My dog is getting old.
It’s a slow creeping realisation as I catch myself watching him more, taking him in and burning his likeness into my brain.
I see it in greying on his face… in the occasional limp that infiltrates into his gait… in his slowness to rise in the morning…
I could continue to wax lyrical about this but too many people know I call this dog an asshole at least once a day to think I can be poetic about him. Truth is, I’ve always joked that Bertie would survive a nuclear apocalypse and is going to live to 30, just to spite me. I’ve always had a laugh about it, but now the laugh has started to sound like the one you make when inside you’re having an existential crisis.
Yes, that one. Hahahah(internal screaming)ahahaha
It’s something you don’t really want to acknowledge, but the little things, like stiff limbs and greying fur, take up minute pieces of your attention and snowball into something you cannot ignore.
My dog is getting old.
What do I do?
My first port of call is always quality of life. Is my dog living their best life? I know some people might want to let their older dogs go out to pasture and live a sedentary life and some dogs are content with this. However, I know Bertie is not happy to be put out to pasture. Yes, he sleeps a lot, as older dogs will, but he’s still running about like a lunatic and digging up my garden hunting for mice. Bertie is loving life, is fit and mentally 'with it'. He’s 13 and I absolutely attribute that to maintaining an active lifestyle for him.
How many times have I heard the phrase 'use it or loose it' referenced for keeping the human mind sharp and your body trim? The same can be said for dogs. I wonder if by allowing an older dog to just be left to sleep and mooch about the house, we do more harm than good. Leaving a dog to while the way the hours and not engage them with life and enrichment, gives them nothing to look forward to, to invigorate them, to want to keep going.
I'm not saying to run your older dog ragged, you do need to slow them down gradually as their body allows. Bertie was hiking up mountains a few years ago, I won't take him hiking now even though I know he would absolutely be up for it, as he’s getting arthritic. I have found other ways to exercise and stimulate his mind. I’ve made minor changes to my home to accommodate his aging body.
Here’s an internet friendly list of things to help your geriatric dog squeeze the best out of their twilight years:
Get them sniffing! Be it a sport like Mantrailing or Scentwork or pausing on a walk for a sniff. The dog sees the world as a cornucopia of smell so engaging that important sense is highly rewarding for them. It gets that grey matter working hard. Either take up a Scentwork class, or simply sprinkle their dinner into the grass and have them forage for it. There are so many games and activities you can do to engage that snooter and as a result, have a mentally sharp older dog.
Vary the walks, go somewhere different and let your dog experience the new sights and smells and things going on. They don't have to be long walks, but if you think your dog's fitness has slipped a bit then build them up very slowly and watch for joint issues. But even pulling up to a scenic place and chilling in the boot with a coffee and your older dog chilling next to you is a great thing. Older dogs feel the cold more, so giving them a jumper or coat to wear on walks will keep them insulated and their joints warm.
Go to places where your dog can do lots of swimming. Swimming is a great low impact exercise to keep your dog fit and their joints healthy. Bertie is a bit of a weirdo for a terrier in that he loves to swim. I throw a stick for him and he gets the joy of chasing something without the harsh impact of it getting thrown on a grass surface.
Play with your dog. Just because they are older now doesn't mean they don't love a good old rough house with you. I play some tuggy with Bertie, he loves the combative nature for it and if I let go of the tug, he’s shoving it in my hand again to keep playing. This I do in moderation as it can get rough.
Training! An old dog CAN learn new tricks. Whether it’s brushing up on the basics or learning a new trick. I got into a bit of a bad habit with Bertie and stopped doing so much with him once he retired from agility. But I started back just going over his trick repertoire again and he is LOVING doing stuff again. Another bit of training you can do is work through a doggy yoga protocol. This is going to help keep your dog flexible and limber and help to prevent injuries.
Support them at home – making a few changes to your home can have a massive impact in your older dog. Putting nonslip surfaces down on the floors, having their food and water bowls raised up, get some doggy stairs to give them the autonomy to get on or off the sofa or your bed without you carrying them. A lot of older dogs don’t like being picked up as age comes with aches and pains. Hopping in and out the car can cause injury too and you might notice they are hesitant to get in the car. Dog ramps are perfect for this.
Supplements and diet – Your older dog would benefit from things like joint supplements to help with age related issues. Their metabolism changes as they grow. In his older age, Bertie has developed a chicken allergy and is prone to tummy upsets, so a probiotic is also added to his food. He’s on easier to digest proteins like salmon, turkey and white fish. I’ve also had to adjust his feeding schedule. Bertie spent years on one meal a day, now as he has aged, he is having 2 – 3 smaller meals a day.
Take it day by day.
They aren’t at the end yet, and there’s lots we can do to slow that journey down.
So, take a detour with them and have fun.