Whether your dog is approaching his senior years or you’re bringing a senior dog into your home for the first time, senior dogs require planning and preparation to keep them healthy, happy, and safe. A senior dog is one who is considered to be in the last quarter of his life. For large and giant breeds, this could be as young as 6. For smaller dogs, that may not be until age 10-12. Either way, senior dogs have different needs than younger dogs. While you could probably wing it, you would be doing yourself and your senior dog a favor by planning and preparing your home before he arrives or becomes a senior. Here are tips to help you prepare your home and your family for a senior dog.
#1 – Where will the dog sleep?
Senior dogs can have continence issues, so you may consider having him sleep in a crate or a room with a hard floor where messes would be easier to clean up. Senior dogs also tend to have sore joints, so you will want to consider an extra thick orthopedic bed. If you plan on letting your senior dog sleep in bed with you, he may need steps or a ramp to get into your bed comfortably.
#2 – Where will he stay when I’m not home?
Since your dog may have continence, destructiveness, or anxiety problems, you may not want to give him access to your entire home, especially when you first bring him home. Will you keep him in a room with hard floors that are easier to clean after an accident? An exercise pen? A crate? Or will you trust him in your whole home?
#3 – What will his daily routine look like?
All dogs thrive on routine, but it becomes even more important as dogs age. They like to know when they will be fed, exercised, and left home alone. A recently-adopted dog will be especially comforted by having their daily routine determined right away. Try not to let your weekend routine stray too much from your weekday routine. If your dog is used to getting fed and walked at 6 am five days a week, for example, he is bound to be confused and upset when that is pushed back to 9 or 10 on the weekend.
#4 – What problems might he suffer from?
As dogs age, they are prone to more problems. This is especially true if you’re bringing home a new senior dog. Plan ahead for the problems he might suffer from or ones that you know for a fact he has problems with.
Anxiety – Any dog can suffer from anxiety, but a senior dog entering a new home after possibly spending his entire life in one home or many years in a shelter is especially likely to suffer from anxiety. This may be just a little anxiety the first few nights or it may be full-blown separation anxiety. Make a plan ahead of time for how to handle any anxiety issues your senior dog may suffer from.
Destructiveness – Anxiety and boredom can both lead to destructiveness. How will you handle a dog that becomes destructive? Do you have a crate or a small room ready to keep him in when you’re gone to keep him (and your belongings) safe when you aren’t around to supervise him?
Housebreaking accidents – Any dog in a new home is bound to have some housebreaking incidents as they get used to a new home and routine, but senior dogs have the added problem of potentially suffering from health issues that can cause incontinence. Many diseases (or their medications) can cause excessive thirst and, as a result, extra urination. Do you have a plan in place to reduce housebreaking accidents or to clean them up after the fact?
Health problems – Senior dogs are bound to have health problems at some point. Those problems may range from mild arthritis to chronic health issues like diabetes or cancer to blindness, deafness, or even cognitive dysfunction. Are you financially and emotionally prepared to handle any health problem that may creep up?
#1 – Find nearby trusted vets
Before your dog comes home, you should choose a regular and an emergency vet nearby whom you trust. You will feel much better having a number on speed dial rather than scrambling to scan through reviews when your dog is having a health problem.
#2 – Prepare your home
Senior dogs tend to have special needs that may require some planning before bringing your dog home.
-Floors – Dogs with arthritis can have a problem walking on slick hard floors. How do you plan to help your dog get around your home if you have hard floors? Do you plan to get him rubber-soled nonslip booties? Do you plan on putting down rugs or runners with non-slip backing? Maybe you only have hard floors in your kitchen and bathroom and you want to just restrict his access to those rooms. Whatever your plan is, be sure to implement those things before bringing your senior dog home (or before your dog turns into a senior citizen). Even just a couple of days sliding on hard floors can put extreme amounts of stress on already sore joints, so plan ahead.
-Stairs – Senior dogs can have problems getting up and down stairs, or trips up and down stairs may exacerbate joint problems. Do you want to block off your stairs to minimize his trips up and down? Buy baby gates before bringing your dog home so he will understand his boundaries right away.
-High places – Do you plan to allow your dog on your bed or sofa? He may need stairs or a ramp to get up and down. Have a large senior dog? You may want to invest in a ramp to get him in and out of your car or up and down the front steps to your house so that you don’t have to pick him up.
-Products – On top of the products to prepare your home itself, you may consider getting things like a raised feeder, an orthopedic bed, diapers or potty pads, and pill pockets.
#3 – Stock up on supplies
Every day matters to a senior dog with aching joints, so be sure to stock up on all your supplies ahead of time. You’ll likely need or want grooming supplies, treats, and supplements like omega-3, glucosamine and chondroitin, or a probiotic
By taking these steps, you should be prepared to give your dog a relaxing time in his “Golden Years” and allow you to spend your time focusing on him instead of scrambling each day with a new thing to help his mobility or quality of life.