Some of our long standing followers will know of Denzel, my (Roz) senior dog. I got Denzel as a rescue in the first year of business, in 2010. At the time he was aged as 4-5, which makes him currently a whopping 13-14 years of age! And he’s still going!! Slowing down but still very much here! Not bad for a big dog who has battled cancer, skin allergies and had an epic 4 day vestibular episode. 🤘💪
So, how do I maintain a senior dog? What does living with a senior dog involve?
Below are some tips on how to promote longevity but also what to expect from an aging dog.
🔧 Maintenance 🔧
✅ Hydro. As part of his rehab to learn how to walk well again following his vestibular episode Denz started water treadmill sessions at chapel farm. This was nearly two years ago and I think we’ve missed a total of ten weeks in this time! I strongly believe this is one of the main factors that have kept some muscle in his back legs. Taking him is the highlight of his week, great special time together and where he gets to meet other special and sometimes physically vulnerable dogs- who he seems to love meeting! Unless it’s a paraplegic German Shepherd…..then he seems to loose all sympathy, regain all his memory and strength and struts around like he wants to give them what for (He has a long standing dislike of poor German Shepherds!). 🤦♀️
He also loves all the girls there! I highly recommend Chapel Farm Rehab and their herbal vet, Veerle. For all dogs of all ages regardless of if they have a known issue or not. Physio should be a routine part of all dog’s lives, my other two have a session fortnightly with Anna Richards.
✅ Physio. We do 1-3 mini sessions at home where Denz (and the other dogs) balance on wobble cushions. This engages his core and also keeps those muscles working in his back legs.
Muscle wastage is a big problem in senior dogs, which leads me into diet.
✅ To help him maintain and maybe build some muscle Denzel (and all my dogs) are fed high protein diets. Denzel is fed Akela Kangaroo wet food which really helped him overcome his major crippling allergies three years ago, raw beef mice (beef compliments kangaroo well) and green tripe. Green tripe is fatty and full of goodness, so he has this a few times a week to boost his system and help him keep weight on.
✅ Aktivait. These supplements boost blood flow to the brain and when given at the early signs of CCD (doggy dementia ) it can help fend off the symptoms advancing.
✅ Mushroom supplements. Denz gets these prescribed by his herbal vet and they help keep his brain perky and boost his immune system.
✅ Self selection. Denz helps himself to as much spirulina, Passion flower oil, comfrey and St. John’s wort as he likes. He regulates his intake well and how much he has varies from day to day. The above list helps with the immune system, neural activity, muscle repair and pain relief. Please exercise caution using fatty oils with self selection. I’d advise doing it under the guidance of a qualified practitioner if you are unfamiliar with the process.
✅ I do 2-3 training sessions a week with my dogs to keep them mentally stimulated and build our relationship. Denz is very much involved but I don’t ask too much of him and we only ever train new behaviours I think he will easily get so to keep his confidence high.
✅ Denz has individual short and slow walks every other day, partially so my other two dogs can get a proper long stomp. However, 2-3 days a week he goes to a variety of bigger walk locations where he manages a 45 min mooch at his very, very slow pace. Even on quiet days he goes in the car for a green walk somewhere (usually a local short route with my other two in the afternoon). This is so he’s not just doing the same walking routes over and over. He gets to meet a few dogs every week and sniffs new smells every day. I always stay close for dog greetings to provide moral support and he’s never left trailing behind too much, we always wait for him to catch up and stay with the group. He does two walks a day most days, but at his pace! 2-3 times a week he has just one walk a day to rest and recharge!
✅ Denzel sleeps upstairs with me and has a bed on the floor. This is extra padded with an additional mattress. He has the option of a raised bed too. When the time comes that he can’t get upstairs if he struggles to settle downstairs I’ll be sleeping down there with him.
✅ His water and food bowl is raised to help him reach them, as he struggles to sometimes reach the floor.
✅ We have runner rugs and mats on the floors in places that are slippery. To be honest, this is sensible for all dogs. Laminate flooring is terrible for causing injuries to dogs.
✅ He has a foam step to help him get in and out of the car and take away the impact of jumping out.
✅ less time alone! Thankfully I’m doing a masters degree and tend to give myself 2-3 work from home days. But to me this is so important as I want to spend as much time with him as I can.
The above can be very expensive on top of his pain relief (minimum dose!) but I feel it’s money well spent!
So, what are the downsides of having a senior dog? What is normal senior dog behaviour?
– Accidents around the home. A good reason to feed a good quality wet or raw diet- far easier to clean up! Usually Poo related, they not only struggle to tell you clearly they need to go but also loose muscular and neural strength in that department to make it consistently reliable. So, we now get the sudden poo panic! He’s come in from the garden , walks around and then suddenly realises he needs to go and starts doing the panic-poo walk kind of towards the door…..but if it’s closed he’ll turn around and poo -walk around!. Usually by the time you’ve vaulted over the table, broken the sound barrier getting down stairs or dislocated your finger trying to rapidly unlock that stiff key- it’s too late! One colleague with a senior dog describes it like the Poo/road crossing scene from the film bridesmaids.
