Caring for Older Dogs

Older dogs can enjoy a comfortable life into their advanced years. Here's how to help.


Pad Your Dog's Comfort Zone
Just like humans, older dogs aren't as sure-footed as they used to be and might become arthritic as they age. Adapt the indoors for their less agile senior feet.

  • Short nails improve your dog's grip on bare floors.
  • Nonskid pads under rugs will help prevent falls.
  • Steep stairs can lead to bone-breaking accidents. Block them off to canine traffic.
  • Elevated food and water bowls make it easier for your dog to eat.
  • An insulated, cushioned bed makes it more comfortable for your dog to sleep by pampering its stiff joints and hips.
  • A portable, adjustable dog ramp lets your dog climb on and off furniture with ease. The ramp also makes it easier for your dog to get in and out of a car or truck.

Editor's Tip: Getting older doesn't have to mean that your dog needs to slow down or avoid climbing stairs and going on walks. Sometimes the slowness is due to joint pain, which can be managed. Talk to your vet if you suspect canine arthritis.

Maintain a Regular Routine
Mealtimes, rests, walks, and play at the usual times comfort your dog as it ages. But adjust these routines to suit your pooch.

  • Chances are your dog doesn't need as much food as when it was younger and more energetic. Overfeeding can shorten your dog's life by making it obese and causing related health problems. Extra weight also puts more stress on arthritic joints. Talk to your vet if you need guidance on how much to feed your pooch.
  • Give your older dog regular exercise, but possibly scale it back or choose a low-impact version to suit its abilities. Keep up the daily walks, for example, but make them shorter and/or slower.
  • Try to avoid disruptions in your dog's daily schedule. A strange environment might disorient your pooch and cause stress. So consider how travel impacts your senior dog before including it in your road trip plans.

Keep Your Canine Cool
Senior dogs don't tolerate extreme temperatures very well. Here are some tips for keeping them comfy during hot weather.

  • Let your dog chill out indoors during heat waves.
  • Never leave your elderly dog outside unsupervised on hot days.
  • Provide plenty of water to keep your dog hydrated. A few ice cubes keep water colder longer.
  • When playing, coax your senior dog to take a cooldown break in a shady spot.
  • Schedule outdoor exercise and play for cooler hours of the day: before sunrise or after sunset.
  • Encourage big gulps of water and siestas after sun-drenched outings.
  • Increase the number of shady dog oases in your yard for warm-weather lounging.
  • If your dog's activity dwindles as summer heat builds, it will eat less than in colder seasons. Adjust kibble portions to suit its appetite.
  • If your dog loses weight or you notice other indications of illness, be sure to call your vet.

Editor's Tip: In cold weather, set up your dog's bed in toasty places away from drafts.

Keep Up Your Older Dog's Appearance
A well-groomed dog is a happy dog, regardless of age.

  • Maintain your dog's good health and appearance with regular nail, dental, ear, and skin grooming.
  • Brush your dog frequently. Not only will it keep its coat in better shape, the brushing will be relaxing for both of you.
  • Continue to give your dog regular baths. Just be sure to dry your dog off thoroughly so it doesn't get chilled.
  • Keep your dog free from fleas and ticks by applying a topical flea-and-tick preventative every month and maintaining a clean environment.

Get more grooming tips for your dog.

See the Vet for Regular Exams
Find a vet you trust, and then let this medical professional help preserve and even improve your dog's golden years with regular medical exams. The vet will check for vision and hearing loss, as well as heart disease, and take blood to monitor the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.

It's also important to take care of your dog's dental health. Many vets recommend that you brush your dog's teeth every day. Your vet will let you know if your dog needs to have its teeth professionally cleaned.

Editor's Tip: No one knows your dog better than you do. Educate yourself about health problems that affect senior canines. You might notice symptoms in between appointments that should be brought to your vet's attention.

Watch for Warning Signs
Keep in mind that the health problems experienced by senior dogs will vary based on the breed, size, weight, activity level, and quality of care. Watch for these signs and symptoms while remembering that they don't always mean your dog has a serious condition. Let your dog be examined by a vet to get a professional diagnosis.

  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Increased thirst or incontinence
  • Lumps, bumps, or growths
  • Unusual discharge from the nose, eyes, or other body openings
  • Bad breath
  • Changes in coat quality
  • Seizures
  • Coughing
  • Weakness, lameness, difficulty rising, or change in activity level
  • Abnormally colored gums
  • Behavior changes such as aggressiveness, extreme lethargy, or confusion
  • Cloudy eyes

Learn more about living with an older dog.

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