Senior Dog Care: Tips for Keeping Your Aging Companion Healthy and Happy

Posted by Jackie Ly on

owner hugging her big white dog sitting on the sofa


Table of Contents


Think about the unconditional love your dog has shown you over the years you’ve spent together. The joy, loyalty, and laughs they brought to your life. Now that they're in their senior years, you want to take care of them twice as much as you have already done. 

Changes in their body and their moods will happen, but your loyalty stays and you love them just as much. Loving them and showing you love them will take more effort than before, but with the right information and research, you’ll do fine!

Here we listed helpful tips on keeping your senior dog healthy and happy, and how these things will make their golden years incredible.

When is a dog considered a senior dog?

The age at which a dog technically becomes a senior is determined by their size. The following characteristics can help you identify when your pet has entered their golden years:

  • Between the ages of 10 and 12 for smaller dog breeds.
  • Between the ages of 8 and 9 for medium breeds.
  • Between the ages of 6 and 7 for large breeds. 

Aside from their age, there are other signs of ageing in dogs such as changes in coat, weight fluctuations, altered gait, and more. Ageing also includes some changes in your dog’s behaviour. We covered these things in detail in this article.

Now that you know when your dog is old enough to be considered a senior dog, here are helpful tips to give them a healthier and happier life in their golden years.

Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy

Senior dogs experience age-related conditions and challenges as they get older, and new needs will emerge over time. Their health and mood will be affected too – they can be less enthusiastic and joyful because of joint pains, or diminished vision and hearing.

Senior dogs need practical care. If you want them to stay happy, you also need to keep them healthy.

Keep them physically and mentally active

Slowing down is a natural process that occurs as your dog ages. Their energy level will decrease and you may need to motivate them to exercise. If you and your pet used to go for runs, a leisurely stroll may suit them better now.

Mix it up to keep things mentally interesting. Try a new toy, alternate between a swim and the dog park, or change your route around the neighbourhood.

To keep your senior dog's mind sharp, play dog-friendly brain games with them. For example, you can hide treats throughout the house and encourage your dog to find them.

These types of games provide excellent brain stimulation. Some senior dogs suffer from cognitive dysfunction and may require vitamin or nutritional supplements.

Puzzle toys and mats are great ways to challenge their minds. Despite their advanced age, you can encourage your dog to work within their new limits!

Monitor food and nutrition

While you may think it's okay to skimp on your dogs' diets now that they're older, remember that they still need balanced nourishment with high-quality ingredients.

Dogs can gain weight just like humans, and because obesity reduces a dog's lifetime and raises their chances of getting diseases and other problems, keep an eye out for excess weight, which can strain the heart and joints.

Read labels for high-quality proteins, ingredients you can pronounce, and little to no fillers. Consult with your veterinarian or canine nutritionist to determine what is best for your dog. Still, keep in mind that the meal your pet likes is most likely the best food for them.

Help your senior dog with grooming

As their mobility gets worse, your senior dog may be unable to reach all areas of their bodies, and they may struggle to keep themselves properly groomed. 

Set time on a regular basis to brush them carefully, removing any tangles and stray fur before it becomes matted. Depending on your dog's coat and whether it's shedding season, you may need to do this once a week or every few days. Your dog might also need baths more frequently than they did before.

These grooming sessions are an excellent time to give your dog a 'once over' to check for any lumps or bumps.

Watch for signs of pain and changes

You may be used to letting your dog out in the backyard on their own, but as they become older, you may need to keep a watch on them while they're outside. Consider how vision or hearing loss might affect your dog's ability to stay safe.

Aside from any physical changes, you should keep an eye out for behavioural changes, as they are frequently the first signs of illnesses. Any changes in behaviour that last more than a week or so might require a check-up.

Yearly or bi-yearly vet check-ups

One of the best ways to ensure that your dog has a good senior life is to keep him fit and strong in his early years. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that you take older pets to the vet every six months for exams. 

Annual or bi-annual consultations keep your dog in his best shape and prevent disease through immunisation and early detection. During these semi-annual checks, your vet conducts a full wellness exam, during which they examine for any worrying lumps, listen to the dog's heart function, and evaluate hearing and eyesight.

Spaying or neutering can reduce the risk of some malignancies, prostate infections, and pyometra, which is a dangerous uterine infection. 

Keeping Your Senior Dog Happy

Good health is very important in giving your dog a happy life. But aside from practical care, they also need tender love and care. They need bonding time. They need touch. They need to feel that they’re loved.

Here are simple but really valuable things to do to show your dog that you care and that you want them happy all the time, especially during their golden years.

