Estimated Read Time: 5 ½ minutes
As your dog gradually gets older, it can be hard to know how to look after them. As they begin to age, what nutrients should they be getting? Should you still throw toys for them? And, how often should you exercise them?
To answer the questions you still might be unsure about, we’ve pulled together this blog on what you might not know about elderly dogs, and how best to look after them and their maturing joints and bones…
There’s not one age when your dog suddenly becomes ‘old’ as their age really depends on their life expectancy, which depends on their size and breed. Larger dogs tend to have a shorter life expectancy, whereas smaller dogs usually live for much longer. Larger dogs are considered to be ‘old’ at around 5-6 years, and smaller ones at around 7-8.
Canine arthritis is extremely common, and can be very painful and uncomfortable for your pup. In a nutshell, arthritis simply means ‘inflammation and deterioration of the joints’. Inside a dog’s joints, bone surfaces are normally covered with a thin layer of smooth cartilage and joint fluid, which makes movement easy and pain-free as bones glide over one another.
Over time, and in dogs with arthritis, this cartilage can become damaged, less smooth, or deteriorate away, which increases friction, stiffness and limits movement. Age is usually the main cause – as most cases of arthritis occurs in dogs over the age of 8. Natural wear and tear from an active lifestyle can also leave your pup’s joints in jeopardy, but younger dogs are known to experience symptoms following injury or issues with bone development.
So, as your dog grows older, prevention is key when it comes to looking after their maturing bones and joints…
Being overweight for a dog can be a serious problem. They may not know it, but you should! There are numerous health risks associated with being even slightly overweight, and these become far more severe if your dog is extremely overweight
There are many factors that could lead to a dog putting on weight, including old age, a sedentary lifestyle, and having an unplanned diet. No matter the reason, if your aging dog is overweight it could lead to problems such as: diabetes, high blood pressure, skin infections, arthritis, cancer, heart disease and orthopaedic disorders.
The first thing you can do is check to see if you can feel their ribs and spine. When stroking their stomach or back, you should be able to slightly feel their bones. If their bones are buried under the fat, it’s likely that they’re overweight. (If you feel the bones protruding through too prominently, they could be underweight).
The second method is assessing their movement. Overweight dogs are likely to suffer from some joint pain, from the strain of the excess weight on their bones. If you notice your dog is moving slower or less willing to do exercise, this could be a sign that their weight is impacting their life.
One of the most common misconceptions about ageing dogs is that exercise should stop becoming a key part of their lives. The truth is, as a dog ages, it’s more important than ever that they keep active! Older dogs are at higher risk of becoming obese, developing heart problems and experiencing some form of degenerative joint disease, so exercise is the perfect way to keep them active and moving. Specifically with regards to joint health, frequent exercise helps lubricate joints and limit stiffness, which means a more active, happier dog – all year long.
Even if it might be hard for your dog to get up and outside, even daily walks for around 20 to 30 minutes can be a big help. To help keep the impact of any excess strain low, try doing two short walks a day instead of one long one, and reduce energetic interactions so keep it low when throwing toys as jumping/leaping can hurt older dogs.
Or try something new! Have you ever considered swimming with your dog? This can be a pain-free alternative for exercising your dog because it’s low impact on the joints and will help develop muscle mass.
Petlab Co. Pro Tip: Excess weight will slow down your dog because there’s additional strain on their joints. If they’re less enthusiastic about going for walks or playing in the yard, they could be suffering and need to shed some weight.
An overlooked corrective and preventative solution for joint pain in older dogs is supplements. Many owners aren’t aware how much science has advanced in the realm of dog joint care - and they really should be. Over the last 2 decades, there have been a number of fantastic joint boosting supplements crop up on the market backed up by sound scientific research which could be life-changing for your pup. Look for Omega 3, Glucosamine and Vitamins C & E which all work to encourage mobility and strength in bones.
Look for scientifically optimised supplements that have been specifically formulated to promote flexibility, strength and comfort and designed to support the long-term health of connective tissues. A good, cause-targeted supplement from a reputable, high-end pet brand can be considered essential for supporting your mature dog during exercise and daily activities.
“As dogs age, their nutritional requirements change. Their metabolic rate is reducing so they are naturally decreasing the percentage of lean body tissue and increasing their body fat. This is why senior dogs require diets with less fat and fewer calories. It’s important for your pup to not gain any weight in order to minimise strain on their joints.
You can achieve this by feeding a high-quality diet specifically tailored to senior dogs from a reputable brand. These feeds will help with weight maintenance and will also be packed with other essential nutrients (antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins) to meet the needs of your aging dog. These include improvement of brain function, immune and digestive health, and coat quality.
The most important therapy for senior arthritic patients is the combination of weight control, exercise management, and continued use of the muscles around the joints, so continuing with controlled exercises is very important for the joint health of geriatric dogs.”
Something so small can actually have a huge impact on how your dog gets around. Walking can become uncomfortable for their joints, because of the misalignment of their legs. Long nails push the bones out of their natural position, which can have a domino effect, as the leg bones connect to the spine too! Cutting their nails keeps pressure off the joints, keeping their movement healthy.
You can help slow down the degeneration of your dog’s joints in a number of ways, some of which can even prevent more damage occurring. One of those is setting up your home for the job.You’d be surprised at how much a simple change of furniture can have on your dog’s joint health!
Choose a comfortable and supportive bed for them as this will keep their bones happy. Also making sure the bed is in a warm part of the house which will prevent the bones from becoming stiff, especially when they are sleeping for a longer period of time.
If your dog is finding it difficult to climb up and down steps, it might be worth considering installing ramps around the home/garden to help them get around or in and out of the car. If you let your dogs on the couch, consider what that leap might be doing for their bones… One way to get them up more easily is by using a ramp/steps for anything they might climb on or into – this works for when they need to get into the car too.
Also, think about your floor. It may seem daunting to change the flooring in your home, but it can really make a difference to your dog’s physical health! If you have slippery flooring, such as ceramic tiles or laminate wood, it may be worth swapping it for carpet or vinyl, which are softer and less slippery. The other alternative is to put down some rugs – it will make every paw-step a bit easier.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDs) can be prescribed by vets to help ease joint pain, in order to help dogs who are very severely affected and are struggling to move. As with any medication, they can have side effects so this will always be considered and monitored by your vet. There are also many other therapeutic routes to go down when trying to find the perfect medicine for your dog, so this is something to realise when considering medical management to ease your pup’s discomfort. We believe that trying all the options mentioned above should be attempted to improve your pup’s quality of life first, instead of ignoring any preventative management options and relying solely on prescription drugs later on in life.
When it comes to your dog, you only want the best for them. That’s all we want for ours here at Petlab Co. too! Remember, caring for an elderly dog doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds, as long as you’re willing to adapt with them along the way.