annual wellness exams are a wonderful way to keep on top of any medical conditions,” says Tonya Wilhelm, a Toldeo, Ohio-area dog trainer and founder of Raising Your Pets Naturally. “By doing this, the veterinarian is able to do a full exam, look for any concerning lumps, listen to the dog’s heart function and evaluate hearing and eyesight.”
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