Keeping Senior Dogs Fit and Healthy.

Hi everyone, I hope you’re bearing up well in this unprecedented ‘lock down’ situation we find ourselves in? I have to confess that the science geek in me is in total awe of the massive effect and impact that such a tiny thing as a virus can have; terrifying and impressive simultaneously. Ok, that’s enough with the deep thoughts!

With many of us either isolating at home, working from home or being restricted in our movements, it’s easy to feel a bit glum – but we can shift our mindset easily and look at the positives, which is what I’m doing.

This temporary circumstance means that we are spending more time with our household members, non-furry and furry alike. Up and down the country there are thousands of dogs that find themselves being walked more than they’ve ever known, as each human member of their pack takes their permitted once-a-day outdoor exercise opportunity. And Fido loves it; it is literally his/her best life!!

Spare a thought though, for the subject of this blog; the senior dog.

Senior dogs need a bit more thought given to them, and by senior I don’t necessarily mean advanced in years; depending on your dogs’ breed this term could apply from just 5 years of age – extra large breeds such as Great Danes being one example.

If there is one bit of advice about walking a senior dog I could give you, it would be this; walk them little and often. Regular, gentle exercise helps their muscles keep their tone and prevents joints’ stiffening up – something that happens from prolonged periods of inactivity. If you keep the route fairly short then smaller members of the family can come with you and Fido too; the bonus is that it will tire out tiny humans but not be overly exertive for pooch 🙂

Ordinarily I would suggest visiting new sites for walkies to keep you and your dog stimulated, or maybe look to join an organised dog walking group. Meeting new dogs can keep your pooch socially active, but this has got to be on their terms; clearly it wouldn’t be suitable (or pleasurable) for an aggressive or anxious canine personality. However, given the social restrictions we have presently it isn’t possible to explore pastures new or get together in groups, so store those suggestions for when we’re back to normality and keep them as something to look forward to. If you have plans to drive further afield in future, a ramp for getting your canine companion in and out of the car will make their lives considerably easier; something that will be worth its weight in gold.

When you do venture out though, just be mindful of the weather conditions. As dogs age they can’t tolerate very high or low temperatures as well as they used to, so perhaps consider walking at cooler times in summer and invest in a dog coat for more inclement conditions. If you are lucky enough to have a large garden then a session of chase-and-fetch will serve perfectly fine for exercise purposes; just keep an eye on poochy and bring things to an end when they visibly tire or lose interest.

Another simple tip to prevent your senior lord or lady stiffening up and keep them mobile is to practice the ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘here/come’ commands through the day, and especially at meal time.

Older dogs struggle to shift from stand to sit (and vice versa) when their back end – essential for mobility – weakens, and they’ll often omit ‘sit’ and just go straight to lying down. The simple act of raising food and water bowls from floor level will prevent them lying down to eat and keep them active a little longer.

At Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we are fortunate to have Emma-Jayne, a Veterinary Physiotherapist, on hand to advise our clients on all aspects of pet mobility and rehabilitation. Contact one of our lovely reception team to make an appointment and Emma-Jayne will help your hound; whether it’s by showing you range-of-motion exercises or massage techniques to use on your fur-baby, she will tailor a programme to your dogs’ needs.

We all know that our mental health is as important as our physical well-being, and that’s just as true for our canine buddies. The hackneyed phrase ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is totally wrong: your senior hound is perfectly capable of learning new commands if they can hear and see – whether they want to is an entirely different matter! New toys, activities and learning tricks will all stimulate Fido’s brain, plus it’s a great chance to spend more time together. This type of interaction has the added bonus of being able to be done inside; ideal for when Mother Nature decides to unleash her worst on us. And, let’s face it; your dog is at their happiest when they’re just in your company, no matter what they’re doing – man’s best friend indeed 🙂

I make no secret of the fact that I do enjoy the odd biccy (or two!) and I bet there’s a few of you out there that have raided the biscuit barrel a bit more than usual? Whatever you do, please don’t be tempted to give in to those puppy-dog eyes and Jedi mind tricks and feed Fido extra treats. Treats are notoriously calorie dense and surplus weight on senior joints can contribute to arthritis as well as hinder any efforts to get up from a recumbent position, so avoid giving them regularly. It isn’t difficult to keep an eye on your beloved dogs’ weight either; ideally, you want to feel their ribs easily, but not see them.
As with any species, the marching of time and advancing years make it necessary for your fur-baby to see myself, or another Veterinarian from the SLVC team, more regularly than they did in their prime. Not that we mind; it means more licks, tail wags, woofs and fuss-times for us – perks of the job and all that 🙂

Seeing Fido regularly will help us nip any issues in the bud and, if needed, prescribe any drugs at that time.

We can advise on the use of joint supplements too; there are plenty out there, but not all of them are as effective as they could be. At Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we can prescribe the most appropriate ones for your furry friend and advise on how best to give them for maximum efficacy; after all you want to get the most bang-for-your-buck as they say, don’t you?

Senior canines also may need a specialised diet, whether that means a lower calorie version or one for diabetics. We stock the Virbac feed range here at SLVC, which contains only the highest quality ingredients to ensure optimal nutrition for your pooch and their particular needs. If you have any questions or queries, just get in touch and we will proceed accordingly.
Until next time; stay safe (stay home!), stay well, and be happy 🙂