This month is National Senior Pet Month and being a senior dog owner myself I wanted to share and highlight 8 simple ways to benefit your dog's health and happiness.
1. Sleep is important, and so is providing the right bed.
As you may have already seen or heard, I talk about beds a lot! But only because I have seen the huuuge difference that finding the right bed has made for my dog, Ralph. I was shocked when I felt how lumpy and thin his bed had become, and it was a major guilt moment as I glanced over to my bed and realised how important sleep comfort is to me. I also had a realisation of how much I must have spent on beds over the years when I could have spent that little bit extra to have a bed that lasts, and benefited Ralph's health!
To support your dogs changing body the most important points to cover when buying a bed are:
Thick non-seperating filling that is firm to touch to allow joint support
Waterproof lining to reduce dampness
Soft, and breathable outer cover for cleanliness, temperature control and comfort.
Shape, this might sound like a weird one but we all have a signature sleep position, and the same goes for our dogs, so some may like flat beds, some may like bolster beds, and some may like the best of both.
Shop for a bed larger than your the size of your dog, it's the difference between a night on a camp bed and a night in a 5 star hotel. Luxury!
For Ralph, I bought a memory foam bed from Orvis (I went all out) but there are many more options available now, at different price ranges, and shapes. For more information on finding the right bed click here for our blog on beds.
2. The scary word we are all still trying to get right... Nutrition.
As dogs develop throughout their life, their needs differ and this means their dietary requirements differ too! Senior dogs benefit from a lower fat content diet, with a decent amount of protein, and higher amounts of Glucosamine, Chondrotin, Hyaluronic acid and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) for joint structure, elasticity and repair. Let's just stick with that for now, because that was a lot to take in.
The best you can do for your dog is take an interest in what goes into their daily meals, and you can do this by:
Learn how to read food labels (there are helpful guides on the internet for this and it may even inspire your to check out your own cupboards.
Take note on what your dog's body is showing - look at body score guides online, is your dogs weight ideal? Has their coat lost that shine? Do their teeth look healthy? Is their skin clear and smooth? The more you take in about your dog the more you can understand their needs from each meal.
Look into supplements and extra foods you can use to spice up each meal and benefit your dog - their diet doesn't have to be static.
Gain an understanding of what the products are doing underneath the branding... Yes, i'm looking at you Dentastiks!
Go as natural as you are able.
Nutrition is always overwhelming and each dog has different needs and boundaries so if you feel a little lost join a group online, ask a professional, or ask someone you know.
3. Strip back, suss out, and supplement. Simple.
Yet another mind boggling subject. There is such a wide variety all offering the same outcome whilst all offering different ingredients. Just confusing. To break it down slightly here are some little tips I have picked up along the way in regards to supplementing Ralph's diet.
A powdered/granule supplement form is thought to be digested much easier by dogs. As noted previously the main building blocks for joint health are Glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, MSM.
Green lipped mussel is normally the go to supplement for joint care.
Apple cider vinegar, golden paste and bone broth are the rulers of general health boosts.
A probiotic digestive health supplement takes care of liver and kidney condition, improving the immune system. A must have for dog's on long term medication.
Fish oils are dreamy for coat and skin condition.
You can get natural alternative to most questionable dog products such as seaweed Or 'Whimzee's' for preventing plaque build up, pumpkin seeds for natural deworming, and 'Billy no mates' to rid and defend their body from parasites such as fleas and ticks. This means less chemicals entering your dog's body and disturbing their liver function, fabulous!
Remember supplements are given to boost what they are lacking in or struggling with, make sure to read dosage amounts, and simple is best!
4. Exercise the mind.
As your dog gets older, walks may get shorter and naps become longer so it's important that they still receive mental stimulation. Building on mental stimulation can prevent boredom, increases cognitive ability and brain function, and encourages natural behaviours.
Here are some ideas:
Hide and seek, hide rewards and increase complexity.
Snuffle matts or mazes to scatter treats or meals, encourages natural behaviour.
Slow feeders or gobble stoppers, extends feeding time and decreases risk of bloat/choking.
Hide rewards in towels/blankets and roll up.
Use egg carton and place different bits of dog safe food to encourage smelling and selecting.
Work on training or learning new skills
The list is endless and you can get creative with anything you find in your house. Ralph loves working on training and hide and seek (he's a little too good at this now), Afterwards he is so excited and then he just zonks out, proof that cognitive thinking releases endorphins and gives dog's satisfaction.