We also get the odd accident in the night where I wake up to him trying to bury the Poo with his nose because he’s accidentally had one on his bed as he was sleeping! 💩 🤦♀️
Thankfully we are going through an accident free phase, but they come and go.
Please don’t get angry at your senior dog when their toileting goes downhill- it is physically challenging for them to maintain toilet training and not always something they can control.
– The Vacant Stare and Shuffle. He wants something, but you have no idea what. He shuffles around from room to room, stops and stares at you before shuffling off again and coming back for a good ol’ stare. Could be used as a type of psychological warfare or torture. Can go on for ages, to the point where his hocks are touching the floor and you’re just like ‘please lie down!!’
I’ve found myself in bed at 8.30pm too often recently as this seems to be where he settles the most! Rock n roll 🤘
– Denmand barking. A true delight. Often accompanies the above just to ensure all the veins in my forehead bulge to the surface. We call it ‘demand barking’ but what he’s demanding remains a mystery to this very day! 🤷♀️
Often timed with important admin or if I’m really lucky – client call backs 📞
The bark also changes, getting more husky and less pronounced – often because their hearing is going and they can’t hear themselves as well orthe vocal chords weaken.
Thankfully this is getting less (for now). A little late for my sanity I fear 🤪
– Disinterest In chews, kong and bones. I think there’s a physical element to this, less able to hold the kong in place to lick and deterioration of the masticating muscles involved with chewing/crunching bone. Pigs ears and tripe sticks are still a hit! Don’t give up, there’s plenty of chews out there for you to try find what they can still enjoy! Chewing is such an enjoyable activity, try and keep them doing it for as long as they can in their life.
– Struggling to settle. Sofa…..1 minute later…..up he gets and shuffles off…..then onto the dog bed…..same. Likely due to old bones and sore muscles making it difficult to truly relax.
A broad range of options of where to sleep, including bed elevation off the ground can help. Or it could be an expensive waste of time when they only settle most on the floor despite it taking 20 minutes to lower themselves down. But at least you know you tried!
-Confusion! So much confusion all of the time. Wanting to go for a walk, now not sure. Needing a wee? Now in the garden just standing and looking. Sitting in the lounge trying to relax? Bring in the vacant stare and shuffle. Popped upstairs to grab something quick? He’s got up from sleeping his bed (which takes loads of energy) and has shuffled off to the porch trying to find me! Patience is a must!! Swearing under ones breath can help!
– Deafness! Certain pitches of voice help but ultimately I just need to learn to not say as much unless he’s looking right at me. Big gestures can help.
-Nose. The sense of smell starts to go. Finding treats on the floor becomes extra hard work so now these are generally given always by hand.
-Eyesight. Thankfully his is still ok. I think the wide beady eyes old dogs get is partially due to the eyes becoming the primary sense over ears and nose. But as senior dogs eyesight deteriorates , you can help them out by decluttering their home environment.
– loosing balance. Caution needs to be exercised with getting in/out the car and up/down stairs. Even greeting dogs that are showing flirty/humpy behaviour I move in between to ensure he doesn’t get knocked over.
– Turning circle of an oil tanker. Seems to get bigger and bigger, now involves moving into a whole room to avoid turning around in our rather wide hallway. If your dog is large and getting old, they’ll need space to turn as their spine gets more stiff and bends less easily. Free up space to enable them to move around easily.
– Struggling to disengage from dogs. He still has good manners but seems to have developed a really awkward; ‘so……….yeah……..what did you say your name was again?’ thing with dogs and hangs around a bit too long. Usually whilst accidentally blocking their way or if they’re small- being a bit loomy! Potentially because he’s nervous of turning his back on them as he can’t hear so well nor move too fast. This can lead to some dogs looking like they might snap at him when he struggles to read their cut off signals and if they did snap this could make him fall over. So I lure him away and help keep interactions shorter and positive for all.
Alternatively, some dogs get more intolerant of other dogs as they age. This is possible due to feeling more vulnerable or in pain.
It’s important that we maintain patience and empathy with our old dogs. Recognise the symptoms of early CCD and if you want a slow and steady deterioration of aging- invest heavily in their holistic health care as well as be available to cater to their individual needs if they live in a multi dog house hold. Yes it’s exhausting but it’s worth it. ❣
⭐️ Top tip ⭐️ if you see someone walking an old dog tell them how lovely their dog is! Don’t tell them; ‘they’re slow aren’t they?’, ‘getting on a bit isn’t he?’, ‘not long to go now fella’ or ‘maybe he should be at home!’. We know our dogs are old, we have stark reminders of this every day. Help us stay positive by giving them compliments! 👍