When you have had your dog from a puppy and watched them grow up, it can be hard to
think of them as becoming elderly. When we see our dogs every single day, we often don’t
notice the signs that indicate our canine companions are no longer in their prime and their
age is beginning to catch up with them.
The good news is that in most cases we are able to have our dogs with us for much longer
than our parents and grandparents could ever have dreamed of. As veterinary care, diagnoses
and treatment have advanced, dogs are living far longer – in fact over 45% of the UK’s 13 million dogs are officially classed as veterans.
Part of the job of being a dog guardian is to support our dogs through every stage of their
lives. We know that with puppies and adolescents – which is when most people put the most
effort into their dogs – but sometimes we forget that they need our care just as much, if not
more, as they advance in years.
Very often owners put changes in their dog’s behaviour, personality and activity levels down
to ‘old age’ without realising that there are some very simple things that can be done to
improve their quality of life and keep your relationship strong and enduring well into old age.
When it comes to thinking about your dog’s age, the first thing you need to do is throw out
the calculations that we have always been told will tell us how old our dogs are in human
years – usually you will hear that you just multiply by seven. In reality, every breed or type of
dog is different, every size of dog is different, and how age affects each individual is different –
as it is in humans… we all know 70-year-olds who are virtually housebound while others
climb mountains before breakfast!
Take into account your dog’s size. Smaller dogs mature faster but age slower than larger
dogs. Large dogs are juvenile for longer but age faster. A rough rule of thumb is that your dog
would be considered as being ‘old’ in the last quarter of their life.
A giant breed can be classed as a ‘senior’ at five years old and very elderly indeed at eight
while a smaller breed is still very much in their prime at that age and can often live past 15
years. The Kennel Club used to list the Miniature Dachshund as being the longest-lived pure
breed – and Britain’s oldest dogs (that we know about!) were two Yorkshire Terriers called
Tom and Candy were both reported as being 26 years old back in 2020.
Age however is just a number and what matters is how your own individual dog is ageing.
There are things you can do to slow this down, to negate some of the effects, and to support
your dog and make necessary changes to ensure that he continues to live his life to the full
whatever his age.
As your dog gets older their exercise needs change. Long rambling walks are tiring on ageing
joints and muscles. Your dog will still push themselves to keep up – as they will enjoy being
out and about with you – so you might not notice but they can then be achy and sore the next
day, and over time this can have longer-term implications and reduce their mobility faster.
This doesn’t mean you should necessarily cut back on exercise though as this is quality time with you that your dog needs – but instead, three short, gentler walks during the day will be
far better than one long one over difficult or challenging terrain.
Also be aware that no matter how good your dog’s recall, as they age, their eyesight might
well fade and also their hearing (or in some cases, their directional hearing). This means that
they might not know where you are if they wander away from you – and even if they can hear
you, they might not be able to pinpoint where you are when you call. In these cases, keeping
them on a longline will keep them safe.
Cut back on the games that you play that involve sharp turns, sudden stops or quick
accelerations (such as chasing balls or frisbees). Instead include training exercises, brain
games, sniffing games and scent work.
Grooming is the perfect time to interact with your older dog and have some quality time
together. If your dog enjoys being groomed, make this a more regular occurrence – and it is
also the perfect time to check for lumps and bumps
Many older dogs get dehydrated because getting up from lying down can be harder or even
painful and so they don’t visit their water bowls as often even when they are thirsty. Make
sure you have a water bowl in every room your dog spends time in – and that it is close to
their bed or where they lie down.
Make sure you are feeding a good quality food appropriate for their age. Experiment with the
height of the feeding bowl – as standing still for a long period can be tiring for your dog and
many older dogs prefer to eat lying down. If this is the case for your dog, split their food into
more meals throughout the day rather than one or two big ones (as eating lying down can lead to digestive issues). If your dog is still standing to eat, make sure they are on a non-slip floor to lessen the strain on joints and muscles.
Often while the other senses may be fading, the power of the nose is usually still surprisingly
strong! Having smelly treats – especially if you are doing scent work or problem-solving
games – can be really a pleasure for your older dog.
Make sure all your slippery floors have rugs on them. Not slipping takes muscle power that
your oldie might struggle with or just find tiring so make life as easy as possible.
Access to their preferred places
If your dog has always enjoyed lying beside you on the sofa or sleeping on your bed, provide
step access for them. They will still want to be beside you but jumping up and down can be
difficult or painful.
Older dogs can’t walk so far or accompany you on those long walks and are generally happy
just to be beside you. This doesn’t mean you can ignore them – as many people do – or think they don’t need as much input from you. If anything, they need your company more, as you
are the most important thing in their life. Take time to just sit with your oldie, stroke them,
groom them, play gentle games and make sure they know that they are loved.
Do remember however that if your dog’s senses are fading, it can be easy to frighten them by
touching them or just ‘appearing’ if they haven’t heard or seen your approach. Make sure
everyone in the family is aware of this.
Puppies are great fun, but they are time-consuming, demanding and can be hard work. They
take up your energy and your commitment – and often leave you exhausted with their
seemingly limitless energy. An older dog however is one of life’s simple pleasures. They reflect
all the love, care and attention you have lavished on them over the years back at you – and as
a result, you are comfortable together and know each other inside out. This is true
companionship and it is a real privilege to have earned the love of an old dog.