The first is to make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and is not overweight. Much like humans, an overweight elderly dog will not cope as well with conditions common in older pets such as arthritis.
The second is to provide proper nutrition for the elderly dog. Older dogs do not need the same amount of calories as a younger dog. The older dog slows down a bit and, therefore, should consume fewer calories per day. Depending upon the specific issues facing your elderly dog, you may need to add some supplements to your dog’s meals. Supplements such as glucosamine can be very helpful for elderly dogs with sore joints.
Third, be aware of changes in your dog’s behavior. These may include variations in food and water intake and elimination, as well as emotional changes such as lethargy. You are the expert on your pet and know best how (s)he behaves when (s)he is feeling good. Make note of subtle events such as walking into a room and realizing Spanky doesn’t seem to hear you as well as she did; this could be the start of hearing loss. This is common for dogs, as is some diminished sight capacity. Your challenge as the dog owner is to figure out how to best accommodate your dog’s reduced sensory capabilities. Do you need to change your environment to make sure your dog is safe? For the sight impaired dog, a baby gate over a stairway would prevent an accident. For the hearing impaired dog, many simple commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “stop” have sign language equivalents which will be helpful for them to learn.
Fourth, note that old dogs can and should learn new tricks! Keeping your elderly dog engaged mentally stimulates them and provides another outlet for their spirit as their physical abilities decline. As a dog owner, you are most familiar with your dog’s strengths. You are able to create games and tricks which help them use their strengths and challenge them in areas where they are not as strong. For ideas, the internet is a vast resource!
Fifth, veterinarians now recommend that elderly dogs receive checkups every six months. Keep rigorously to this schedule and you will be better able to handle any health issues which may arise. If you do suspect something is wrong with your pet, do not delay in acting. No matter what the health issue, the earlier your pet is seen by the vet, the better chance of proper diagnosis and treatment.
Sixth, be resourceful. Be aware of not only traditional veterinary solutions for your pet, but also investigate possible holistic alternatives such as acupuncture and herbal medicine. Do make sure any professional practicing these techniques has been appropriately licensed and accredited. If you choose to combine traditional veterinary solutions and holistic solutions for treatment of your pet, make sure each veterinarian with whom you are working understands what the other is doing. Traditional medicine and holistic medicine treatments may not always complement each other. Full disclosure with each vet is very important.
Seventh, make sure your pet as comfortable as possible. As the aging pet has become a new demographic among pet supply stores, there are more products available to help owners keep their pets comfortable. Items range from ramps for those dogs not able to use stairs to special orthopedic beds for dogs with arthritis.
Eighth, be aware of outside temps and consider using a comfortable fleece or wool blend dog coat or sweater. There are many coats on the market and you may want to choose a coat or sweater that is simple to get on and off your pet (i.e.: no leg and arm holes to be dealing with). Blanket style coats with a simple strap around the belly may be the best bet for your aging pet. They will enjoy those walks outside even more with a nice, comfortable, warm coat.
Ultimately, there will come a time when your pet is no longer comfortable. It is the final responsibility of the owner to decide when your pet’s quality of life has declined to a point where pet euthanasia is absolutely the right thing to do. This decision is difficult and it is the time our pets need us the most. This is not an easy decision to make, but owners should be comforted by the fact they are acting humanely and in the best interest of their pet.