There are a few stages older dogs and their owners go through because let’s be honest, however long our dogs share our sofas for it’s never enough. We all want more time. More love. More laughs.
Three years ago, I lost my Labrador at 15. A good age admittedly for a Labrador, but I’d have sold everything I owned to have her with me for another day, writes Kim O’Meara.
At the same time, Mia, who was the youngest of our dogs was technically reaching her senior years as a Rottweiler.
It was a shock, especially since we’d thought of her as the baby of the gang.
Mia aged quite quickly at first, in part due to health problems (cancer). But here’s what I’ve learnt about older dogs and 4 things I think owners of older dog owners should know.
Because whether a dog is in their golden or middle years, they are still young at heart and there’s lots you can do to keep it that way – some are more conventional than others.
1. Exercise: Change before you have to.
Mia was always an active dog. She joined me on many 8-mile walks and this stood her in good stead for keeping her lean and fit as an older dog. But when she reached 7-8, we adjusted her exercise regime to make sure her joints weren’t being overworked and wouldn’t cause additional problems as she got older.
Instead, we looked at what she loved most and created new fun ways to introduce short bursts of activity.
Mia has always loved playing with a ball, now what she loves more than anything is 5-10 minute short games playing with a tennis ball that appeal to her sense of ‘that’s my ball, give it back’.
It keeps her mind engaged too. When the ball is out of sight, she has to hunt and retrieve it using her nose. When we’re passing it between ourselves, her mind is engaged trying to win it back.
2. Diet: Don’t underestimate its importance.
A dog’s diet fuels them and as their body starts to slow, how they process fuels internally slows down too.
Don’t be scared to try new foods and find a senior dog food that works best for your dog. Anything you can do to keep them lean and minimise weight gain will help their organs and joints to work better because less strain will be put on them.
Also, consider mobility aids and supplements and don’t be afraid to change them if you feel your dog has peaked.
Over the last 3 years, Mia has progressed from over the counter joint supplements to advanced dog joint supplements with more complex ingredients, to more recently starting prescribed medication which has given her a new lease of life once again.
4. Health MOTs: Look for changes, big or small.
One lesson I learnt some years ago was the importance of spaying and neutering to benefit a dog’s health in later life.
You know your dog better than anyone. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to speak with a vet if your dog develops any changes, big or small.
Some conditions can affect older dogs and the early signs, such as the symptoms of diabetes in dogs can be quite subtle.
If you’re worried something isn’t quite right, get it checked out.
5. Age: It’s nothing but a number.
In the words of Shania Twain, ‘life’s about to get good’.
Don’t let a dog’s age fool you and please don’t let this be a factor in whether or not you would consider adopting an older dog if you are debating the subject.
Mia is now almost 12 and has reverted to more puppylike (naughty) behaviour than when she actually was a puppy. She’s now the oldest of our gang, and the naughtiest, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.