I’m sure I speak for everyone who shares their life with an old dog when I say, our number one priority is keeping them as comfortable as possible. If you are a first time dog parent or it’s the first time you’ve had an older dog, it can be challenging trying to figure out how to do just that.
Don’t worry, because this is where I’m going to share my top tips and things I’ve learned after caring for old dogs for the past 10 years.
Each of them came with various issues and needs, so I had to figure out how to do my best in each case. My heart dog Red, the love of my life and the focus of so many of my articles on this sister website Caring for a Senior Dog, gave me the biggest challenge!!
I loved her with my entire soul since the day we met at the shelter that rescued her. She was a Chihuahua/Min Pin (according to me!!), was blind with eyes bulging out of her head and obese. We spent 9 years together until we had to say goodbye May 18, 2018. Resilient with the sweetest nature imaginable, she did have lots of health issues.
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My best advice
Where should your dog sleep?
That’s up to you, but I definitely have to have at least one four-legged creature in bed with me or it just feels wrong! Yes my husband is there, but it’s not the same is it!
Most of my old dogs slept in their own beds next to my side of the bed, because it was safest for them to be on the floor rather then get there by falling onto it. At least I had a cat or two to keep me company.
For the first few years Red slept on my left, nicely tucked up under my arm and she stayed there all night long. Even though she was blind and my bed was quite high, I never worried about her because she never moved. When our puppy mill rescue Saffy came into our lives, our sleeping arrangements changed. She was petrified of everything, only finding comfort with Red so they slept together every night.
If there is a chance your dog could fall off your bed and get injured, it’s not worth the risk.
What is the best dog bed?
I wish I had the magic answer, the one dog bed every pup will love…but I don’t because it doesn’t exist. What one dog loves another may not go near, so it becomes the question of the best one for yours.
I have noticed that as time passed a favoured dog bed would fall out of favour. Aging bones and joints may mean there wasn’t enough padding, it became too high to get into or they just didn’t like it. Whatever the reason for the change of heart, be ready for the possibility of new purchases in the coming months or years.
For a long time Red’s favourite style had 3 raised sides and a low opening in the front. She was a small dog with tiny little legs so this type was easy, and it worked well in the winter with a fleece blanket for extra padding and warmth.
Quite by accident she discovered a human comforter and that was it, she never looked at another dog bed again! My husband was dog sitting because I was away, and one night, no matter what he tried, my sweet girl wouldn’t settle. He finally threw her (not literally!!) onto a comforter and within a minute she was sleeping, and from that moment on she had her own comforter and cover.
It was big enough to provide a lot of padding, yet poufy enough for her to arrange it into whatever shape she needed.
Many dogs find an orthopaedic bed with memory foam provides the perfect amount of support, and because they don’t tend to sink in, getting out of bed is easy.
One more thing – I recommend you have at least a couple of beds in the house, so no matter where she is there’s always a comfortable place to rest. Not to mention a dog with mobility issues not having far to go.
Is your dog constantly getting up to pee?
It can’t be too comfortable for your dog if he’s constantly needing to pee, and having to find you to let you know. Not uncommon in an old dog, reasons can include –
- Kidney issues
- Dementia – it’s more about forgetting the housetraining then peeing more often
- Drinking more because of medication
Whatever the reason, your dog needs more bathroom breaks. Some dogs hold it for hours, preferring that to having accidents in the house but of course there’s nothing healthy about that. Take your dog out more frequently and make them quick pee breaks.
Red started peeing more and more often because of kidney issues then a hormone problem, so we would go out very often for a quick pee. That was in addition to the 4 or 5 walks a day. When she forgot her house training because of dementia I papered the entire house with pee pads. Yep, that’s right! Because she was blind I wasn’t able to just put a couple in the corner and show her where they were, so I did the entire floor.
My house would not have featured in Architectural Digest, but it was the best for my dog and my carpets!!
Many people have successfully used diapers, whether they are doggy diapers or those made for human babies. Sanitary pads can be put inside and suspenders attached to keep them up. They are available in washable and disposable versions.
Twice yearly vet visits…at least
Part of making sure your old dog’s life is as comfortable as it should be is checking for underlying health issues that may be causing discomfort.
