Senior dogs, just like senior humans, experience a general decrease in their range of motion, general increase in their resting time as well as a change in the normal activity level. This is not to say that older dogs are not active, playful and curious, rather they are a bit slower and less likely to engage in really active behaviors as they may have been as a puppy. Senior dogs are also more likely to experience muscle and joint problems, vision and hearing problems as well as some cognitive and behavioral issues as they advance in their years.
As technology and research increases with regards to veterinary medicine, canine husbandry and even senior dog health management the average age that a dog is expected to live continues to increase. Most breeds will stay moderately to very active well into their teens, with some breeds easily living to 16 or more years of age. This increase in life is great for owners, however it may require some special accommodations to help senior dogs live comfortably. These accommodations are very available on the market either through internet stores or even directly from pet stores.
Heated Dog Beds
Since senior dogs may have difficulty in regulating their body temperature and may also be more likely to shiver and appear sensitive to the cold, a heated dog bed is a wonderful idea. These beds are not expensive and work the same as an electric blanket with built in safety features to prevent any type of shock or overheating concerns. Typically the beds use microfiber fabrics that holds in heat and a very low temperature heating pad to provide a gentle, warm rather than hot temperature.
Heated dog beds can be used virtually anywhere that there is access to an electrical outlet. Some beds are even designed for use in outdoor kennels, but be sure to check the manufacturer's recommendations for outdoor use. Orthopedic heated dog beds are a great idea for those senior dogs with arthritis or general stiffness in muscles and joints and can be used year round with or without the heating component.
If you are considering a heated dog bed look for one that has a removable heating unit. This provides the option to simply remove the heater and wash, rather than having to use separate covers or blankets over the bed to protect the actual surface area. Also make sure the bed is the right size, the dog should be able to lie down on the surface of the bed without having to scrunch up or have limbs hanging off of the bed. The mattress should be thick enough to prevent heavier dogs from actually compressing the mattress, resulting in them actually resting on the hard floor surface.
Ramps And Steps
Jumping up on and off of furniture is one of the most stressful activities for senior dogs. This is especially true for larger, heavier dogs, longer backed breeds such as Corgis or Dachshunds, or dogs that have a history of hip, elbow or joint problems. Jumping either up or down, places a lot of pressure on joints and the back, leading to increased stiffness, mobility problems and overall pain for the senior dog.
Despite this, your dog still wants to spend time snuggling with you on the couch or sleeping at the foot of your bed. If your dog has always enjoyed this type of interaction, he or she will want to keep doing them even when their body is not up to the physical stress needed to get up and down. Pet ramps and steps may be just the solution to this problem. There are several things to keep in mind when building or buying pet ramps or steps and they include:
Gradual inclines and small steps that will not continue to stress muscles and joints
Non-skid feet that will prevent any movement of the apparatus that may cause the dog to panic and jump from the ramp or steps
Steps and ramps need to be of durable, safe and solid construction
Weight balanced for your particular dog
Carpeted steps or ramps to provide additional traction and stability
It will be important to train your dog to use the ramps or steps, however most senior dogs will quickly learn to use the devices. There are small, portable ramps and steps that are great for traveling, however they may not be durable or strong enough for larger breeds.
Dog bowls for food and water don't have to be located way down on the ground, posing difficulty in reaching food and water for some senior dogs. There are elevated dog feeders that adjust to different heights, providing easy access to food and water without requiring a lot of neck movement. These elevated feeders should be of solid construction and with non-skid feet to prevent the whole unit from sliding on the floor or simply being knocked over.
Some of these feeders are automatic, dispensing feed at set times during the day. Water can also be constantly circulated and even cooled, providing a drinking fountain for the senior dog. Since dogs tend to eat a bit less and consume more water as they age, this is a great option for senior dog that are kept either indoors or out.
Senior Dog Toys
Senior dogs enjoy playing with toys just as they did when they were younger, however the really hard toys may be difficult on sensitive teeth and gums. There are softer canvas covered stuffed toys or even soft rubber toys that can be very gentle on the senior dog's mouth as well as provide and increased rubbing action to help with tartar build up and control.
As with younger dogs it is important to avoid feeding any rawhide toys that can cause choking and to always carefully check toys for any signs of wear or damage that may cause injury to the dog. Nylabones and dental dog chews are great for a senior dog. Consider trying the flavored varieties to encourage chewing for a healthy, strong bite and ongoing dental care.