Senior Dog Care: Tips to Keep Older Dogs Happy and Healthy

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person caring for senior dog by taking him out on a walk

As happens with humans, older dogs often slow down both physically and mentally. So senior dog care requires different considerations compared with the days when the dog was young and spry. Being aware of a senior dog’s limitations is an important first step in ensuring that the dog's golden years are indeed golden. Here are some general tips to care for a senior dog.

Vet visits for senior dogs

One of the most important things to do for senior dogs is to schedule regular veterinary visits. In general, we recommend that senior pets have a checkup every six months or so. Dogs age much more rapidly than humans do. So a 12-year-old dog, for example, who gets a vet visit annually is comparable to a 75-year-old person who only sees their physician about every three years. The adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure can hold true in the case of older dogs (just as it holds true for most of us).

Healthy weight and exercise for older dogs

Maintaining a good body weight and providing regular age-appropriate exercise for your older dog are also important. As humans, we all know the health consequences of being overweight, and these consequences are not all that different for our canine family members. Joint stress, osteoarthritis, difficulty breathing, and skin irritations are just some of the problems that coincide with obesity in dogs. So provide an appropriate amount of healthy food, and go easy with the dog treats. If you’re unsure about what to feed your senior dog, check with your veterinarian.

Regarding a senior dog’s fitness regimen, regular exercise is beneficial to both the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. To prevent worsening of mobility and pain, be sure to talk with your vet about the activity level that is best for your dog.

Glucosamine for senior dogs

Several supplements claim to help with joint problems in older dogs. One of these supplements is very familiar to most people: glucosamine, with or without chondroitin. While some brands tend to be more effective than others, the data to back up the health benefit claims is somewhat lacking. In fact, a December 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed only weak clinical evidence to support the use of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for osteoarthritis in dogs. 

With that said, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are considered nutritional supplements by the FDA. However, no standards have been accepted for potency, purity, safety, or efficacy by regulatory bodies, and independent analysis has shown a wide variation in products.

These products do appear to be very well tolerated in dogs, cats, and horses. But because they are often derived from natural sources, hypersensitivity reactions can occur. Adverse effects could potentially include some minor gastrointestinal issues, such as flatulence or stool softening. Before giving your dog one of these supplements, ask your vet what might be best for your particular pet.

Other supplements and treatments for older dogs

There are other supplements, such as turmeric and green-lipped mussel extract, marketed as joint “nutraceuticals” for dogs. Fish oil is known to have anti-inflammatory properties that might help. Other treatments, such as acupuncture and cold or low-energy laser therapy, can also benefit older dogs with mobility issues from arthritic conditions. Again, discuss this with your vet to determine what's best for your dog's individual case.

You know your pet better than anyone, so if trying these potential solutions yields positive results, your pet will thank you. And if they don’t assist in the way you’d hoped, simply be extra aware about keeping your dog comfortable and content. That might mean shelving the long walks and instead opting for short jaunts and more naps — just as we humans do as we age.