While yearly check ups are recommended for pets in general, twice yearly are advisable for old dogs. If yours has health issues that flare up or require monitoring, you may find yourself a frequent visitor like I was. I often told my vet he should introduce loyalty cards where you get a stamp for every visit, and the tenth one is free.
A small thing can become a big thing very quickly, particularly in old dogs so if you notice anything out of the ordinary, even if you just “feel” like something is off, you should go.
Food and water bowls
One day I decided it was time to elevate Red’s water bowl. She wasn’t struggling, and being so little she was pretty close to the ground anyway so didn’t have far to reach, but I felt it would be more comfortable if it was raised a bit. There are some beautiful elevated feeders out there, but to be honest I didn’t feel the need to spend the money so I took a casserole dish (I really hate cooking so it wasn’t being used), turned it upside down and put her water bowl on top and it was the perfect height.
If you decide to raise your dog’s bowls, please make sure he doesn’t have to stretch up to reach it.
I didn’t do the same for her food bowl, I would hold it close to her because the dementia caused her to have some trouble finding her food.
You wouldn’t believe how many stories I hear about old dogs having bad teeth, not being able to eat and the senior dog parent refusing to entertain the thought of dental surgery. While I understand the fear of anesthesia, poor oral hygiene not only causes pain, it can lead to organ damage and other health issues.
If your dog is pawing at his mouth, drooling, not eating well and has bad breath, there’s a good chance he’s in some degree of discomfort. All the CBD oil in the world won’t fix bad teeth and gums.
It is quite possible your dog is not well enough to undergo surgery, but if that’s not the case I urge you to discuss the pros and cons with your vet so that you can make an informed decision.
Red was around 15 when she had dental surgery. She had several health issues that were of concern, but I have an amazing vet I trusted with her life. We discussed the pros and cons and I was willing to take the risk, because the risk of doing nothing was greater. The first night after surgery was rough, being blind the anesthetic made her even more confused, but by the next morning she was back to normal. Her teeth were worse than anticipated so it’s a good thing we went ahead. The picture above is of my other dog Jack having surgery.
Once that’s done you can start brushing their teeth with a toothbrush or even a cotton pad wrapped around your finger with a drop of toothpaste, using dental chews, raw chicken wings or necks (please check with your vet) and chew toys.
Watch out for slippery floors
Dogs of any age can easily injure themselves sliding across an uncarpeted floor, but an older dog who may be suffering joint pain or muscle loss can have a harder time getting around on a surface with no traction. One slip and he could seriously injure himself.
If you don’t want to carpet your house, yoga mats or interlocking foam or rubber squares are great solutions, and a product called Toe Grips may help as well.
How to keep your old dog warm
Old dogs may feel the cold more than they used to, and thinning skin will definitely add to the chill. Here are simple things you can do to keep your old dog warm and comfortable.
Sweaters and coats
I’ll be honest – I don’t like when people dress their dogs up like dolls, but I do believe sweaters and coats are super important to keep our old dogs comfortable.
We adopted Red in Florida, but when we got back to England she had cooler temperatures to get used to. She wore a sweater several months of the year both in and out of the house, and when it was really cold out I added a coat.
I found great sweaters in WalMart in Florida if you can believe it, and then I crocheted her a few super easy bulky coats to go on top. It took an evening to make one of those coats so I admit she had quite a few!
If your dog will be wearing a sweater often, make sure it’s not too tight and keep an eye on whether or not she’s panting which could mean it’s too warm.
In the house
As I already mentioned, Red wore a sweater in the house and she was definitely more comfortable with it.
You may like windows open even in the winter, but keep in mind if they’re open where your dog spends most of his time he will feel the cold. If you aren’t a fan of hot houses in winter, at least turn the heat on in the room your dog sleeps in, or buy a small heater for that area. Heating pads under the bed can also help.
I always keep a fleece blanket on every bed so my dogs have an extra heat source.
Dogs of all ages need to be groomed on a regular basis, and old dogs are no exception. Many suffer from urinary or fecal incontinence, so doggie cleaning wipes are great to have on hand.
