I know it’s crucial to help dogs grow old gracefully as I have three elderly dogs: Simone and Willow are sisters, age15 and Draco is 13 years old. They have been relatively healthy
all of their lives. I attribute this to good genetics, a healthy lifestyle and a dose of good luck. However, despite their good health, I have seen their mobility decrease greatly during the past year. They can no longer jump or run like they use too and they sleep a lot more.
It has been hard seeing them age especially when they’ve led such active lifestyles and have been my wonderful companions and partners. Simone and Draco are retired police narcotic and tracking dogs. And, even though I call Willow my “professional couch potato”, she use to be active in obedience competition and tracking for fun.
The first time it dawned on me that they were aging was when Simone was approximately 11 years of age. She attempted to clear low jumps for a demonstration that she had cleared with no problems several years prior. She use to be one of the most athletic dogs on a performance team clearing high jumps with ease. I almost teared up at that moment watching her attempting to clear the bars that had been so easy for her in the past. And, it wasn’t due to a lack of will. It was because my girl had seemingly aged right before my eyes. Even though she could no longer clear the low bars, I welled up with pride seeing her willingness to perform. But for her safety, jumps would no longer be in her performance routine.
Willow has degenerative spine disease. A few years ago, I was contemplating putting her down because of the pain she was experiencing. Her hips would fall out from under her even just from walking within the house. I added glucosamine to her diet and fortunately she made a remarkable recovery and hasn’t been in pain since.
During the past year, Draco’s facial appearance has changed greatly showing her age and she has tightness in her hips. She is on medication to treat her arthritis which provides her with a good quality of life in her old age.
My expectations of my dogs have had to change to go along with their aging process. For example, even though they know to sit quickly on a sit command, I no longer ask them to sit as sitting can be painful. They do just fine standing when in the past I would have asked them to sit before going through exterior doorways or stopping at street corners, etc. I lift them into and out of the truck instead of expecting them to jump up or down on their own. And, after Draco has taken a nap with me, I support her back hips as she steps off my low height bed.
In summary, change your expectations of what our dog can and can’t do as they grow older and throughout their life, provide them with:
- A high quality dog food that does not contain by products,
- Plenty of exercise which can be done by frequent walks, dog treadmills, games of fetch or frisbee, swimming, or biking with your dog using a bike jogger attachment to your bike,
- Mental stimulation via obedience training and other dog sports such as agility, rally, K9 Scent Detection Games, freestyle, tracking, Schutzhund, etc.,
- Socialization with other friendly dogs and people via doggie day care or dog walking and hiking groups,
- Regularly scheduled veterinarian health check ups for disease prevention,
- Regular dental cleaning using a toothpaste made for dogs and have regular teeth cleanings done by your veterinarian,
- Glucosamine supplementation in consultation with your veterinarian,
- Dog massages with a Certified Pet Massage Provider,
- Comfortable resting places such as orthopedic dog beds or nylon hammock style placeboards and
- The benefit of the doubt if they suddenly refuse to do something they can’t physically do such as sitting, jumping, or walking up or down stairs.