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Tips For Living With A Senior Dog

by Elizabeth Cusulas

Shuffle. Those of us with multiple dogs never walk normally anyway, but old dogs will be underfoot more than you ever thought possible. They sleep more soundly and often can't hear you coming. You'll both be safer if you take extra care.

Train with hand signals while they can still hear well enough to learn easily. Trust me, it's harder once the hearing is gone.

Use a flashlight to call them in at night if their hearing goes. They catch on fast if a treat is also in your hand.

Carpet the stairs - old dogs have trouble on slippery slopes.

Use rubber backed area rugs on slippery floors - especially at the bottom of the stairs. They're cheap and easy to clean.

Put a rug under the feeding area to help them keep their balance as they bend to eat. Raise the bowl if bending becomes difficult. There are special bowls on platforms commercially available for larger dogs and you can improvise a smaller platform for the little guys.

Invest in an orthopedic foam dog bed. They don't cost much and the oldsters love them. Put one in each room where you spend a lot of time so old bones have a soft, warm place to rest while on guard duty.

Put a low footstool near your bed, couch or chair to help make them accessible once more. (There are also ramps available or you can make your own)

Keep senior dogs warm. They chill more easily. Buy a doggie sweater or clip the coat a little longer than usual.

Give your senior dog a gentle massage as often as possible. Not only will it soothe and relax both of you, it will help you find any lumps or injuries that need veterinary attention. All my furkids love "doggie massage". Tristan wouldn't get out of bed in the morning until he'd had his "massage". It's especially helpful for aching joints and muscles of the senior dog.

Step up vet care - teeth, eyes, nutrition. Dental care is vital. Dental infections can stress the system and even contribute to major organ disease.

Police the food bowl. Younger dogs may take advantage and hog the food. You can feed your older dog in a separate room or in his crate to ensure he is getting his full share.

Watch the weight. A number of medical conditions can be caused or worsened if your dog gets chubby. Since activity may be slowing, talk with your vet about how to keep your senior dog trim but well nourished.

Check out the new arthritis medications available for dogs. They can make a big difference but do your homework and ask your vet a lot of questions first.

Know your dog. Signs of illness or injury can be very subtle. (changes in habits or temperament can signal health problems long before other symptoms show up)

Pace walks and exercise. Let your elder dog decide what his limits are. Be prepared to carry your dog if you guess wrong about his stamina.

Stimulate their senses with car rides, trips to the park or visits with friends. Just like old people, old dogs still need some excitement in their lives.

Make time for cuddling. Older dogs sometimes get lost in the shuffle or appear aloof because they sleep so much. They need your love more than ever.

Reprinted with permission, from Tale Waggers - stories for "dog people", Copyright 1996-2001, Elizabeth Cusulas. All Rights Reserved.

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