This article was inspired by my aunt’s golden retriever. He aged gracefully but during his last few years he and his owners faced some struggles. It can be hard for some people to accept or realize that their dog is aging. We get ourselves in a routine and sometimes we do not notice the small changes happening with our pets. We must remember that dogs age roughly 7 times faster than ourselves. Sometimes changes happen slowly over time, or they can seem to appear overnight. Dogs are remarkably stoic and can hide signs of discomfort until it gets severe.
I would like to discuss a few ways that we can get ourselves, and our dogs, ready for the geriatric years.
First let’s talk physical changes. It’s important to continue to have our dog’s yearly check up as well as adding some bloodwork to do an examination on what we do not see - including any changes in their organ function. This gives us an indication if we need to change our dog’s nutrition, add any supplements, or order any additional tests. Next, we should evaluate our dog’s movement. Are they moving well, or do they seem stiff? Do they take a little more time to get up? Do they slow a little quicker? We should also pay attention to any signs of vision or hearing loss.
Next, let’s talk about exercise. I am not going to tell you to stop walking or hiking with your dog, but you may want to take a shorter loop or take some breaks along the way. There are supplements/medications to help your dog continue to enjoy doing the things they love, but it is important to realize and accept the aging of your dog.
Now for mental stimulation – I am told by a lot of senior dog owners that their dogs are now experiencing anxiety or pacing. Cognitive changes in the brain cannot be seen physically but rather experienced. It is important to keep your dog actively using their brain – for example going back to asking your dog to do some tricks, sits, downs, leave it or go to mat. Teaching new exercises such as retrieve or scent games – these games do not take a lot of physical strength but are great for mental stimulation
Our dogs have given us a lifetime of companionship and they deserve our attention and care as they age. I am asking you to step back, listen and watch your dogs, how are they moving, are they sleeping more, are they less engaged with you? Making some small changes to the activities you do to support and encourage your senior friend can improve their quality of life overall. We will someday be in the same situation as our dogs and appreciate the care and patience of others.