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Caring for a Senior Dog, Tips & Tools

If you couldn’t tell already by Bean’s frosted eyebrows, she’s officially considered a senior (commence high volumes of sobbing, now). I don’t know how nine and a half years happened so quickly, but we have somehow made our way to this landmark. Just because she’s technically a senior, doesn’t mean her spark has waned and it’s my responsibility as her owner to take proper care of her and some of her additional needs now that she’s reached her golden years. Caring for a senior dog is an important way to make sure that you continue to live many more joyful years together. This post will help you learn more about proactive steps you can take to help ensure the health and comfort of your senior dog along with some helpful products that might aid in maintaining their physical and mental health.

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First, you’re going to have to deal with a small degree of preaching. A senior dog is not a “lesser” animal. They are wise, caring and capable of much more than many people may give them credit for. It’s a disservice to the dogs that we have agreed to care for by not giving them the opportunity to live a happy and healthy life. I’ve seen too many articles where a senior dog was surrendered to a shelter for no reason other than the fact that they were older. This hurts my heart. I can only imagine how confused these, once loved, pets must feel being in a new environment without “their” humans. Is caring for Bean more difficult than when she was five? Sure. Does that mean I get to choose whether or not I provide her care? No.

If you are one of the kind souls who have adopted and brought a senior dog into your family through adoption, thank you! I’m sure you can attest to how these animals have added to your own quality of life, even if they move a bit slower than a younger pup.

Okay, my preaching has concluded. Now, let’s talk about proactive steps to care for your senior dog.

Vigilance is Key

As with humans who are elderly, ailments can develop quicker in a senior dog. Your vigilance in keeping tabs on your dog’s physical condition, possible injuries or other health concerns, and their mental state can help to make sure you catch issues quickly and address them. I actually maintain a chart that I update each month. Sometimes, health concerns can creep up on us, but if we look back, we might be able to identify signals that issues are manifesting themselves. In using a chart, I try to be regularly mindful of potential issues so I can address them as soon as they happen.

What does the chart include? Indicators of possible issues: weight gain/loss; issues with food intake; movement changes (lameness, ease or discomfort with getting up from a resting position, favoring paws); vision concerns; hearing issues; cognitive changes; new lumps and bumps (location, size, when first observed); incontinence issues (frequency, circumstances surrounding “accident”); and problems with maintaining balance. I’ve created a chart for you to download should you want to keep tabs on your own dog this way. It’s been helpful for me to show my veterinarian dates and symptoms that I’ve observed instead of relying on my memory which seems to disappear as soon as I make my way to the Vet’s Office.

I also recommend taking photos to track progression of possible issues and video, where warranted. For example, when Bean started dragging her hind feet, it could have been due to a neurological issue, possibly from a tick borne illness, or a joint issue from inflammation or arthritis. My ability to describe what I was observing wasn’t cutting the mustard, and when I brought Bean to the vet, she suddenly stopped dragging her feet. Determined to show I wasn’t making it up, I took a video and sent it to the vet who was better able to perform follow-up diagnostic testing to reach a conclusion. In her case, she had the beginning stages of arthritis. With the addition of joint supplements that included glucosamine, the symptom showing pain/discomfort has dissipated.

Having the Right Tools in your Toolbox

There are some products I use regularly with Bean that I strongly believe are helping to improve her quality of life as a senior dog. I’d like to share some of those tools with you, but I will preface my list by stating that each animal is unique so what tools you choose to include in your toolbox might be different from what we’ve assembled.

Bean is a Mast Cell Cancer survivor. As a result of her cancer diagnosis, we are vigilant with keeping track of any new lumps and bumps that pop up. I make a note of their location, provide a description of how they look and feel (without squeezing anything) and also record the size. The way in which I am able to accurately track size is through a tool that I picked up at a local hardware store, but you can find online as well called a caliper. In addition to a measuring tool and keeping in close contact with our veterinarian, Bean gets Benadryl daily, which is an antihistamine along with CBD oil. An allergic reaction can affect Mast Cell Tumors, hence the antihistamine and CBD oil has been shown to reduce inflammation, tumor size, and pain.

Remember me mentioning that time Bean had issues with her hind legs? We have added a few items to her roundup of products to help with potential traction issues. For example, she now gets a daily vitamin from Tomlyn formulated for senior dogs along with Sound Dog Viscosity supplements from Herbsmith. The combo includes ingredients to help with joints.

It’s important to make sure a dog’s nails are short to help them with gaining traction and to improve their stance. I use the nail trimming tool recommended by Dr. Julie Buzby and I took her nail trimming course to make sure I don’t accidentally cut her quick anymore. This, in combination with using Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips have helped with Bean feeling more confident in her gaining and maintaining traction.

Dental health is super important for dogs at all stages of their lives. Bean gets a yearly dental cleaning with her veterinarian, which is how we first noticed she had a growth in her gums. The growth was located in such a way, where a tooth (one of her little chicklet teeth near the front of her mouth) needed to be removed. The growth was benign, but we were told there was a good chance one would grow again. True to form, she now has a growth near her rear molar, and will be going for a dental and gum surgery in the coming months. I located this growth as a result of daily tooth brushing. She gets lots of praise and a dental treat after her brushing as a reward. We also include a supplement in her morning meal that’s made from seaweed called PlaqueOff.

Money Management

The cost of maintenance for anything that gets older usually increases. That’s true for cars, humans, and our pets. There are ways to help plan for the cost associated with keeping our senior dogs happy and healthy for as long as possible. Some of these options may not be feasible, but I’m listing a variety of options.

Insurance can make a huge difference. Depending on the insurance provider, and the package you choose, there may be a deductible and you will likely need to pay for the service up-front and get reimbursed after the fact. I know of many pet parents who have indicated that having health insurance allowed them to seek additional medical treatments for their dog that they may not have been able to afford otherwise. That said, the term “Pre-Existing Condition” can be a challenge for some folks. Bean has already had cancer, she has allergies, and a history of ear infections. Because she had cancer before health insurance, she will not get coverage for treatments associated with cancer in the future. It’s true, the earlier a dog gets health insurance, the more that will be covered in the long run. If you have questions about which pet insurance to select, we are not as researched as other sites, so I recommend you seek information elsewhere. That said, our friend from The Broke Dog has worked with Figo pet insurance and has had an awesome experience. You can learn more about its possible benefits on her site.

Yoda is currently insured, but since Bean wouldn’t have treatments associated with her pre-existing conditions covered, it was our decision to contribute the same monthly payment to a separate savings account that we can pull from for her medical needs. It’s not ideal, and there could be situations where the bill is higher than the account balance, but it’s better than not having anything at all.

There are crowd sourcing resources available that are specific for raising money for a pet’s medical expenses, where the funds raised go directly to the veterinarian. The example of this option that we’ve had an opportunity to learn more about recently is called All of the money raised goes towards a pet’s medical needs, and there are no fees removed from the amount that is donated by friends and family. I wrote a detailed piece about Waggle and how to spread the word about raising funds that you might want to read if this sounds interesting to you.

I hope this post has provided some useful information and resources for you in order to help care for your senior dog. If you have other resources that you’ve used that you feel our readers should know about, I would love for you to comment and I’ll be sure to give you a shout out on our social media channels if we share your helpful tidbit.

Now, go spend some quality time with a grey-faced dog and take the time to appreciate their snuggles, warmth, and love. I’m sure they’ll reciprocate in their own way to show you how much the love you, too.

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