Dear AKC: I just adopted an older Finnish Spitz from a friend who could no longer keep the dog because she was moving overseas. The dog is 10 years old and she's really sweet. I was wondering if there was anything in particular I should do for the dog as she ages into an elderly canine? — Senior Sensibilities
Dear Senior: How wonderful of you to adopt your friend's dog. As you know, the Finnish Spitz is a lively breed that originally was bred as hunters of small game and birds in Finland. In fact, the breed used to be known as the Finnish Barking Birddog.
As your dog ages, it is very important to keep up with the daily exercise for such an active vocal breed so that it will not become bored or begin destructive behaviors when left home alone. More importantly it's crucial to keep the dog's muscle tone in top condition to support and protect aging joints and bones that might develop arthritis in later years. Keeping the joints moving with regular walking is the best course. As the dog reaches a very old age you may have to cut back the amount of walking. But as an observant owner you will learn to know when the walks or playtime have to be cut back. The dog will slow down or seem a little more tired out sooner on her walks. Many owners, working in consultation with their veterinarians, also begin to supplement their dogs with a joint formula as a preventive against further effects of aging on her skeletal structure.
Feeding and Footing
Another easy senior care tip involves weight. Switching your dog to a reduced calorie and / or protein senior diet can help keep her weight in check. Overweight dogs create even more stress on aging hips and joints. Be mindful of too many treats since they are loaded with hidden calories.
Senior dogs are also prone to injury from falls, either on slippery surfaces or jumping in and out of cars or up on furniture. One quick tip to keep her on her feet in the home, especially if you have tile or hardwood flooring is to trim the excess hair from between the toes and around the pads. This helps the naturally sticky pads do their job of gripping the floor better. And if you notice that she is having trouble getting on the couch or jumping in the car for a ride you might consider a portable set of “doggie” stairs in the home up to the bed or a ramp for the car.
The best way to keep a dog healthy in old age is to be observant of her behavior, looking for signs of pain, and keeping her to her regular exercise routine along with ample playtime and love.