AKC is a participant in affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to akc.org. If you purchase a product through this article, we may receive a portion of the sale.
Taking care of a senior dog can present a lot of challenges for pet owners. Your canine companion is moving more slowly. His coordination and eyesight aren’t what they used to be — and neither are his bones. To help your aging dog get around better, here are some ways you can make your home more accessible.
Mobility Aids for Senior Dogs
- Pet stairs: If your senior dog has good balance and is still relatively agile, stairs are a good choice. Choose a style with deep steps and an anti-skid surface, like carpet or textured rubber. Rounded edges on the treads are also helpful.
- Dog ramp: For dogs that can no longer master stairs, try a ramp. Look for a gentle slope and non-slip surface. Read the product specifications to make sure the ramp will support your dog’s weight. If you plan to use the ramp or pet stairs in different parts of the house and for travel, look for something lightweight enough to move easily. Fold-up models are even more portable.
- Floors: Some senior dogs have a really hard time walking on hardwood floors. Dog boots with traction on the bottom can help combat slippery surfaces. You can also lay down rugs with non-slip pads underneath, giving your dog a designated walkway and put easy-to-grip surfaces on stairs.
- Dog gates: If your canine companion has serious mobility issues, it’s best to block the stairs with a dog gate to avoid any risk of him falling. In some cases, installing a ramp might be necessary, if staying downstairs is not an option.
- Dog strollers: Your older dog can still enjoy a brisk walk—with you doing the walking and him doing the riding. Strollers come in both 3-wheel and 4-wheel styles. Three-wheel models tend to sit higher and be easily maneuvered. This is a good choice if you like to run or jog with your dog. Because the dog sits so high in the stroller, this style is better for smaller dogs. Four-wheel strollers are more stable and are a good choice for everyday walks. They also have a lower profile and therefore, a lower center of gravity, making them suitable for larger dogs.
Keeping Your Old Dog Comfortable
Older dogs benefit from beds and crate pads that are easy on achy muscles and stiff joints. Look for products made of a thick solid piece of polyurethane foam or of memory foam. High-quality, thick foam distributes your dog’s weight evenly and provides firm support.
Memory foam, invented by NASA, actually molds to the dog’s body and adjusts to his weight distribution. Because of its density, memory foam dog beds don’t need to be as thick as polyurethane beds to have the same, or more, support.
Feeding Your Senior Dog
Many dog food brands offer varieties meant for senior dogs. Nutrition information is right on the packaging. Here are a few things to consider:
- For overweight older dogs: Metabolism slows as dogs age, which means fewer calories are burned and more are stored as fat. This contributes to weight gain in senior dogs. Look for dog food that’s lower in calories and fat, to keep your dog trim.
- For underweight older dogs: Paradoxically, very old dogs may actually lose weight, either because of difficulty chewing and swallowing or because of decreased appetite. Dog food with a higher fat content should help keep the weight on.
- For all older dogs: Older dogs need protein to counteract the loss of muscle tissue, where protein is stored. Look for food with at least 25 percent of the calories coming from protein. Because older dogs are prone to heart or kidney ailments and hypertension, it’s a good idea to decrease your dog’s sodium intake.
Active Mind, Happy Dog
Your golden-ager might not be as physically active as she once was, but that’s no reason to give up toys and games. You may have to adjust for a lower energy level as well as for aging muscles, joints, and jaws by choosing softer tug and chew toys and shorter playtime.
For catch and fetch, soft foam balls are gentle on older jaws and teeth. Choose brightly colored toys that are easier for your dog to track visually and toys that make sounds while they move, which will give your dog aural cues.
Interactive toys and puzzles, especially if filled with her favorite treats, will spark enough interest to keep her brain engaged. Look for puzzle games that have varying degrees of difficulty and use different problem-solving skills. This keeps your elderly dog’s mind sharp and stimulated.
If Their Sight Is Going
If your dog is starting to lose his eyesight, consider the following:
- Try not to move things from their regular places while he adjusts to this big change. You should also avoid leaving items, such as school backpacks or laundry baskets, where your dog frequently walks.
- Rug paths help here, too. Even if your dog doesn’t have trouble walking on the floor, creating a path out of a different material can help him get around when his sight is fading. Either by using treats or a leash, guide your dog along the paths, showing that one leads to his water dish, one leads outside, one leads to his dog bed, etc.
If your dog has any special needs, like a wheelchair, talk to your vet about how best to accommodate his disability. The more we can do to keep our homes safe and accessible for senior dogs, the more active they will be, which will help them stay healthier longer.