It can sometimes seem like our dogs age overnight. For my older border collies over 10 years of age, it felt like we went from normal behaviour with them running around chasing the younger dogs to seeing them sleeping a lot more, wanting to be inside and having trouble getting up in the mornings, especially in winter.
I am proud to say that my two oldest dogs both lived to just shy of their sixteenth birthdays. Caring for two elderly dogs was hard work but I felt it was the least they deserved given the years of love and devotion they had given me.
Keeping your old dogs active and mentally stimulated is really important as they grow older however it is necessary to be aware that their needs do change and their bodies have different requirements in order for them to stay healthy and happy. Certainly chasing the ball flat out across the park is really no longer suitable exercise as the likelihood of them hurting themselves increases significantly. They may think they are still invincible but it is up to us to make sure they don’t overdo it.
One of the first things you should do when assessing your older dog’s health is make sure they are getting the right diet. Once my dogs reach ten years of age I start to get blood tests done every six months at the vets. This allows for the early detection of any internal changes which of course means the opportunity to address any abnormal results early and hopefully before they are too serious. For both of my older dogs the changes that these blood tests identified over the years led to me choosing a new premium dog biscuit that met their changing requirements as well as making sure any medications they were receiving weren’t causing any problems with their internal organs such as kidneys or liver.
It is quite common for older dogs to suffer quite badly from arthritis and my oldies were no exception, particularly after living very active lives which included long agility careers. There are quite a few supplements readily available to help keep your dog’s joints healthy as well as medications your vet may recommend and prescribe that can give your dog some relief from any pain and discomfort. Other things you can do to help is purchase a dog jacket to keep your dog warm in winter and keep them inside when possible out of the cold air.
Warm bedding and blankets in a draft free location are also extremely important. Part of maintaining good health for our dogs is choosing the right exercises that will help keep their bodies supple and muscles strong. Just like us, if they don’t use it they will lose it so conditioning is very important. My local park has quite a few slopes that I utilise by getting my dogs to walk (not run) up and down them. Bush walking is also great as often the ground is uneven which means they use lots of different muscle groups. Swimming is also fantastic non-weight bearing exercise for those dogs that enjoy the water.
As part of keeping my dogs in great condition they also have monthly visits to a vet who is trained in acupuncture. It is not uncommon for our old dogs to still want to run and play even though their bodies aren’t really up to it anymore and the acupuncture definitely helped to increase their comfort and range of movement. In the last few years Perth has seen a couple of rehabilitation centres become established.
Rehabilitation therapies are an excellent aid following muscle injury and orthopaedic surgery (for bones and joints), or to help reduce the discomfort of osteo-arthritis. Both centres offer water treadmills for hydro therapy, massage and strengthening exercises to get pets back on track after injury, surgery or to assist in keeping them pain free as their bodies age.
Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot. Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA. Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.