What It’s Like Caring For an Older Dog

When you consider adopting a dog, you likely envision a playful and energized dog-but what happens when they get older?

The life span of a dog varies-some live longer lives than others, and if they live longer, they will likely experience issues due to their age. As you can expect, your dog will likely require more care as he/she grows older. Their habits and interests will change as they age, but they’re still the same dog you’ve grown to love.

My childhood dog, Max, lived to the great age of eighteen. During the last few years of his life, we had to adjust his routine and spend more time (and money) taking care of him. My family and I were happy to do so, but it was a transition from his younger years. We had to make many accommodations to make his life easier, and this is the case with many older dogs. Here are a few changes that can occur as your dog ages:

They are not as mobile.

Your dog can experience mobility issues when they age. They won’t have as much energy as they did when they were younger; they won’t be able to go on long, strenuous walks like they used to, and they won’t have as much energy to play with their toys.

Senior dogs should still get exercise, but you have to go at their pace. Be mindful of hot weather, and make sure you do not overwork your pet.

Older dogs can also develop arthritis and joint problems. This can make it difficult for your dog to ascend stairs or jump into your car. If possible, you can build a ramp to alleviate your dog’s mobility issues, and there are also joint braces that can add support to their weaker legs. You also may have to carry your dog and lift them.

In the case of my dog Max, his back legs became weaker as he got older. Our steps became too much for him-we had to carry him up and down our front stairs. He struggled more in the rooms with wooden flooring, and sometimes he fell around the house and had trouble getting back up. We had to constantly look out for him and be there to help him up.

They have accidents, even if they were potty-trained.

Your dog may go from never having accidents in the house to having them often. Your dog isn’t trying to disobey you-they lose control of their bladder. At this point, there’s no use in reprimanding your dog for going to the bathroom inside the house-you simply have to clean up after them.

There are dog diapers and bathroom pads available that may prevent accidents, but those will need to be cleaned and changed regularly.

Their senses are not as precise.

Like humans, aging dogs experience changes in their eyesight and hearing. Sometimes they lose one before the other, sometimes they lose both. If your dog’s hearing becomes impaired first, it can be beneficial to associate hand signals with commands. When your dog loses sight, you should declutter the area and prevent access to any hazardous areas. This prevents your dog from running into anything harmful.

With their senses dulled, your dog also may get startled easily. It can take longer for them to recognize you, so they may jump if you approach them too quickly. Your dog’s cognitive abilities may also be declining as well, which will only add to their confusion. Be gentle and patient with them.

They take more medications.

Your dog might have to take medicine to combat any conditions that arise with old age, such as arthritis. Depending on your pet, this can turn into an arduous task. Some dogs-even when they’re older-are stubborn and will do everything in their power to turn away the medicine. You might have to utilize pill pockets and peanut butter (or any other favorite snack) to persuade your dog to take their medication.

More medication also coincides with more trips to the vet. As your dog is getting older, it is more important than ever that your dog is getting routinely checked by a veterinarian. Keep an eye out for any behavior changes in your pet that may signify an underlying issue. It is always best to be proactive and treat medical issues as soon as possible, and this is crucial especially for senior dogs.

Along with medication, your dog’s diet may change. There are different dietary options for older dogs, and your vet can recommend food and treats that provide your pet with the nutrition they need. With a decrease in exercise and movement, your dog’s weight might fluctuate as well, so you will need to adjust your dog’s diet accordingly.

They require more grooming.

Since their activity levels decrease, it is common for older dogs to need frequent nail trimming. Brushing your dog makes them feel better, and there are dry shampoo options if it becomes too stressful to bathe your dog regularly. Especially if their mobility is going down, they will rely on you to keep them clean as they can no longer do so themself. Proper dental care also remains important for your pet to prevent dental disease.

You might have to put them down.

It’s a tough call to make, but if your dog is suffering, you might decide to euthanize your dog. Generally, this option becomes available when your dog no longer acts like a dog and is experiencing pain that cannot be comforted. This decision should be discussed with your vet, and they can advise when you should start considering this option.

It is difficult seeing your beloved pet grow old, but you can help make that process easier for them. The accommodations you will need to make varies depending on your dog’s health, but you can expect to give an older dog more care than their younger years. You might have to pay more for their care and spend more time with them at home, which limits your travel and funds. This might create more inconveniences for you, but your pet will appreciate your kindness and patience. After all, they gave you plenty of fond memories and love throughout the years; it’s your turn to be there for your pet and return the favor.

Passionate about pets, nature, creativity, and writing.

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