It is a truth universally acknowledged that our dogs age far faster than we would like them to. It sometimes seems hardly any time from them being a cheeky, bouncy puppy, to them taking life a little steadier and their muzzles showing the tell-tale greying that comes with years.
Our senior dogs are however special. We will have shared great times and maybe even sad times too. They will have joined us on high days and holidays. In many cases, our dogs are our companions, colleagues, and confidants.
Supporting a healthy ageing process is important for the wellbeing of our older friends.
Let’s explore some practical ways that you can use to help your dog age happily and healthily.
Even as puppies, we should be thinking about the future health of our dogs. Managing exercise intensity carefully while they grow is a simple way to support their skeletal and muscular development. Ideally young, growing puppies should have plenty of unstructured movement, play and exposure to different surfaces, but still have sufficient rest time. Lots of short fun, training and play sessions are preferable to long walks on hard pavements on lead, especially if they have not fully mastered the skills of loose-lead walking! Similarly, watch out for slippery floors and surfaces – non-slip surfaces and floor mats are sensible additions to any doggy household to avoid slips, trips, and falls.
Growing puppies should also be managed in jumping on and off high surfaces. Even jumping into and out of cars can lead to significant forces being experienced by our dogs’ forelimbs. Negotiating stairs is another thing to carefully manage for your puppy. Ideally carry your puppy up and down stairs, especially while they are rapidly growing. By protecting their delectate, growing joints from repetitive landing, we can help to promote long term joint health.
Get the scales out!
Keeping your dog’s bodyweight and overall body condition in a fit, lean state is another important way to support a healthy ageing process. Indeed, maintaining a healthy bodyweight throughout life is linked to longevity and an improved health-span – that is our dogs being healthier for longer, something that we all want!
Sometimes, as our dogs get a little older, they start to slow down. This might because they lose the energy of puppyhood and mature. Sometimes our training helps them manage their enthusiasm and channel it into specific skills and activities. Occasionally our older dogs suffer from conditions and illness that can cause them pain and distress, which might also make them reluctant to exercise in the same way as maybe they once did. All of these situations might mean our dogs don’t expend as much energy as they previously did, and their waistlines might expand slightly as a result.
Getting the weigh scales out is a great way to monitor exactly what is happening. Regular weigh-ins and keeping careful records of changes can help you assess if you might need to manage their diet or activity level differently. Even weighing their food regularly can help you make sure that they are not getting more than is actually needed. If your dog is on a weight management programme, it is even more critical to make sure that their diet is carefully managed, so weighing them and weighing their food is a simple, healthy, and cost-effective way to care for them.
Have a healthcare team!
Your dog may also benefit from a complete healthcare team as they age. Your vet is an essential part of your older dog’s care. They will be able to help you with pain management for diagnosed conditions and can also help to monitor your dog’s overall health and wellbeing, perhaps via regular tests to assess how their body systems are working.
In cases of behavioural changes, or even if your dog becomes reluctant to do things that they once enjoyed, do chat to your vet. Many people talk about their dogs showing signs of stiffness or even pain as they get older. While this might be part of the natural ageing process, our dogs are often very stoical and by the time they show physical signs of discomfort, they might be in quite significant pain. Because of this, it is important that accurate diagnoses are made, and management or treatment plans put into place with the help of your veterinary surgeon.
This might mean nutritional, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, or other supportive amends are also made to your dog’s care to help support healthy ageing.
Supplements may also be part of your older dog’s healthcare and daily management. Joint support supplements might be used throughout your dog’s adult life. Others might be more specifically targeted as your dog perhaps starts to show the first signs of ageing – Science Supplements’ Old Friend might be a good choice at this stage and includes key ingredients to support a healthy ageing process.
Older dogs might struggle to be as physically active as they once were. They might prefer to have longer slower walks with time to sniff. Swimming might be less attractive as it once was for some dogs, especially in cold water. For working or highly active, sporting dogs, age sometimes means they are less able to maintain their speed and stamina and that recovery takes longer. We can support this and modify their activity and rest periods appropriately.
Sometimes we can even explore alterative things for our dogs to do. Hoopers is a great alternative to agility for example and involves all of the same skills but without the jumping. Some working dogs will simply do reduced hours, so that they get all the benefits of continuing activity to support their physical and psychological health, but without intense expectations.
Hydrotherapy with a suitability qualified hydrotherapist in a temperature-controlled pool provides managed and targeted exercise and sometimes therapy for older dogs. It is non-weight bearing which makes hydrotherapy ideal of dogs with joint problems or perhaps those recovering from injury. Hydrotherapy might also be a great option for dogs needing help to manage their waistlines too!
Scent work is something dogs find naturally rewarding and fun. Even older dogs who might have altered vision and hearing will enjoy using their nose to find food or a hidden favourite toy in the house or garden. Scatter feeding or food activity toys can be a simple but effective way to encourage activity, but in a way that is rewarding, fun and also gentle on our older dogs’ bodies.
Interestingly, it is becoming clear that activity and exercise is not only important to help keep our older canine friends active and to support a healthy bodyweight, it could also help keep them cognitively healthy for longer too. This means that even that steady, gentle walk will benefit both you AND your dog!
Nutritional support for ageing
While your older dog might need fewer calories if their activity level reduces, it is still essential to provide them with a nutritionally balanced, highly digestible diet. Some health conditions might mean that specific nutrient levels need altered in your older dog’s diet and this should be done with veterinary support and guidance.
However, if your dog is otherwise healthy, few specific amends might be needed. Sometimes the efficiency of digestion decreases with age and older dogs can start to lose lean muscle mass. In these cases, ensuring their diet is rich is quality, digestible protein can be important. You might also need an energy dense diet for dogs that become less interested in food, perhaps because of altered sense of smell and taste. This means that you can feed a small volume, but that each meal is still nutrient dense.
The digestive health of your older dog might even benefit from the use of supplements such as Healthy Tummy.
Celebrating our seniors
Our senior dogs are special. They deserve support and celebration. With some targeted management and awareness of their overall wellbeing, we can ensure they age gracefully and happily.
Share your senior dog’s story with us – we would love to hear everything about them.
Science Supplements offer a range of high specification, canine supplements that can help to support your senior dog’s health and wellbeing all year round. We offer options to support your dog’s joint, skin, and digestive health as well as supporting them during periods of anxiety or worry.