Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Labrador Retriever - Caring For Your Elderly Dog

Being a dog owner is one of the most fulfilling things you can be. You're responsible for a living creature who relies on you for a home, food, water and love, and they reciprocate by being the most faithful companion one could wish for.

As a dog gets older, their nutritional and environmental needs differ. They may not be able to eat food they once loved, due to their teeth weakening or digestive system changing. They may not want to run around and chase after their favorite ball as much, or they may choose to sleep in a more comfortable place (maybe on your feet!) or sleep for longer.

Caring for an elderly dog is primarily a matter of recognizing when the dog needs adjustments making. A dog owner who's had their pet from young will be familiar with all the dog's traits and habits, so keeping at eye on the animal as they get older should give you an clue as to changes you need to make to their routine and home. Things to watch out for include:

* Not wanting to sleep in their usual spot on the patio or tiled kitchen floor.

* When out walking, the dog seems uninterested in playing 'fetch', rabbit hunting or anything else they used to do.

* Going to the toilet more often, sometimes in the wrong places such as on your living room carpet.

* Appearing to struggle with jumping into the car, climbing stairs or simply walking around.

* Shunning their favorite dry dog food.

* A once-lustrous glossy coat looking dull and feeling dry.

* Snapping at family members if approached quickly or from the side.

* Wounds taking longer to heal than usual.

* Getting startled at sudden loud noises, or conversely not appearing to hear at all.

This isn't an exhaustive list as all dogs are different, but most dogs will exhibit some or all of these signs as they're getting ready to enjoy their geriatric years. If your dog is displaying these signs, try the following steps:

* Provide a soft comfortable dog bed for them, such as in your bedroom or in a warm place.

* Consider closing off rooms which are carpeted, in case of accidents. Let your dog out at regular intervals so they can relieve themselves.

* Take a sturdy piece of flat timber and fix some pieces of 2x4 horizontally onto it at intervals. This can be kept in your car and used as a ramp for your dog to get in and out of the car.

* Invest in a baby gate for the bottom of the stairs to stop the dog attempting to climb them and potentially injuring themselves.

* Buy special dog food for senior dogs – it's softer for their teeth, and more suited to an elderly digestion.

* Brush their coat regularly and take them to the groomers to keep their coat free of knots and tangles which could tighten and become painful.

* If you find your dog is snapping, look into their eyes. If you see that the pupils are cloudy, they may have cataracts. As an elderly dog starts to lose their sight, it's more difficult for them to determine friend or foe if approached silently or suddenly. Make sure all visitors, especially children, know to approach the dog slowly, speaking to them all the while, so the dog knows who they are.

*If your dog's regular exercise places are edged by brambles or barbed fences, consider finding somewhere else to take your dog, like the beach or an open field.

* A dog who's hearing is deteriorating will need a very patient owner, as simply calling them to you won't work! Think of another way to get their attention. A small water pistol can work wonders; it doesn't hurt the dog but it will let them know you're calling them.

A very important aspect of caring for an elderly dog is to keep an eye on their weight. Obesity is a very real danger in older dogs as they don't get as much exercise, although with breeds like Labradors you'll probably find they can still run rings around you even when they should be drawing a doggie pension! Slim dogs live longer than overweight ones, so put leftovers straight in the bin and ignore pleading doggie eyes! If you must give your dog snacks, stick to things like soft fruit and vegetables – mashed potato is especially good for them as it contains carbohydrates for energy as ease of digestion.

If you'd like to help care for dogs who aren't fortunate enough to have an owner of their own, consider taking out one of the Dogs Trust charity credit cards. These cards will donate a portion of everything you spend to the Dogs Trust, which is dedicated to providing safe, comfortable accommodation for homeless and abandoned dogs.

A big thank you to Louise for the wonderful information on caring for your elderly Labrador Retriever.

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TESSA L CASTRO October 19, 2010 6:00 AM  

My Sophie, who will be 11 on January 4th (she's a Capri-pup *wink* lol) has the typical hip and joint arthritis now. She also gets this swollen bump under her left eye that the vet once diagnosed as an absessed tooth flaring up. But she doesn't seem to act any differently and that's on/off her pain meds. I love my girl and she's been a part of our family since she was 2 months old. XO

Anonymous,  October 20, 2010 3:23 PM  

I too have owned many Labs in my 53years. My oldest is Sheba whom just turned 15 in June of 2010. We've had her on Glucosime tablets since age 11 and recently added 2 Fish oil tablets daily to her diet. I really noticed a difference in her congnitive funtions almost immediately. Her weight remained the same; 70-75lbs for most of her life though she has lost a lot of weight over the past year or two. She has moderate arthritis and started losing a lot of hair this past week. I am switching her after 15 years from Lamb and rice to a senior formula that is easier to digest to see if this will help, unfortunately the out come is obvious. She's happy and still wants to be a part of everything. I have changed her living conditions over the past four years as to protect her from a fall and watch her when she is outside. No longer allowing steps. We have three other dogs to which I limit there contact with her when we are not home. My Chocolate could take lessons from her. My only secret is food control and no people food but an occasional carrot or apple, annual vet care and lots of love. She tested positive for Lymes' three years ago but never had any issues. She had some bouts with vestibular disease but benedril and bodine worked wonderfully. Best wishes with your older dogs.

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