Special Care for your Senior Pets
We have had nothing but senior pets in our family since we adopted Becca in 2009. Tino was already eleven when we adopted her after our Sally passed at age 12 and Becca was 8 at the time. Jack and Maggie were both around 8 when we adopted them too, so we have lots of experience in caring for senior pets.
First, I will say seniors are the best. Yes, it’s true, they may not be as rambunctious and hilariously funny as a puppy, but I also don’t have to potty train them or clean up their mistakes. They may not have the stamina for a 5 mile run like I was able to do with Tino and Sally when they were in their prime, but I’m not up for a five-miler anymore either!
Senior’s trouble-making days are behind them. They are usually well-behaved, calm and happy to just be with you in a warm safe place to live out their golden years. Sure, they may come with some baggage, particularly health related issues. Becca had orthopedic injuries that required special care. Jack had a weight issue that needed to be addressed. And sweet Maggie had a whole lot of fear issues to overcome. But these are minor compared to the host of training challenges involved in raising a puppy.
Seniors may require some special care depending on their age, their health and their overall condition. Since November is Senior Pet month, we’re hoping that lots of folks decide to open their hearts and their home to adopting a senior and to those folks we say HURRAH and offer the following tips for caring for your senior pet that we’ve learned over the years:
Caring for your senior dog:
- ARTHRITIS: Most seniors have mild arthritis. Be sure and give them a warm, dry place and a comfortable bed to sleep on to help their achy joints. Consider supplements like glucosamine and fish oil to provide joint relief. Limit exercise when they seem stiff, avoid stairs and slippery floors – carpet is the best so they can get traction when walking and getting up. Read our previous posts: Arthritis in Dogs and Tips for Exercising Senior Dogs.
- HOLISTIC TREATMENTS: Consider supportive care such as acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, even massage helps their joints feel better and remain loose. I give Jack a little massage every evening before bed – it relaxes him and I know helps his old bones and achy muscles.
- RICE: Certainly the human treatment Rest – Ice – Compression – Elevation, works for dogs as well. Many humans use cold packs or heating pads for their joints. Heat feels good, but it is NOT suitable for inflammation. That’s when you want to use ice. I had an ongoing achy back for months that I would use a heating pad on every day to ‘loosen’ it up. My physical therapist finally convinced me that icing it everyday would be a better option as it was inflamed and the ice would reduce the inflammation…it worked, so now I use ice when Jack overdoes it and seems a little gimpy.
- DIET: Watch their food intake. Since seniors aren’t as active as they were when they were younger, it’s easy for them to pack on some pounds. And since their joints are weaker, those extra pounds can really hinder their movement. There may also be a need to adjust the content of their diet. Your dog doesn’t need special (read expensive) “Senior” dog food, you just need to be aware of the food protein and carb levels in their food and feed according to your dog’s needs. Read our previous post on this issue: Feeding a Senior Dog: Do Older Dogs need Less Protein?
- EXERCISE: Senior dogs may be slowing down, but it’s even more critical for them to get proper exercise. We still run with Jack – not 4X a week like he did four years ago, but at least once a week Steve takes him for a slow jog. He does walk everyday – twice a day during the week and I think it’s this movement that keeps his arthritis at bay. Maggie loves getting out too – even more so than Jack I think. She’s on some restriction due to her osteosarcoma, but exercise and movement is so important to their well being.
One of our longstanding aspirations is to open a shelter for senior pets. They are tough to adopt out given the expectation they won’t be around long and the likelihood that they will be expensive as their health care costs increase as they age. But, it’s been my experience they are the most grateful & loving dogs when they find that final retirement home. Puppies may be lots of fun, but nothing beats that contented sign of a senior who just had a nice walk and is settling in for their morning nap.