When I watch my 9-year-old Australian Shepherd mix, Candy, run around the yard with Mookie, my 2-year-old Pit Bull mix, I feel relieved. Even though Candy weighs a solid 65 pounds and is considered a senior dog because of her age, she still keeps up with Mookie. Of course, that won’t last forever.
Dogs are just like humans when it comes to aging. As they advance in years, their joints get stiffer, their muscles get weaker, and they start to have trouble getting around. And although this change in an older dog’s body is inevitable, you can do a lot to keep your senior dog moving well into his golden years.
Making sure your dog stays limber for as long as he can starts when he’s young. No matter how old your dog is, following some basic rules of good care will keep him younger longer.
Diet and exercise for a senior dog
First, and probably most important, keep your senior dog’s weight down. Being overweight puts tremendous stress on your dog’s joints and can aggravate any arthritis that may be brewing. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s weight at his annual wellness exam — another must to keep your dog in good physical shape into old age — and, if needed, make changes in diet and exercise to take the excess weight off.
Next, provide your dog with regular exercise. If your dog is physically fit, he’s more likely to stay mobile as he starts to get older. And if he’s already starting to develop arthritis, easy walks on grass or dirt can do wonders to loosen his joints and ease the pain. If your dog’s arthritis is making it difficult for him to get up or exercise, talk to your veterinarian about medication that can make it easier for him to move around.
Easing arthritis pain in a senior dog
Consider putting your dog on a dietary joint supplement to help keep him more limber. Omega-3 oil is reputed to reduce inflammation, while supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are designed to keep joints working. Nutramax Laboratories (cosequin.com) makes both an omega-3 oil product and a joint supplement designed specifically for dogs, both under the Cosequin brand.
If your senior dog is starting to show reluctance when it’s time to jump into the car, look at getting a portable ramp. Training him to walk up and down the ramp will make it easier for him to get into your vehicle. PetSafe makes a variety of ramps and stairs designed to enable older dogs to get into cars, or up onto beds and furniture. The Deluxe Telescoping Pet Ramp (above) is made specifically to enable large dogs to get into a car, and is easy to carry and set up.
Another good option for older dogs with arthritis is an orthopedic bed. Made especially for senior joints, orthopedic beds provide support to the body and a more comfortable rest for your dog. When he rises, he’ll be less stiff and painful than if he had slept on a bed without the support. In the Company of Dogs makes a quality 4-inch thick orthopedic bed designed specifically for older dogs.
Other things to look for in your senior dog
If your senior dog hasn’t yet shown signs of reduced mobility, count your blessings, but keep an eye on him, too. If you start to notice that he’s becoming less active, has difficulty going up and down stairs, and seems stiff or uncomfortable when getting up from the floor, he may be developing arthritis.
He may also have trouble standing or sitting, and could be less interested in interacting. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss options for making him more comfortable. Prescription medications can do a lot to ease the pain of arthritis and help your dog stay active and full of life.
Thumbnail: Photography ©CatLane | Getty Images.
An award-winning writer and editor, Audrey Pavia is a former managing editor at Dog Fancy magazine and former senior editor of The AKC Gazette. She is the author of The Labrador Retriever Handbook (Barrons) and has written extensively on horses, as well as other pets. She shares her home in Norco, California, with two rescue dogs, Candy and Mookie.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!