5. A walk is more than just... walking.
For most senior dogs their usual walk can soon into more of a task rather than enjoyable experience. To prevent this from happening it is important to monitor their behaviour throughout the walk, let them tell you when they're tired and keep a record of the time - this allows you to better time manage future walks so that they don't spend their walk back home uncomfortable and strained. For senior dogs short and frequent walks work best for their joints and activity levels, preventing strain, stiffness and pain, as well as creating a more mentally stimulated day.
What I have found with all dogs is that a walk is less about the time but what it consists of. Each walk should be based on exploring their environment and taking in the smells - this sounds weird but when you think that a dog has 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to our six million, you understand why that one little patch of grass has soooo much to offer! I have also found walks should be a time for training and bonding with your dog, this offers a much more stimulated walk, especially for those that are highly strung. Try tie in some exercises too like sit to stands or walking on different surfaces and levels - this will build on their proprioception and muscle strength.
Basically, let them sniff and keep training, seniors are sassy!
6. Being senior is just another way of living, but being in pain isn't!
This is short and not so sweet. Too often dogs are placed in the 'they don't feel pain like we do' box, this is false. They feel pain like we do, they just don't show it in a way we do, this is survival instinct. As owners it is our duty to read up and understand basic canine behaviour for many reasons, and pain is one of them. The signs can be so hard to spot but with the more we understand the more we can help our dogs.
Decreased play and activity.
Not going up or down stairs.
Reluctance to move.
Difficulty standing after lying down.
Decreased appetite (mouth pain).
Over-grooming or licking a selected area of the body.
Excessive, laboured panting or drooling.
Lowered head when walking.
If you feel like your dog may be suffering discuss this with your vet and create an appropriate pain management plan. It is important to get the right dosage and develop the right pattern to receive medication for your dog, especially if the plan is long term. There are holistic approaches to pain relief, with advice given from holistic vets.
7. Therapy is not just for people
Therapy comes in different forms, all offering differing benefits, all complementing one another and all working towards the same goal; inprove mobility, increase strength, ease pain and allow your dog to be a dog. Here are just a select forms of therapy and their benefits:
Weight relieving form of exercise due to buoyancy.
Increases muscle strength through the resistance of water.
Encourages circulation through heated water.
Improves gait and weight bearing using an underwater treadmill.
Good for: joint pain, post surgery, injuries, weight management, spinal conditions, muscle atrophy, muscle damage, fitness maintenance, and wellbeing.
Deep massage and electrotherapy to reduce pain, muscle spasms and swelling.
Improves proprioception and circulation with massage and stretches.
Stretches, balance work and exercises improves muscle condition and gait pattern.
Good for: muscle pain/damage, range of motion, circulation, post surgery, spinal conditions, muscle atrophy, wellbeing and posture.
Deep-penetrating light promotes a chain of chemical reactions known as Photobio-stimulation.
Anti-inflammatory and pain relief.
Accelerated and smoothing tissue repair.
Good for: wounds, lymphatic support, infection control, muscle damage, fractures, soft tissue injuries, joint pain and post surgery.
Stimulates the central nervous system releasing chemicals using needles and acupuncture points.
Promotes healing and pain relief
Improves mobility and function.
Good for: joint conditions, wellbeing, pain relief, which may alleviate pain and improve joint range of motion.
Ralph has been having hydrotherapy and physiotherapy sessions and from how he was a year ago I can safely say they have transformed his life. Not only have they improved his mobility, but they have also provided him with mental stimulation - he lights up when he goes through the doors!
8. Home improvements are most likely needed.
Placing rugs to avoid slippery flooring is hugely beneficial for your dog as most find it really difficult to walk on, especially senior dogs. Placing the rugs will obviously have to look the part in your room but also serve a purpose by mapping out the most common pathway your dog travels through - especially where they stand to eat. Another useful tip is to keep your dogs nails trim, this will also help maintain joint mobility at its optimum level.
Stairs or ramps are the must have tool for those dogs that love getting cuddled on the sofa, and going for car rides. It not only takes away the risk of impact injury or strain for your dog, but it helps your back too!
Raised feeding bowls allow your dog to enjoy their meals without the strain and pressure on their front limbs, shoulders and spine. Pair this with a slow feeder and you have a dreamily enriched, comfortable meal time.
I hope you found this guide useful, but if you are looking for more information on any of these points please feel free to get in contact.
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Fran & Ralph, x