There’s a few health issues that many older dogs have in common. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps toward prevention!
Did you know that anywhere from 20%–50% of senior canines have osteoarthritis in their joints? It can make it harder for them to get around, and can cause them to lose interest in the things they’ve always loved. This is often the result of age, but can also be caused by obesity – another common health issue that afflicts older dogs.
One of the most important things you can do for your dog’s overall health is to help him maintain a healthy weight and ideal body condition. This is true at any age, but even more important when our dogs reach senior status and are at increased risk of serious diseases, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and cancer, among others. Obesity significantly increases the likelihood of developing all of these diseases.
By focusing on a few key things, you can help your senior canine stay active, healthy, and happy well into his golden years!
1. Feed him right
While there is no one “best” diet to feed dogs, it’s critical that you monitor how many calories your dog eats daily (and this includes his meals and his treats!). Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories per day your dog should be eating to reach or maintain healthy body weight. Your veterinarian should also make recommendations on the best food to feed your dog. As dogs age, certain medical conditions, such as kidney or liver problems, require a specialized diet.
2. Maintain a regular exercise schedule
Regular exercise is still important as your dog ages, and it’s a great way to not only keep his joints healthy but to help him maintain strength and muscle mass. Daily walks are great exercise, and you might find that your dog does better with a few shorter walks versus one long walk. If you vary your routes and allow your senior dog to take sniff breaks, you will be giving him a mental boost as well as physical benefits.
3. Teach him some therapeutic tricks!
You can also work with your dog to incorporate therapeutic exercises into his routine. This can be as simple as training your dog to do a “bow”, walk backward, and shake and do high fives. These all help with range of motion and improve strength and mobility. As your dog masters those “tricks”, you can gradually increase in complexity to using Bosu balls and balance discs. Always stop when your dog shows signs of being tired!
As your dog ages, it’s particularly important to pay attention to subtle changes in his behavior, as this could indicate signs of chronic pain to address with your veterinarian. These signs can include:
- Being reclusive or hiding
- Not wanting to be pet or picked up
- Lagging behind on walks, or not wanting to go on walks
- Being more restless and not being able to settle
- Suddenly having accidents in the house after always being house-trained
If you notice these changes in how your dog behaves, talk to your veterinarian and learn about different options for managing chronic pain.