Ways to Keep Your Old Dog Healthy and Happy
1. Watch your dog’s weight. “Weight on the joints can contribute to arthritis, and it makes it harder for dogs to get up because they have more weight to lift,” says Schulte, who recommends keeping your dog lean to avoid diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses. If your old dog is the proper weight, you should be able to feel the ribs with your fingertips but not be able to see them.
2. Keep your pet active. Does your older dog just plop down from a standing position to the floor? Old dogs don’t move well from stand to sit and vice versa when the rear end, which they need for mobility, gets weak. So they skip the sit posture.
To help those muscles stay strong, practice “sit” and “come” at mealtime and throughout the day, says Schulte. Even brief activity helps dogs retain the ability to get up and down.
3. Elevate food and water bowls. “I don’t like to let them lie down to eat unless they’re to the point where that’s all they can do,” says Schulte. “Once we start providing everything for them, they no longer have the need to get up and walk to the food or water bowl,” which keep them mobile.
4. Use joint supplements. I noticed a dramatic improvement in Toby’s mobility when I gave him glucosamine supplements for dogs, which you can purchase online or from your veterinarian. Another supplement you can get in capsule form is turmeric, a spice with anti-inflammatory qualities.
5. Consider a good harness. The Help ‘Em Up harness (cost: $75 to $125), which you can keep on your dog all the time, has handles you can use to assist with standing up. The harness also keeps your dog safer.
“If they fall on the stairs, they could break or dislocate their hip,” says Schulte. “Then you’re forced into a surgery or decision that you weren’t yet ready to make or didn’t need to make.”
6. Try acupuncture or cold laser therapy. Cold laser therapy uses light, not heat, to stimulate wound and injury healing. “Acupuncture is more powerful than cold laser but it works on the same principle to alleviate the pain and the stiffness of arthritis,” says Marcie Fallek, a Connecticut-based holistic veterinarian and certified acupuncturist. Fallek says she has used acupuncture to return dogs paralyzed by a slipped disc to their old selves within six weeks.
7. Give daily massages. Massage relieves stress and aids muscle function and range of motion by lengthening tight muscles. Giving daily massages also lets your dog know that you still love him and he’s still important. That’s especially vital if the pet is depressed because he isn’t as mobile or can no longer participate in activities with younger household pets, says Schulte.