Caring For Your Senior Dog
Updated: Sep 8, 2018
As my pretty girl Maggie gets older, I'm realizing the time spent making sure she's okay and comfortable grows and grows. I've put in endless hours of research as new ailments and pains come up. I've also seen my paranoia and worry escalate exponentially as time goes on - I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling that way as their pet gets older.
Even through all of the research I've done, there were a few things that now, looking back, were never really mentioned online and I felt that these things could really help other worried senior dog owners.
1. Stay Calm
As hard as it is, especially when you know your dog can't do as much or might be in pain, I've felt that the more anxiety I felt over her pain, the more anxious she became as well. Therefore, my biggest & more important tip here is to try and stay as positive and calm as possible - because that rubs off on your fur baby and can interfere with her health and well-being. If you aren't able to calm down, it's okay to step away. In fact, it's probably even better. I'll go in the other room until I can come out and be ready to baby-talk my girl again, whether she likes it or not. "GOOOOD GIRL LITTLEEE GIRL..!"
2. Try Lavender Oil
Maggie isn't a huge fan of the smell when I put it close to her nose, but I have also noticed a difference since I started applying it to her collar. She seems to fall asleep a little quicker and stay relaxed for longer periods of time. This is especially important for me because she's been on prednisone for a longer period of time than I've hoped and the anxiety side effect of the drug has been weighing on the both of us.
How to apply: I typically let her smell it first (not only to let her know what I'll be applying on her collar, but also because just a little inhale can actually have the same relaxing benefits). Then, I apply a drop or two on her collar. You can do this as often as you like, but I like to especially do it at night before bed to help get her ready for a good night's rest.
3. Play Music
There have actually been MANY studies on the benefits that classical or relaxing music can have on pets - it's actually pretty amazing. I love to put on relaxing delta wave music or you can even Youtube anxiety music for pets or relaxing pet music. Even when she gets a little nervous in the car on the way to vet appointments, we play soothing music that helps her relax.
4. Keep Busy
As your pet ages, the distance on walks tends to shrink and shrink. Maggie's walks have gone down exponentially due to her neurological problems and stiffness. But, I know that her brain still needs exercise and she still needs stimulation. My biggest recommendation here is actually purchasing a treat-dispensing toy. You can get a great one on Amazon for less than $10. Place even a few pieces of kibble in there and let them do the work. Obviously this only works for pets that are food motivated, which Maggie definitely is (especially because of the prednisone).
5. Appreciate The Physical Aging Process
One of the hardest and most beautiful parts of Maggie getting older was feeling her body change over time. As I pet her now, she's getting pretty boney. She has a few benign and painless lumps. She has dark spots on her belly & her skin is getting thinner. In the beginning, it was tough to feel that and finally realize that she was getting older. But now, I can feel that and feel how amazing it is that she's even gotten THIS old (a whole 14 years) and has lived so much life. It sounds silly, but it makes me feel extra proud of my girl for having so much wisdom and experience (let me brag ok? - it can be pretty rewarding). I know it's hard to feel the physical body of your pup change over time, but think about what has transpired over all those years to lead into these senior years.
6. Invest in a ramp
Not going to lie here, I've had multiple people make fun of me for this one. Yes, my dog is spoiled. But I can't tell you how worth it this ramp was. She can do so much more and save her energy going up and down stairs. Not to mention, if you're dog has a long back with short legs (like mine does), she shouldn't be jumping up and down anyways! It's bad for her back. They aren't too expensive either and it's really saved a lot of pain for Maggie.
7. Spoil Them With Treats!!
This may be hard for pets with digestive problems, diabetes, or pancreatitis. Maggie has pancreatitis, so it's been a bit of a struggle being able to branch outside her strict diet and schedule. We've found that giving her a small handful of shredded carrots during the day and then adding some green beans to her dinner makes her SUPER happy, makes her feel a little more full (since she's always hungry on the prednisone), and lets us spoil her without her getting an upset tummy. Be cautious when introducing new foods to your pet and start off small. You can even ask your veterinarian what they recommend for your dog specifically!
8. Good Days vs. Bad Days
When they get older, the value of rest becomes even more important. I 100% agree with that statement, but I also feel like when the days are becoming more numbered, I love to take advantage of the good spurts. Maggie lives for playing with her ball and taking walks around the block. If she can't have the fun that she loves to do so much, what's the point? It's worth it to me and I know it's worth it for her too. So, my advice here is to take advantage of when your dog is having a good day and let them rest when it's a bad day. Read them. You know your pets better than anyone else and you're in control of what life you want to give them. Obviously all dogs are different and your pet may have other limiting concerns to take into account (please listen to your veterinarian here!), but just maybe be mindful of the good days and try and add in a little something special for them, no matter what it is.