The seasons pass, and one day you look around the house and realize the young bouncy puppy you brought home no longer chews on the furniture, no longer needs the ball throw a bazillion times a day, and in fact is starting to prefer laying on the couch beside you to going for a jog in the park. Fido has settled into his ways as much as you've settled in to yours, and it's been a great life together, with memories of that stylish leather couch you loved and lost to Fido's puppy teething, that wonderful day at the beach together when Fido first learned to fetch, and the cute pictures of Fido with your nieces. Fido's been with you through budding romances, wardrobe malfunctions, not-so-humorous breakups, and your own road to Growing Up. Fido's fur has muffled laughter, soaked up tears, and provided warm comfort to you night after night, regardless of what else has gone right or wrong.
But Fido's muzzle is gray now, and he no longer dances to greet you at the door. Your constant companion has given you the best years of his life, and now there are a few simple things you can do to make the rest of his years, the best of his years.
Older dogs are like older humans - they can get unsteady on their feet. Take a look around your house and see what areas might be more dangerous than others. Do you have wood or tile floors? Very often these are slick to an older dog, so putting down non-skid rugs or runners will provide your dog with a secure place to walk, run, and bounce for joy. If your dog previously slept on your bed, you can either provide a bed ramp for the dog or provide a dog bed that's right next to your side of the bed. Fido won't mind that he's not on the bed - he just wants to be near you, and the older he gets, the less he's going to like you rolling around on him.
Keeping those joints warm is key. Make sure his bed is a warm spot, and try and keep him warm overall. Warm joints are loose joints! Provide extra blankets in the winter for him to snuggle and nest. If necessary, you can purchase a heating pad, set it to low, and put it under his bed. Make sure it's only under part of his bed so he can move off it, but still remain in his bed, if it becomes too warm.
And finally, either lift Fido into your car, or provide him a ramp to walk up. When they get older, their eyes may be clouding, so you never want to assume he'll make the jump if you demand it of him. Always make sure he gets into the car safely this is a common place for accidents and injuries to occur.
Today's high-quality kibble often has added nutrition for the older dog, but your dog will benefit from as healthy a diet as possible. Keep your older dog lean, and feed high quality proteins. A raw diet can be very beneficial as it keeps the diet simple and healthy and will rarely add weight. In addition to the raw diet, or in concert with it, your older dog may benefit from additional supplements. Don't bother purchasing kibble "with supplements" - you won't be able to ensure Fido gets the minimum required dose per feeding. Supplement separately so you can control, and if necessary change, what you're adding to the diet.
There are many supplements available on the market and focused for the needs of older dogs. Feeding or supplementing with a raw diet is probably one of the most effective methods of delivering digestible nutrition, but Fido Sr. can benefit from a few specific supplements.
On the low end of the scale is the simple inclusion of glucosamine chondriton pills. You can pick it up at any pharmacy or health food store; Trader Joe's and Costco both sell large bottles. A generic rule of thumb is to feed one capsule daily per 20 pounds, but obviously check with your vet for their guidance. Another good addition is fish oil from the body, not the liver. The body oil is high in good, easily digestible fats and will help Fido keep a shiny coat. Many people find that flaxseed oil works as well, but it's not as easily digestible for dogs, and you'll need to use more to get the same effect.
On the high-end side, you can also purchase a supplement called "The Missing Link". It's fairly expensive, but high in all the missing vitamins not included in the general doggy kibble, and most importantly, it has those good omega-3 fatty acids to help joint maintenance.
It's important to remember that these supplements don't treat any condition, they simply maintain it. So don't expect any supplement to bring back your bouncy puppy, but they will help him to maintain the spring he still has when he first sees you at the door.
Keeping up with your dog's exercise is important as well - moving dogs are happy dogs. Keep up with those walks, because they're key to Fido's continued health. Mild, continual movement will keep your dog walking soundly. Never try and push your dog - overexertion will lead to muscle strains, and just like with humans, old dogs don't heal as well as young ones. Swimming is an excellent exercise, especially for dogs with weak hips - the water takes the weight off the dog and allows for free and easy movement. Any rivers, streams, or pools with a gentle current and shallow water make a perfect spot!
The more devoted owners can also perform a little bit of doggy massage and stretching, especially in the morning when Fido is stiff. Start rubbing in circular movements over the major muscle groups (back, haunches, shoulders) and then gradually move down the legs, stretching the legs forward, like you would if you wanted to go for a run. Don't go so far that Fido is struggling to take back his leg. Just make it a nice easy movement and stretch him out. He'll end up waiting for you to come stretch him out before he begins to move in the morning!
Finally, there will come a time when it's a cold morning, or the day after a rough walk, and Fido's having a hard time getting up. Old joints HURT! At this point you might start considering pain management as part of your daily routine. Depending on the size of your dog, a small aspirin or half-aspirin ground up and given with a dollop of peanut butter or yoghurt will give Fido some relief. Remember, this makes the day more manageable for your young-at-heart pup, but it doesn't improve his condition.
Always speak to your vet about pain management and dosage - aspirin is okay for dogs, but other painkillers (like Advil) are poisonous and will do more harm than good.
And finally, love your older dog. Remember those early days when you roamed the hillsides and the jogging paths, and both of you had energy to spare. But appreciate this, too: the gentle, loving look in his eye, the calm patience he has, the understanding and acceptance of your routine - and enjoy him as you snuggle together on your unmarked leather couch.