Living With An Older Dog

It’s official.  Vinnie is old.  At 11.5 human years (80.5 human years), he has decided it is time to take things easy.  So that’s why I decided to do an article on living with an older dog.

I’ve had Vinnie for 6.5 years.  He came to me from The Retired Greyhound Trust as an unfit, scruffy-looking nervous wreck. In just 3 months he was transformed physically into a sleek, fit and healthy boy.  He has never been good with strangers and never will.  But life with Vinnie has been a delight.  He has been the sweetest, gentlest boy you could imagine.  He has never been ill and hardly ever been injured.  He was full of beans and loved every second of the long walks we enjoyed together.

Sadly things have changed.  Vinnie’s life is still good, but time catches us all in the end.  In my experience, the 3 biggest differences living with an older dog are:

  1. Health
  2. Exercise needs, and
  3. Food

1. Health

3 months ago Vinnie developed arthritis.  Or rather the arthritis he had got to the point where he needed medication to keep him mobile and pain-free.  He is slow getting going in the morning but does enjoy his walk with the girls.  Occasionally he trots a bit but that’s about as energetic as he gets.  To help with his arthritis I have to do the following:

  • Give him Previcox.  Previcox (Firocoxib) is a recognised veterinary medication for arthritis in dogs. Which means breakfast takes a little longer because I have to crush a pill and put it on his food.  He was taking it in bread and butter but 3 days ago decided he didn’t want that.  Fusspot!  However he never refuses breakfast so the answer was easy.  Put it on breakfast instead!  I add meat or a little something tasty to the food anyway so the pill is properly disguised.
  • Add a joint supplement.  I use a horse supplement because it’s cheaper than the dog equivalent.  It contains glucosamine and chondroitin (for joint health), boswellia serrata, rosehip and turmeric (for anti-inflammation and pain relief).  He gets a half teaspoon per day and has been noticeably better since we started it.

Living with the extra time and cost of health conditions is something people never consider.  Fact : Keeping an older dog in good health costs money.  Too many people dump their dogs when they get sick, at a time when the dog needs them the most.

Personally, I love caring for oldies.  They have given me many years of enjoyment and love, so it’s up to me to return this when they really need it.

2. Exercise

Up until about 10 days ago Vinnie came out for our evening walk as well as enjoying the morning stroll.  But then I had several frustrating evenings where he would come out, get to the canal bank, do his business and then turn and head for home!  Or just stop dead in his tracks and refuse to move.  The only way I could get him to come with us was to put him on a lead.  But when I did do that it was obvious he was not enjoying it.

So Vinnie has been retired from the evening walk.  Maybe the fireworks (it’s Hallowe’en) are putting him off.  I suspect the morning walk we do (which has to be long enough for the girls to let off enough steam) is plenty for him, and after that he’s happy to rest.  I hate leaving him, but he seems happy flat out on the sofa with the TV burbling in the background, while the rest of us find rabbits and ducks to run after on the canal bank.

Older dogs need less exercise, which can be a blessing for some of us with busy lives.  But keeping a dog mobile is good for their health, so there is a balance to be struck.  I want to take Vinnie out, but he is telling me in the nicest way that ‘one walk in the morning is  lovely, thanks‘.  To take him out and drag him round when he doesn’t want it would be unkind.

3.  Food

And then there’s his food.  Now that Vinnie is much less active, he needs a lower protein food.  Because he doesn’t race around, he doesn’t need higher protein for muscle maintenance.  That now means I have to feed him a different food to Kylah and Arwen, who are 4.5 years and just 2 years.  It’s the first time I’ve had such a difference in the dogs’ ages, and the first time I’ve had to feed an oldie differently.

However old greyhounds don’t usually get fat.  They lose muscle and get skinnier instead.  Vinnie follows the pattern. So I don’t need a senior food which is low fat and low calorie, because Vinnie is not (and never will be) overweight.  In fact he needs more calories of the right kind! Instead I need a good quality low protein adult food which still has about 10% fat and plenty of easily digested carbohydrates.

It’s worth noting that I have never fed a ‘senior’ food to any of my dogs.  I just feed them less.

You’d therefore think it should cost less to feed an older dog.  Sometimes it does.  However sometimes it costs more because of the joint supplements you need to give.  If you buy a food with the joint supplements included they can be a lot more than normal adult dog food.  So my guess is it works out about the same in the long run.

When you have an older dog, you need to give them good quality food.  It’s more important than ever that they are fed well because that keeps them healthy for as long as possible.

My only problem has been trying to find an ‘oldie’ food and a ‘youngster’ food which have the same basic ingredients.  After trying several things I gave up feeding 2 different foods and now feed a lower protein wheat free food with lots of fresh meat.

More about dog arthritis

My friend Christopher Durin has an excellent blog about dog arthitis.  To learn more about dog arthritis from his blog, click here

Heal your pet at home

Living with an older dog throws up all kinds of health issues and surprises.  There’s no substitute for good veterinary advice and treatment.  But there are things you can do as a dog owner to help keep your dog in great health. That’s why I also recommend an e-book by Dr Andrew Jones.  Click here to find out more.

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