How to make life easier for older dogs

Written by Rosie BescobyRosie is a fully qualified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Zoology & Psychology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling. She is an ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No. 1006), and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist & as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Sadly, all dogs grow old eventually. And just like ageing humans, their needs and abilities change and they might need a helping hand with certain tasks. That means you might need to adapt your routine and your home to make sure your senior pooch is perfectly safe and content. So how can you make life easier for older dogs and ensure they’re happy and comfortable well into their twilight years?

How to make life easier for older dogs

The main thing about making your senior dog’s life easier is to adapt to their needs.

For instance, older dogs often lose some of their vision and hearing, which means you need to be patient and understanding with them. These changes might mean your dog becomes nervous because they aren’t able to sense things well and are more easily surprised. It might mean they don’t seem as obedient either, but it probably isn’t deliberate, so patience and sympathy is a must. Because recall could become difficult, you might have to accept they can’t go off the lead anymore.

As well as potential anxiety, old dogs are also warier of change, so keeping up a familiar routine will help to keep your senior doggo content and at ease.

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As well as their senses changing, old dogs physically decline too. Their muscles weaken and their joints get stiff, so they won’t be able to walk as far and you might need to adapt their living space and exercise to suit their abilities.

You've probably wondered how old your dog is in human years, especially if they're starting to reach their older age, and if so, we've got a full blog on how to work it out!

Keeping your old dog happy at home

As well as enrichment and exercise, you need to make sure your home is senior dog friendly. Your pooch’s joints are probably getting stiff and they might have trouble walking about or getting up and down the stairs. This means they might be limited to certain rooms of the house, so you don’t want to limit their area to roam any more.

Slippery surfaces like wooden or laminate floors are a problem for older dogs because they struggle to get traction and their sliding feet can put extra strain on their joints and make them more likely to fall and injure themselves.

If you have wooden floors, you might want to consider putting some rugs or runners down so your pooch can still wander around the house safely. You can buy boots and socks with anti-slip bottoms, but some dogs aren’t happy about wearing these and you’ll have to take them on and odd whenever they go out.

If you have stairs at the doors, or your dog is unable to get in and out of the car, you might want to consider buying a doggy ramp to help them or get used to lifting them in. You can also buy doggy stairs too, which are paw-some for allowing older dogs the ability to get up on the sofa without a problem. Giving your pooch the ability to join in with everything around the home is an im-paw-tent part of enriching their lives.

Older dogs are more likely to have toilet accidents and may even become incontinent. To keep both you and your dog happy and comfortable by limiting accidents, you should schedule more frequent toilet breaks for your dog, similar to how you would with a puppy. If they struggle, you can consider using some puppy pads in a designated space in your home or maybe even use doggy nappies. Using puppy pads at this point isn’t much of an issue because you aren’t trying to toilet train your dog, but you should try to avoid them and keep going outside as long as possible to prevent reinforcing the behaviour of toileting inside.

Enhance their comfort

You can also purchase different items to help to improve their quality of life as they age, such as raised bowls and orthopaedic beds.

Raised bowls prevent your pooch from having to bend and stretch for their dinner or water, putting a bit less strain on their necks. Make sure their bowls are set to the correct height though, which will be about chest height on your dog.

Meanwhile, orthopaedic beds help to lessen the aches and stiffness your dog might feel and can help to relieve pain associated with arthritis. These beds are also less likely to give your pup bed sores, which is im-paw-tent now that your four-legged friend is spending more time snoozing. A quality dog bed will also improve the circulation of heat, keeping your furry friend cooler in the hot months and warmer in the cold. These are im-paw-tent because old dogs need more rest and are more sensitive to changing temperatures.

Speaking of changing temperatures, it’s a good idea to buy a coat for your dog to wear on winter walkies to help keep the chill out of their bones. You can also buy a self-cooling pad for the summer months and try cooling tips to help prevent you from getting a hot dog.

You might also want to buy a good harness with a handle on the back. This will allow you to give your pooch a helping hand and support their weight when needed, going up a ramp. Old dogs are unlikely to pull on the lead, so having a harness isn’t much of an issue.

Provide healthy, age-appropriate dinners

Senior dogs also have different dietary needs compared to younger animals. Firstly, their metabolism slows down and this makes them prone to gaining weight, and excess weight will put additional strain on their joints. Keeping your dog a healthy weight will also help them to live longer and remain active into their twilight years, and less prone to injury.

Secondly, the balance of dietary components they need is different too. Although each dog will have their own individual needs, generally, old dogs need fewer carbohydrates and a high-quality source of protein to maintain their muscles and body’s ability to repair. Older pups can benefit from extra fatty acids like Omega-3 as it helps to keep their joints and brain healthy and prevent cognitive decline. Ideally, your dog should get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy diet and won’t need any supplements, but a good-quality supplement might be beneficial.

Older dogs are more likely to suffer from digestive upset, so it is im-paw-tent to provide a highly digestible meal that puts less strain on their gut and allows them to absorb as many nutrients as possible. Keeping their vitamins and minerals topped up is vital to keep them healthy in their advancing age. Every dog is different though with individual needs, and each dog ages differently too, so tailored dog food might be a step in the right direction to help fulfil your dog’s paws-onal needs and ensure they’re eating everything they require to help prevent or manage any age-related illnesses.

Provide gentle exercise and brain training

Even a healthy, active dog will slow down at some point and they won’t have the strength and stamina of a younger animal. That means you need to adapt exercise to suit their needs and abilities, even if it means just a few short strolls around the block or time to allow your pooch to sniff around and sit in the park and watch the world go by.

Keeping your pooch active will help to keep them healthy and maintain their movement as they age, as well as helping to prevent obesity.

To help improve your dog’s mobility, you might want to consider learning how to massage your pooch and provide gentle exercises meant to maintain their range of motion. This should help to keep their joints moving as they should and ease some of the aches and stiffness they might feel, as well as giving you both some quality cuddly time together.

Because walks are shorter, you’ll need to provide alternative means of stimulation and enrichment for your older dog, focusing on low-intensity activity. Mental stimulation is very im-paw-tent because it helps to keep their brain active and prevent cognitive decline in older dogs, so continued training and puzzle toys are a su-paw addition to your pup’s toybox.

Remember to be patient and keep training sessions short and suited to your dog’s abilities. You never know, you might find you can teach an old dog new tricks after all!

Essentials for making life easier for older dogs

To round up, let’s recap some of the things you can do to make life easier for an old dog and ensure their twilight years are as happy and comfortable as possible. You should provide:

  • Age-appropriate, healthy dog food.

  • Raised bowls.

  • A comfy bed.

  • A coat for walkies on cold days.

  • Cooling pads are nice to have.

  • Ramps and stairs to help your pooch get around.

  • Rugs for slippery floors.

  • Adapt walkies to suit your pooch’s ability.

  • Maybe try massages.

  • Provide alternative enrichment EG. Low-intensity games.

  • Maintain routine and avoid undue stress for your dog.

  • Be aware and understanding of their changing needs and abilities.