Three Things That Will Make All the Difference For Your Senior Dog
Old dogs are my favorite. Yes, puppies are adorable, but nothing compares to a sweet, graying face for a solid “10” on the cuteness scale.
It’s not a surprise that old dogs are susceptible to many of the same grievances as we aging folks are: Stiff joints, diminishing eyesight, food not sitting as well, mind perhaps not as nimble as in youth (but oh so much accumulated wisdom). The good news is that there are many ways to improve your old friend’s quality of life. Of course, working ahead of time is best. A lifetime of healthy food, regular physical activity and lots of love are key to helping your dog reach a healthy and comfortable old age. But much can be done for dogs already considered senior citizens.
Yes, nutrition, nutrition, nutrition
A healthy diet is key. The first ingredient in your dog’s daily food should be good quality animal protein, not a filler ingredient. How do you know what you are feeding your dog is appropriate, whether it’s a commercial or homemade food? Well, how is your dog’s mood? Is she lethargic or active? How does her coat look? Is it dull and flaky or shiny? Does she have weepy eyes? Are there signs of pain or discomfort in her joints, belly or elsewhere?
Move, move, move! But, not too much.
Regular activity is also important, not only to keep bones, muscles and circulation healthy, but also for the brain. A bored, inactive dog is not a happy or healthy dog. In fact, some dogs need a job. For my cattle dog, it’s accompanying me when I bushwhack in the mountains looking for medicinal plants. And when we’re not doing that, it’s playing fetch.
Activities should be age appropriate. 9ish-year-old Ratticus Finch, a 7-pound Chihuahua, easily does an 8-mile hike in the Colorado Rockies. She is not happy if I try to carry her and shows no signs of being worse for the wear, despite the extra work those short legs have to do. At that age, Zoe, my 75-pound lab, would have been limping by mile 8; but when younger, she could easily go much farther and on rugged terrain while carrying her own pack.
You know your dogs best – help them find an activity level that is right for them at any stage of life, but especially in the later years.
Supportive herbs and supplements
Those who are regular followers of Zuke’s Dog Blog might be able to guess what I include here: Strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant herbs such as turmeric (1, 2), alfalfa (3) and nettle leaf (4-6)! Depending on pooch size, a pinch to a few pinches added to daily meals could be a great addition to your beloved’s diet; easing joint discomfort and improving skin and coat condition. I found that Zoe wasn’t thrilled with the flavor of turmeric, so I put it in capsules and sandwiched them between two Hip Action treats to sneak them in, and for the added benefit of glucosamine, chondroitin, and eggshell meal on her joints.
Good quality fish oil is another handy addition the tool kit. Multiple research studies have shown the benefits of regular fish oil ingestion for better mobility in dogs as well as their people (7-9). Good quality is key, otherwise the supplement may be doing more damage than good due to oil rancidity. For broader support, investigate traditional tonic and anti-oxidant herbs such as hawthorn (10) for cardiovascular and connective tissue support, rosemary for digestive, circulatory and cognitive support (11), and elderberry for it’s immune stimulating (12), anti-viral (13) and blood vessel-supporting properties (14).
Wrapping it up...
Old dogs are a wonderful part of the family. Take care of those old friends so that they can be there, in comfort, with you for as long as possible.
This article is in memory of my favorite dog ever, Zoe, rescued from the pound at age 2.
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- Fritsch, D, et al (2010) Dose-titration effects of fish oil in osteoarthritic dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 24(5):1020-6.
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- Hansen, RA, et al (2008) Fish oil decreases matrix metalloproteinases in knee synovia of dogs with inflammatory joint disease. J Nutr. Biochem. 19(2):101-8.
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- Denzler, KL, et al (2010) Regulation of inflammatory gene expression in PBMCs by immunostimulatory botanicals. PLoS One. 5(9):e12561.
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Anna-Marija Helt, PhD, is a research scientist-turned herbalist who practices and teaches at Osadha Herbal Wellness in Durango, Colorado. She is also Milo, Zeke, D, and Ratticus Finch's human.