Wordless Wednesday #25
Influence Positively Interview - Nancy Kay, DVM

Dog Household Tips: Ways we can help our dogs as they age

Cleo Navigates StairsAccording to a 1998 Gallup Organization survey, pet owners regard their animals not only as part of the family, but also as better companions than some human members of their family.

This survey might be more than ten years old, but it's truth rings even more loudly today. We approach the care of our beloved pets with the same intensity and commitment as we do human family members.

I started to write this post about my dog Cleo and how as a senior dog now she courageously tackles three flights of stairs everyday.

Rather than focus strictly on applauding my dog, like a proud parent at a track meet or science fair, I decided step back and instead share the advice and tips that I've learned for households with aging pets. 

Bragging about how clever Cleo is, is fun don't get me wrong, but I'd rather share real ways we have worked with Cleo in the hope that it helps others. At the end of this post I will share several links to senior dog blogs and other resources for senior dog health.

First thing first: Changes. Look out for any changes because  dogs, especially older ones are all about the routine. Cleo knows when it is dinner time or breakfast time before I do sometimes. Her afternoon walk missed? Forget about it! If she were to not be interested in food or in going out for her morning pee break, that would set off red flags for me. Be observant of any changes: behavior, weight, activity, eating or bathroom habits are all areas to watch. If you catch something early on, that particular vet visit could mean everything to your dogs health.

Since dogs cannot hold onto a hand rail like a human does, we discovered these tricks made all the difference to Cleo's confidence on the stairs.

  • Light. Having a well-lit stairwell helped her initial steps at each landing.
  • Carpet treads.  Our stairs are hard wood and this 85 lb dog with long legs but little kitten feet slipped and scratched her way up and down them for months. We could see it was a matter of time before she became scared.  In the photo you can see small green carpets look nice while quickly restoring Cleo's confidence.
  • Lead the way. We guide her now by always going first down the first step ahead of her. If it is in the evening and she is tired, with her senior vision, besides turning the lights up bright we tap the first step with her hands sharply. This focuses her attention and nose, then she eases herself the rest of the way following the walls.

Cleo takes the stairs

Old Dogs Can't Jump. Besides the carpet treads, we have also found dog beds for Cleo that are made for the older dog.  We started last year discouraging her from jumping onto the couch and our bed, as much as we wanted her there with us.  We have more than one bed so Cleo has one even when the other has its cover in the wash. If your dog is short, you still may need to get a ramp to help them for certain tasks. Our car isn't very tall, and with her legs Cleo doesn't need a ramp to "walk" into the back.

Grooming Parties. Besides keeping your dog looking pretty, even with the grey muzzle, regular brushing allows you to give Fido the once over.  Cleo still loves a good brushing even if she only tolerates the nail file.  What is important though is that by regularly grooming your dog, any lumps or bumps, hair loss, hot spots, discolorations etc. will be detected and that gives you a chance to get your dog to the vet - pronto. Early detection is always better.

Useful senior pet care resources:

AAHA Senior Pet Care

Petfinder: Caring for your Senior Dog

Daley's Dog Years

Whole Dog Journal: Senior dogs hearing loss

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