by Susan Hoffman
Elderly people often make changes in their homes, such as adding a grab bar in the shower for safety. Your senior dog can also benefit from minor household modifications. An orthopedic bed here or a ramp there will go a long way toward making your senior dog's life at home pleasant and comfortable.
Older Dogs, New Problems
There's no specific age when a dog becomes a senior; it varies from breed to breed. But sooner or later, most dogs start showing their age. When that happens, "many dog owners wonder if senior pets have any special needs regarding nutrition, exercise or grooming" says Dr. Amy Schein, a veterinarian at Coral Springs Pet Resort & Medical Center in Coral Springs, Fla. "There are no one-size-fits-all recommendations. However, older dogs are at risk for many of the same problems that affect older people. Many medical conditions can be managed with simple lifestyle or diet adjustments."
Experts such as Schein say these items can help:
Raised food and water bowls make it easier for tall dogs to eat and drink, especially if they have arthritis in their neck or front limbs.
Steps or a ramp to help your dog get into the car or onto furniture.
Baby gates to keep pets from falling down stairs or entering rooms with slippery floors. This is especially helpful for dogs with neurological issues.
Body harnesses instead of neck collars for dogs with arthritic necks or intervertebral disk disease.
Skid-resistant throw rugs and rubber puzzle mats for hard floors. These add traction for unsteady legs and create a comfortable napping surface.
Orthopedic beds, especially for large-breed dogs that are prone to developing calluses on bony prominences. Some people swear by magnetic beds for dogs that have arthritis.
Look for Signs of Age-related Problems
Growing old isn't an illness in itself, but it's not uncommon for older dogs to develop age-related diseases. "Pet owners don't always recognize early signs of age-related issues in these friends they've had for so many years," says Dr. Corrina Parsons, a veterinarian at Longwood Veterinary Center in Kennett Square, Penn. "Any change in behavior, like a decreased willingness to play, climb stairs or jump on furniture, could be signs of joint pain in the hips, knees or back. Early signs of dementia could include late-night walking, barking or forgetting to go to the bathroom when outside. Many of these diseases can be managed by intensifying the relationship between you, your dog and your veterinarian."
You can help your aging dog by following this advice:
Keep your pet's weight at a healthy level. Obesity might worsen arthritic conditions and predispose your dog to developing diabetes or other metabolic diseases.
Stimulate circulation to its coat and skin with gentle grooming and massaging. This also helps discover new lumps or changes to the skin or coat.
Create a comfortable sleeping area on the ground floor if your pet has difficulty climbing stairs to or from your bedroom.
Visit your veterinarian for regular physical exams, blood work and urine tests to determine if your senior dog needs a special diet, medicine or treatment.
Jen and John's Dog House
Lucky are the senior dogs that have devoted owners. Jen Holmquest and John Lawrence are the poster parents for how to care for geriatric dogs. They provide their 13-year-old Labrador Retriever, Merle, and their 11-year-old Golden Retriever, Clifton, with every necessity, from pet stairs to help them get on the couch to covering their orthopedic beds with waterproof comforters. They take both dogs to the vet twice yearly for senior exams and tests. "Clifton has become more sensitive to thunder and other scary sounds, so we sleep downstairs with him when there's a storm coming," says Holmquest. "Merle is neurologic in her hind end, so we use the garage one-step entrance instead of the porch stairs to go outside."
Common sense and a lot of TLC can make all the difference for your dog's golden years. "We deal with their aging issues because we love them," says Holmquest.
Susan Hoffman is a freelance journalist who writes about canine, feline and equine topics. Her feature articles regularly appear in consumer and veterinary media.
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Pets | Dogs: Make Your Senior Dog Feel at Home