5 things to consider when looking after senior dogs

pet sitting senior dogs

How to take care of an older dog

Your pal has been there for you over the years, so when they get older, you’ll want to return the love. And, if you are a house and pet sitter, you may find yourself looking after an older pup, as people are less inclined to board their older dogs.

Senior dogs have different requirements than younger canines and puppies. As they age, they slow down. Sometimes, they suffer from diseases like cancer, or they might get arthritis, or have joint problems.

Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help them transition into their golden years. Read on to learn more.

When is a dog a senior?

First things first: when is your dog considered a senior? That depends. Toy and miniature breeds usually live longer than large and giant dogs.

An Irish Wolfhound only lives about 5 to 7 years. That means your dog may as well be considered a senior when he is just 3 or 4 years old. On the other hand, Chihuahuas tend to have the longest lifespan. Some of them can live up to 20 years! So when your dog hits 15, she may just be entering old age.

The best way to know if your canine friend is nearing their senior years is to talk with your vet and watch for things like age-related diseases and behavioral changes.

Once they become seniors, it’s time to act.

Here are 5 things you should consider when taking care of an elderly pooch.

1.  Regular vet visits are key

Visiting the vet is essential when you have a pet, but visits would be done more often and are vital once your dog hits his senior years. A bi-yearly check-up can help you spot potential health concerns before they become devastating. It also enables your vet to keep an eye on changes in your pet’s behavior that you might not notice.

Since we see our fur babies every day, we might not realize that our fido has slowed down or become depressed over time. But a vet may spot these changes and help you address them.

Even if your dog isn’t facing health challenges, he may not have the same energy level that he used to enjoy. A vet can help address this so that your doggo can be as happy as possible.

Vets can also help you maintain your dog’s oral health. This is especially important when dogs get older because they start to lose their teeth or suffer from dental problems.

Finally, the vet will supply and monitor your dog’s medication to help him live a full life even as he gets older.

2.  Change up their food or diet

Your senior dog may love the kibble he’s been eating for the past six years, but when he’s aging, you might want to revisit his food routine.

Some dogs need to go on a lower-calorie diet as their metabolism slows down with age. You don’t want your pooch to get overweight because this can cause joint problems and other illnesses. Your furry buddy may also need to switch to wet food if they have mouth or jaw issues. Dogs who have lost their teeth can’t eat the same crunchy kibble that they used to.

There are lots of high-quality senior dog foods out there aimed at getting your dog plenty of nutrition in their senior years. Check out online some of the many brands and recipes out there to determine what may work for you and your dog.

Before giving a dog food that you think is best for your elderly canine friend, talk about your choice with the vet and find out whether you should feed it your pet, or if they can provide other options.

3.  Exercise is still important

Helping out an older dog in water

There are days when your senior dog will look up at you when you pull out the leash, and instead of jumping up with joy, they’ll roll over and go back to sleep. But so long as they aren’t in pain, you should still make sure your dog gets some exercise.

Your dog won’t need the same amount of activity that they did when they were in their prime, but a daily walk for 20 minutes can get the blood flowing and ease stiffness. It can even help stave off diseases, just as it can in humans.

For dogs that have joint issues, swimming in a pool or a lake can be a good exercise option. For those canines that can’t exercise, they may still enjoy a ride in the car so that they can see the familiar sites and hear the familiar sounds in their neighborhood.

They need mental stimulation, as well. Provide interactive games and puzzles for your dog to keep them busy.

You can create a puzzle by hiding treats in an empty cupcake tin and covering each cup with a tennis ball. Or you can purchase toys like wobble balls or Kongs to keep them busy.

4.  Accommodating special needs for elderly dogs

As dogs get older, they can also suffer from the same types of joint and bone problems, just like us. Some can get arthritis, and others start to lose their sight. Your fido may also lose the ability to hold his bladder.

While the effects of aging are inevitable, they don’t have to negatively impact your senior dog if you take the right steps to accommodate their needs.

Putting ramps on stairs or steps to help them get onto your bed, or into a car, are options for dogs with mobility issues. If your dog can’t use the stairs anymore, move their bed, toys, food, and water bowls somewhere where they can easily access them.

If you’ve ever watched a dog scramble around a corner on a hardwood or tile floor, then you can imagine how difficult it can be to get around for a dog that has arthritis. Put rugs or mats down where they walk the most to help them navigate the house without slipping.

Install gates or close doors to prevent dogs from going places where they might get hurt. That means limiting access in areas with dangers like glass doors or stairs for dogs who don’t see well.

If your fur baby loses his sight entirely, be mindful not to leave things around that he could stumble into. Try not to move furniture so that she can still try to roam indoors based on memory.

Your dog should also have a fluffy, soft bed to hang out on. Something with a lot of padding can help ease sore and tired joints. Other canine buddies even require a heating pad or a bed heater.

You should also increase the number of times you let your dog outside to go potty, instead of accidentally peeing themselves.

5.  Vaccination and medications may need to change

If your dog has been taking medication for most of his life, you may need to adjust those meds as your dog gets older. Some may not be as effective, or they may not benefit your dog anymore, so you may need to try something else. Or, if your dog has gained weight, you may need to adjust the dosage.

If your dog hasn’t been on medication, he may need some as he gets older. Diseases like arthritis and joint issues can be treated with the right medication.

You also may want to change up preventative medications like heartworm preventatives or flea and tick repellants. This is something to discuss with your veterinarian.

Chat with your vet about vaccinations. You and your canine buddy’s vet may decide to stop doing some injections. For instance, older dogs who don’t go outside as much may not need a leptospirosis vaccination.

Help your dog live their best life

An older black labrador


Aging doesn’t have to be miserable for you or your pet. All it takes is a little extra time and care, and a willingness to adjust your routine. With that bit of effort, your dog can be as healthy and happy as possible.

Don’t forget the most important tip for caring for a senior dog: love. Your pooch needs as much, if not more, love and affection as they’ve ever had. Don’t let their reduced need for playtime trick you into thinking they need less attention.

Besides, is there anything better than snuggling up with your faithful pal for a relaxing evening?

guest post - alexandra seagal

Alexandra Seagal is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Animalso. She's an ardent animal lover with two dogs, one cat and an adorable hamster. Her website provides important answers to your questions with a community that shares your love for animals.

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Last updated on July 15th, 2020

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