Our Pug, Poppy, aged so slowly and gracefully that we gradually incorporated changes to our home to accommodate her needs without a lot of conscious thought. For instance, when going up and down our steep wooden stairs in our old farmhouse became difficult for her, we began to scoop her up and carry her without a second thought.
We’d been doing this for two years or more when my husband asked one day, “What happens when Poppy can’t do stairs anymore?”
“We’ll continue to carry her like we have been,” I replied.
He looked surprised. “I thought we just did that because she liked it.”
Lifting her small, sweet self was not much of an effort. The other actions we took to keep her comfortable in her final years were simple, too, but helped keep her happy until it was time to say the long goodbye. Below are some ideas that you might incorporate to keep your senior dog content in her later years.
Select the Best Dog Bed
A dog’s bedding needs change with age, so evaluate whether your pet’s bed is still meeting his needs.
Examine the style of bedding.
Geriatric dogs sleep a lot! If the bed has high sides, your dog may have trouble entering or exiting. Think about replacing high-sided dog beds with those that have low edges, like the Frisco orthopedic sofa dog bed, or are completely flat.
Rethink the comfort of the bedding.
There are many varieties of memory foam beds on the market for dogs now. Thick, soft, cushions that gently support their bodies offer real comfort.
Some dogs seek out the warmest spots to rest. Beds with heated pads under their covers can be purchased to give your dog his own super cozy spot to sleep. Other dogs seem to prefer chilly surfaces. Gel beds are available that offer both a cushion and a cool place to lie.
Keep things clean.
If your dog has occasional problems with incontinence when sleeping, consider putting a washable “pee pad” under the bed’s cover. The cover will help hold it in position, and if an accident occurs the cover and pad can easily be removed and washed.
Seek Out Trouble Spots in Your Home
Take a walk around your home and contemplate what each area would be like to navigate for an older dog. Pay special attention to any steps or flights of stairs you might have. For many dogs, trouble managing stairs is one of the first signs of aging. It could be due to arthritic changes in their spine or joints, lack of muscle tone, or it could be because their vision is declining.
“Keep a light on where there are stairs, both inside and out,” says Dr. Bjorn Lee of PenBay Veterinary Associates in Rockport, Maine. “Dogs navigating steps in the dark may be more prone to slips and falls. This can make them hesitant to use the stairs at all. Good illumination can really help.”
Adjust to Changes in Your Dog’s Well-Being
If your dog is experiencing vision problems, he may bump into things that he previously was able to avoid. Soft, foam, pipe insulation can be purchased inexpensively at the hardware store, and used to pad obstacles that your pet might run into. Examples of this are things like raised brick hearths, sharp table corners or any dog-eye-level object that might be dangerous. Sight-impaired pets appreciate it if you leave the furnishings where they have always been, so they can move about by habit and not fear crashing into any re-arranged items.
“Some older dogs may experience increased anxiety over things that previously didn’t bother them,” Lee says. “Sometimes keeping nightlights around, especially if you are not at home, helps them feel more confident. The best way to respond to anxiety is to give your dog gentle, brief re-assurance. If you go overboard, holding the dog and making a big deal about the anxiety, you can actually reinforce the behavior.”
Some people leave soft music playing for their pet when they are not at home, and report that it helps to keep their pet calm when alone.
Other ideas to consider incorporating are:
- Placing dog steps or ramps against furniture your pet is allowed on, to ensure easy access.
- If your dog sleeps on your bed, purchase soft, mesh guards designed for young children to help prevent falls. Another option is to simply place your bed on the floor.
- Use rubber-backed mats on top of smooth floors to give your pet traction if slipping is a problem.
- Trim your dog’s nails regularly and check to make sure there is not a lot of hair growing between the paw pads. This helps your dog have a better grip on the floor when he walks.
- Regular, gentle exercise will help keep your pet’s mind stimulated and body more limber. Tailor the time and type of activity to your dog.
Be Aware of the Ambient Temperature
Older pets sometimes have difficulty regulating their body temperature as easily as they did when they were younger. Avoid exposing your dog to extremely hot or cold temperatures for long periods. Hydration is also critical.
“It is important to make sure older dogs have access to clean, cool water at all times,” Lee says.
Ask Your Vet For Recommendations
You might consider talking to your veterinarian to ask if there are suggestions he or she has or any dietary supplements that might help keep your dog comfortable as he ages. With improvements in diet and excellent veterinary care, many dogs are living to advanced ages, and your dog’s veterinarian may have some great ideas for you and your pet.
A friend once told me, “As people age they become just like themselves, only more so.” I find the same to be true of dogs. It is as if aging brings out the true essence of their inner being. Sharing time with senior dogs is a gift to be treasured. Simple changes in your home will help keep your companion safe and secure so you can enjoy each other’s company to the fullest.
Daryl Conner is an award winning photojournalist and Master Pet Stylist who has loved making dogs and cats more beautiful for 30 years. You can find her plying her trade at FairWinds Grooming Studio. She shares her meadow hugged Maine farmhouse with her very patient husband and a lot of animals.