Just a couple of months ago I was visiting the vet clinic for a routine exam for Karma, my 8-year-old dog, and I heard something that freaked me out a little bit! Someone referred to Karma as “geriatric”. I wasn’t mortified by the language, it’s just a descriptive word that relates to older people, particularly used when referring to their healthcare needs. But up until that point, I hadn’t really looked at Karma and seen an older dog. I had looked at her and seen my enthusiastic, wiggle-butt, bounce-in-the-air, puppy. All of a sudden, I was looking at her with a new lens. This month, for National Senior Pet Month, I’m sharing with you my senior dog tips to keep your older dog mentally and physically fit!
I have always been incredibly aware of my dog’s need for physical fitness and mental stimulation. But recognizing your dog’s older age prompts a more thoughtful approach to these two subjects. Both the body and brain need to be kept regularly engaged to increase the likelihood of a long, healthy life. So, how do you achieve these two things without asking too much from your older dog?
First, it’s important to have a baseline to work from. Your veterinarian should be able to help you determine the best path for maintaining your dog’s physical health. Include them in the planning process to make sure everything you’re doing with your dog is safe and beneficial to them.
Second, it’s important to approach both body and mind with a slow and steady pace. Here’s how:
- Paw health, first and foremost. Your dog’s level of comfort standing and walking will have a huge impact on the type of fitness they’re able to practice and the success of their performance. Long nails can cause discomfort and pain in their paws, shoulders, neck, spine, and hips. Nail trims can often be done weekly to keep them nice and short.
- Build a fitness routine that focuses on balance and coordination. This does not have to be an expensive or exhausting task! You can practice balance and coordination with many household items. Broom handles can be used to make cavalettis at home. Your dog’s foam bed can be used as a balance pad. These links will take you to examples of items you can purchase. Proper balance and coordination will help your dog stay mobile and steady as they age.
- Practicing familiar and new tricks work both body and brain simultaneously. Certain learned skills like sit, down, stand, and recall can be used to help keep your dog physically fit. Think of them as fitness basics like push-ups, sit-ups, and lunges. Other tricks like bow, spin, back-up, and an assisted sit pretty can be taught at any age and can help increase your senior dog’s mobility and coordination without putting too much stress on their joints. Plus, learning new tricks and practicing old ones will help to keep your aging dog’s brain active and healthy!
- Puzzles help maintain healthy cognitive processing. Treat puzzles are great for dogs of all ages but in particular, can help maintain mental clarity in your senior dog. You can find many treat puzzles in stores, but there are several you can make at home, too! As long as you don’t mind treat crumbs and slobber on a blanket or towel (and as long as your dog won’t try to eat the blanket or towel!) an easy game to play at home is simply taking some of your dog’s regular meal, or a handful of exciting treats, scattering them on a blanket, then rolling and folding up the blanket. Your dog will have to scratch, push, paw, and sniff their way to all of the treats and that alone is great mental stimulation for them! Other fun puzzles, like snuffle mats, can be purchased locally or made at home if you enjoy crafting!
I hope you enjoy these easy tips for keeping your dog mobile and engaged. Karma certainly isn’t slowing down anytime soon!