Senior dogs are generally considered to be those age 7 and over, although it often depends on breed and size. The heartbreak is obviously that dogs are nearly always going to be die before us. But we do meet them in the afterlife (there’s proof!) and the important thing is to ensure they have the best life possible, while they are on this earth. Old Dogs is an artist’s portrayal of old dogs with grey muzzles, milky eyes and wobbly legs.
Here are a few useful tips and resources. Old dogs don’t always get ill, they just get slower. As long as they have a nice comfy bed and a shady spot in the garden, most senior dogs are happy with a routine, quiet, nice food – and lots of love! Blue Cross has useful tips on feeding old dogs, common medical issues and (temporarily) saying goodbye, until you meet again. Also read this book to keep your dog safe.
One thing to be careful of with older dogs is to keep trying different remedies, when it’s clear that it may be time for your dog to go play in the sky, until you meet again. A human who is dying can choose to try many different remedies, but it could just make a dog confused and exhausted. Some drugs do wonders, others benefit from more holistic qualified methods like veterinary physiotherapy (covered on most pet insurance). But always be aware that sometimes it’s best to just let go, and know that you have done the best you can. Otherwise you may be filled with regrets afterwards.
Read Lessons from Lucy, on what old dogs have to offer. On turning 70, Dave Barry sees that his old dog is dealing better with old age than him – she has more friends and fewer worries. So he decides to figure out how Lucy is so happy, by doing what she does. He reconnects with old friends and tries to make new ones (a struggle, as Lucy likes people more than he does).
How to Help Senior Dogs
If you have a life suitable to adopt or foster a dog or two, why not consider an older dog? Everyone wants puppies, and this means that often the senior dogs get left behind in the shelters. Although you will have to endure the heartbreak of losing them sooner, you can be happy in the knowledge that you made their last years happy. Often older dogs are in shelters due to having older guardians who have died. Older dogs are usually quieter and more content with a couple of shorter walks a day, and are already house-trained.
- Oldies Club is a national charity that has lots of old dogs (and a few cats) for adopting. They don’t run shelters but usually have the dogs in foster homes, and use volunteers to ferry oldies to their new homes.
- Become a volunteer dog walker. This means older and unwell guardians can stay with their dogs long-term, while others give them the exercise (and vet trips) that they often need.
- If you’re creative, you can knit or crochet blankets for Snuggles Project. These are then given to signed-up shelters to offer snuggly sleeping places for older (and all) pets, while waiting for new homes. So they don’t have to sleep on hard floors.
- Many older dogs live with older people, goes with the territory. If you have to go into a nursing home, The Cinnamon Trust has a register of pet-friendly care homes and nursing homes, so you don’t have to give up your beloved pet, if you can no longer live independently. The charity also has a nationwide posse of volunteer dog walkers, who can also help other animals, assist with ‘pet taxi visits’ and adopt/foster pets if you have to go into hospital or die (must be arranged in advance).
- Start up a local grant program to help senior dogs. The USA’s Grey Muzzle Grants is great inspiration. It’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that funds medical care and home adaptions, to make it more likely that senior dogs get a lovely life, either in shelters or when adopted.
Tips for Feeding Older Dogs
Many older dogs get sensitive tummies or develop conditions that require different foods. This is a difficult one, as you have to be very careful changing the food of older dogs, as it can sometimes takes months for them to adapt (rather than the 2 weeks usually listed to change to different foods). Speak to your vet, but do also be aware that many vets get money to promote certain brands, that are not always that good. However, many ‘natural brands’ can be too rich for sensitive tummies.
Whatever you decide, try to stick to the same food routines, don’t keep changing foods every few days or weeks, or you could make things worse. If your dog has a delicate tum but no big issues, it may be best to just leave him/her on the present food for life if it’s not doing any harm. Read more on where to find better pet food.
Find Good Pet Insurance & Vet Care
As your dog gets older, it’s likely he or she will need to see the vet more often. See where to find free & low-cost vet care, for tips on how to make this affordable. And also where to find trustworthy pet insurance (it’s good to get a policy going early on, as most companies will not fund older pets on first sign-up). Some good companies may fund qualified holistic medicine, if you prefer to use it (unlike human holistic care, legally holistic vets have to be qualified ‘normal vets’ beforehand, so it’s easier to avoid charlatans).
Make a Pet Trust
Whether you’re an older guardian or simply have an older pet, ensure you make a pet trust, so that if anything happens to you, your dogs will be okay. You can’t leave money direct, but you can make a Living Will to ensure that you have nominated guardians to take care of them, if you become incapacitated or die.
If you have no guardians, Dog’s Trust Canine Card is a free card to keep in your wallet (National Animal Welfare Trust offers a similar card in South West). If you die, a nominated guardian is contacted to find loving homes for pets, trying to keep animals together.
(temporarily) Saying Goodbye to Senior Friends
PDSA has a good post on when it’s time to (temporarily) say goodbye. Putting pets to sleep is one of the hardest decisions to make, and can be made a lot easier by vets who have empathy, rather than ones in noisy big vet clinics with too many staff. It’s nice if possible to offer home euthanasia so pets can stay at home on your lap, to peacefully exit this world. If you’re not strong enough to not cry out through the procedure, it may be best to have a friend there instead, as pets will pick up on your stress, something you don’t want at the end of their lives. Be brave, then cry your heart out afterwards. Of course in reality, life is not always what we want, and sometimes at-home euthnasia is not always possible. But make a plan anyway: The Ralph Site carries a list of nationwide vets that offer specialty services (most vets will do this, if you ask).
PalliVet (London) offers end-of-life care within a 10 mile base of Islington. A great idea for other areas, it can therefore treat pets with serious or terminal illness in the comfort of their own homes (if quality of life is still good). And can offer peaceful at-home euthnasia when it’s time. They also offer supportive care for chronic illness like arthritis and dementia.
After your dog has peacefully gone to rainbow bridge, many people prefer just to remember them in their hearts. If you do choose some kind of ceremony, see tips for a zero waste burial for advice on biodegradable caskets and other ideas like planting trees (see toxic plants and trees to avoid near living pets). You don’t want to plant wildflowers that could harm furry friends, still with you.
A Dog for Jesus by Rudyard Kipling
I wish someone had given Jesus a dog.
As loyal and loving as mine.
To sleep by His manger and gaze in His eyes
And adore Him for being divine.
As our Lord grew to manhood His faithful dog,
Would have followed Him all through the day.
While He preached to the crowds and made the sick well
And knelt in the garden to pray.
It is sad to remember that Christ went away.
To face death alone and apart.
With no tender dog following close behind,
To comfort its Master’s Heart.
And when Jesus rose on Easter mourn,
How happy He would have been,
As His dog kissed His hand and barked it’s delight,
For The One who died for all men.
Well, the Lord has a dog now, I just sent Him mine.
The old pal so dear to me.
And I smile through my tears on this first day alone,
Knowing they’re in eternity.
Day after day, the whole day through,
Wherever my road inclined,
Four feet said, ‘Wait, I’m coming with you!’
And trotted along behind.