By Jessica Remitz
Even though your senior dog may not move as well as he used to, there are still a variety of things you can do to keep their minds sharp, many of which you’ve been doing throughout their lives. Understanding their limitations and keeping these expert tips in mind will help keep your dog happy and healthy regardless of their age.
It can be difficult to realize that your once happy-go-lucky puppy has turned into a more mature adult, but it’s important to accommodate your dog as she continues to age.
“One of the hardest transitions people make is from having a new pet to an old pet,” Dr. Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and veterinary behaviorist. “This is truly a treasured part of the family and has been for many years.”
If your dog is having trouble moving around your home — going up stairs or getting up to greet you at the door, for example — help them by installing ramps or stairs around your home and furniture and try to keep them comfortable throughout the day.
“The type of mobility issue your pet has will differ from dog to dog,” Dr. Beaver said, “but a majority of senior dogs experience some form of osteoarthritis.” Although jumping, running and walking long distances will be challenging, you should continue to keep up with daily walks. While it may hurt to move, it will hurt them less if they get some sort of exercise.
Try taking shorter walks to stimulate their senses of sight, smell and hearing as well as keeping their joints lubricated and their limbs in motion. If possible, try a new route every now and again to stimulate their senses even more. If your dog is good with other animals, allow them to continue interacting with dogs of all ages to keep their minds sharp and bodies generally active.
From food toys to bones and chews for your pet, there are a variety of games and activities to help keep their minds sharp without taking a toll on their joints. Dr. Beaver also recommends splitting up mealtime by feeding your pup half of their meal in a food puzzle (especially if you use antioxidant-rich foods, which have been attributed with helping brain function). Using a food puzzle will not only slow down their eating (a bonus for heavier dogs) but forces them to use their minds for an extended period of time. Tug and chew toys are also excellent options for dogs as they require little movement.
We often think that by being older, our dogs won’t be able to learn as much or practice skills they honed years ago, but teaching them new commands or retracing old obedience school tricks will help keep their minds sharp, according to DogChannel.com. Even if your dog’s attention span is bit shorter or minds foggier, focus on simple commands that don’t require much movement but can be challenging enough to keep your pup engaged.
“Many senior pets spend much of their days alone at home,” Dr. Beaver said, “so spending time with you is a high-reward activity.” Grab a squeaky or tug toy and engage them in some light play or practice giving a few commands. Time spent with you may be the most important mental enrichment your dog can get, even if it’s just a long belly rub, ear scratch or a little more one-on-one time at dinner, according to DogChannel.com.