Hiking With Senior Dogs: How to Enjoy Their Golden Years to the Fullest

Hiking With Senior Dogs: How to Enjoy Their Golden Years to the Fullest

Your sweet furry companion may have a little grey around the muzzle these days. Does that mean you should leave her at home when you go on your next hike or backpacking trip? Heck no! Thanks to amazing advances in medicine, pain management, and preventative care, senior dogs are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Just like those inspirational and resilient (human) 75-year-olds (and older!) we see competing in marathons and mountain bike races, there is little holding your pup back from a stellar quality of life as a senior citizen.

Arthritis

Todd and Carob mountain biking the Colorado Trail near Durango, ColoradoAny mention of active senior living would be amiss without mention of arthritis. This is by far the most common health concern of owners with senior dogs. You may see symptoms such as decreased endurance, stiffness, and difficulty getting up — especially on slick floors. Arthritis is, quite simply, a term for inflammation of the joints. It is caused primarily by instability within those joints. That is, anything that causes excessive movement, chronic wear-and-tear, or tissue damage (such as infection or injury) can lead to arthritis. Hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders are usually the first joints that show signs. It’s important to note that a sedentary lifestyle can make arthritis worse. Too much laying around leads to muscle wasting, which weakens the support network for the joints — which leads to more arthritis and more discomfort — which typically leads to a dog becoming more sedentary. This is a painful but preventable cycle. This is why it is crucial to keep your senior active! Ask your veterinarian what an appropriate amount of exercise would be for your dog and make sure to discuss options for arthritis pain control. Plenty of options from anti-inflammatories to acupuncture are available to keep your dog comfortably mobile.

I also recommend the use of supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and omega-3 fatty acids. These ingredients work together to protect the wear-and-tear that occurs in senior’s joints. One tasty option you could try is Zuke’s Enhance Mobility Functional Chews.

Normal Aging Changes

  • Most dogs over seven years of age have some degree of hearing loss. They may not be completely deaf, but it may be difficult to hear certain frequencies.
  • Normal vision changes occur at this age as well. The lens in the eye hardens and cannot focus on objects as efficiently, causes changes in depth perception. This translates to a dog misjudging a jump off a rock or taking longer to recognize a loved one from afar. They may bark more at other animals because they no longer have the visual acuity to determine if it is a friend or foe from much of a distance away.

If you are deep in the backcountry or hiking off-leash on a trail, understand that your dog may not be able to navigate as well as she used to. She may wander off to follow an interesting scent and not be able to hear you call her or visually find her way back. Keep your dog close by just in case her senses lead her astray.

Special Needs Seniors

Even seniors with chronic diseases should be able to enjoy the great outdoors. Common senior-onset diseases like diabetes, cardiac dysfunction, Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism don’t mean your dog needs to stay home. Please make sure your veterinarian gives you the green light to go on a hiking trip and bring all of their medications with you! Also take it easy on your dog, and let them stop and smell the proverbial roses a bit. Be patient and let them take their time. They might not have the stamina of youth but they will still have a great experience.

Dog Years

You may have heard that dogs age 7 years for each 1 of ours. While this is a good rule of thumb, note that this number is closer to 9 or 10 for large and giant breed dogs. Remember to have realistic expectations of your senior pooch. A boisterous golden retriever may not seem like a senior citizen at 9, but at her adjusted age of roughly 63, you should probably dial back the mileage or intensity of your outing, especially if you haven’t been training with her and gradually working up to longer and longer distances. However, if you two go for 8-mile trail runs on a regular basis together and her mobility and comfort level remain good, go for a nice long hike! After all, it’s good for both of you.

Disclaimer: This information is educational in nature and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment.



About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Deming, DVM

Jennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian at AspenTree Animal Caring Center in Durango and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. When she’s not at the clinic, Dr. Jen enjoys trail running, gourmet cooking, hiking, and enjoying all things Durango with her family—including cats Fujita and Toonces, and dog Leia.

View All Articles by this Author

Dr. Jennifer Deming, DVM