Read their body language

Dogs rely on body language and facial expressions to communicate how they feel, that's why it's important to understand how your dog communicates. This is especially true for senior dogs, who might start to face new challenges and lack the ability to communicate their needs. 

When you understand how your dog feels, you can step in and help them, or at the very least empathise and show them affection and attention.

Talk to your dog

Research published in the journal Science found that dogs can understand some human speech. While speaking with the dogs, the researchers used an MRI scanner to monitor their brains. The dogs processed language the same way people do, with the right side of their brain dealing with emotion and the left side dealing with meaning. 

The dogs were actually thrilled when both the right and left sides agreed that they were hearing praise, indicating that the tone of voice matched the words spoken. So, compliment your senior dog and tell them how much you care about them in a pleasant, energetic tone, and see how happy they become!

Make eye contact

According to research, making eye contact with your dog stimulates the production of oxytocin, sometimes known as the love hormone, resulting in a bond similar to that of a mother and a baby. 

A study found that the longer the gaze, the more hormone was released. Researchers believe that people and dogs have a continuous connection loop. Eye contact increases the release of oxytocin in humans, prompting them to interact with their dog, which in turn causes an oxytocin spike in the dog. So, one of the simplest ways to show that you love them is maintaining soft eye contact and interacting with them!

Play and cuddle

Engaging and having fun with your dog is an excellent way to show them that you adore them. Though it may appear that playing is reserved for younger dogs, your dog will never be too old to play! Playing with them will help alleviate boredom and gloom while strengthening your bond. 

You could also try something that needs less running around, such as a treat-finding game using old containers or boxes. The goal is to keep playing in whatever way works for your senior dog.

Stay consistent with their routine

Older dogs often live better with a consistent daily routine!

Dogs' senses, like humans', deteriorate as they get older. If your senior dog is losing their hearing or vision, they may become easily disturbed by sudden shifts and extended periods of separation.

Instead of becoming frustrated if your senior dog develops separation anxiety or appears more confused than usual, assist them!. Use this opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them. Establishing a routine for your dog can provide them a sense of security and familiarity as they learn to adapt to their changing body.

Keep them socialised

Dogs appreciate spending time with their humans, and many prefer playing with other dogs. If your dog has always enjoyed company,  consider putting play dates on your calendar. Just remember to keep your eyes on your dog's tolerance for younger, more energetic canines who may be invading their personal space.

Don't count out a more active pup, either, because some senior dogs can become more active when around a more lively pup! However, always respect your dog's social tendencies and learn what they do or do not enjoy in this new stage of life.

Go for walks

Senior dogs, like all dogs, enjoy the stimulation and exercise from walks. Another great approach to show your dog how much you love them is to take them outside to get some fresh air and explore. Try new routes to keep your ageing dog active. Adventures provide an excellent opportunity for the two of you to bond. 

The fun and exercise may continue, and your dog will feel loved and cared for knowing they are not left behind due to limitations in mobility.

Take them out on trips

Has your dog always enjoyed vehicle rides? Don't stop taking your dog in the car just because they're older. If your dog is still comfortable in your vehicle, keep fun trips going! 

Your dog may have been your trusty co-pilot for years, and just because they're getting older doesn't mean they have to miss out on the adventures! In fact, taking them on trips can be a wonderful way to enrich their golden years.

Consider tailoring your trips to suit their needs as they age. Maybe opt for shorter rides to favourite spots like the park or a quiet scenic overlook. Keep an eye on their comfort during the journey, ensuring they have a cosy spot to rest and are not experiencing any discomfort.

Show them lots of TLC: Tender, Love, and Care

All dogs enjoy attention, but senior dogs require a little more. In their later years, they'll prefer fewer laps around the block and more moments with you on the couch. This is a really easy thing to do because loving your dog comes so naturally! 

Some of the many examples of showing TLC to your senior dog are:

  • Car rides
  • Short walks
  • Snuggling
  • Grooming
  • Petting
  • Praises/compliments
  • Positive reinforcement

You know what boosts your dog’s mood, so you can do more of that especially now that they’re in a new life stage. They will want to feel secure and happy during these challenging times, and as they’re parents, you’ll be more than happy to do that.  

Closing Thoughts

Remember that every moment shared with your senior dog is precious. By applying these tips into their daily routine, you can make sure their golden years are filled with optimism and joy. Whether it's frequent veterinary check-ups, tailored nutrition, stimulating activities, or simply showing them love and attention, your efforts can make a huge impact in their life. 

Take the opportunity to cherish each day together, celebrating your unique connection, and may the journey ahead be filled with continuous companionship, laughter, and treasured memories.

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