Pain from arthritis and other joint issues can make it difficult for a dog to stand at the groomers for long periods of time, dementia can make them antsy and vision loss can make it scary.
Because part of keeping an old dog comfortable is keeping them clean here are a couple of things you can do –
- Give your dog a bath at home and only take him to a groomer for a cut and nail trim
- Have your groomer do everything as per usual, but instead of one session break it into two or three
- Hire a mobile groomer and avoid the traveling back and forth which can add to his anxiety
Make sure your groomer –
- Is comfortable with the changing needs of your dog, or find one who is
- Has anti slip mats in the bath and on the grooming table
- Instead of the loop around his neck can she secure him some other way
- Will allow your dog to lie down as much as possible during the session
Exercise (physical and mental)
Believe it or not, exercise is another way great to keep your old dog comfortable. Allowing him to lie around all day on his bed will not only lead to depression but obesity and other health issues.
They need to get out into the world, breath fresh air, take a walk, go for a swim, or even ride in the stroller for a change of scenery. No matter what your dog’s level of mobility, there is an exercise that is right for him or her. Keep in mind the level of intensity, frequency and length of each session. Support slings and harnesses are incredibly helpful tools to get your dog out and about.
In addition to physical exercise, all dogs need mental stimulation. Keeping the brain active staves off boredom and behaviour problems, and can help with the effects of doggie dementia. Interactive puzzle toys, treat dispensing toys, Kongs and games are all great ways to provide that.
Watch your dog’s weight
Nothing can make your dog more uncomfortable than carrying around a lot of excess weight. He’ll be tired, lethargic and not want to or be able to get out of bed and as we’ve already talked about, depression and boredom are right around the corner. It will also make any arthritis symptoms he may be experiencing even worse.
Here are a few things you can do that will help –
The first thing is take your dog to the vet to find out how much he weighs, and how much he should weigh. Many practices have a free weight loss clinic so find out if yours does and join.
Many treats are nothing more than junk food, so if you read the ingredient list and don’t understand what most of them mean, throw them out. There are plenty of healthier options out there or just make your own. There are thousands of easy and healthy homemade treat recipes on Pinterest or just do a Google search. You can also try a piece of carrot or raw apple (no seeds) for a change.
Check the portion size of each meal
Buy a better quality dog food with real ingredients
If your dog isn’t getting any exercise please start taking him for regular walks. You may only be able to walk him 5 minutes at a time to start, but as the weight comes off and he’s feeling better, he’ll be able to walk longer.
Key to keeping your old dog comfortable is treating the condition(s) he’s dealing with. Whether that’s with drugs, natural/alternative therapies or a combination, please don’t deny him that relief.
Finances can be a factor for most of us, after all veterinary care is expensive, but one way to save money is by looking online or asking if there is a generic or even human version for what is being recommended.
I know many dog parents prefer to rely on natural treatment options rather than giving drugs. I get that, and ultimately it’s your choice how you decide to treat your fur babies. Having said that, please don’t let that belief cause your dog to suffer. I know that is not your intention, but unfortunately it is too often the result of an absolute refusal to look at all options.
I urge you to speak to your vet about treatment options, and involve a holistic vet as well if that’s your preference. Sometimes the best choice for our dogs is a drug that can help relieve symptoms quickly, then we have the time to research natural alternatives. Once that natural option is introduced (with your vet’s approval!), it is often possible to reduce the amount of the drug, and sometimes eliminate it completely.
Old age is not a diagnosis
One big thing that is affecting how comfortable our old dogs are is a diagnosis of “your dog is old” from our trusted vets. That is not a diagnosis, it is either a cop out, a complete disregard for the value and worth of an old dog (yes I have witnessed that attitude first hand and heard sad stories from other senior dog parents), or your vet has no idea what he or she is talking about.
How many old dogs are in varying degrees of pain or discomfort because tests were not done to explain a parent’s concerns?
If you don’t feel like your vet is listening to you, is dismissive, doesn’t seem interested or anything other than taking an active interest, find someone who cares. Your dog’s life will one day depend on it!
Is your old dog’s life as comfortable as it should be?
What do you think? Have you read any tips you feel would help your fur baby? Are there things you do that aren’t on this list? Sharing helps others so leave your comment below.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.