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Help for Your Old Dog and You

Updated on February 2, 2016

Is Your Dog Showing His Age?

Is your senior dog starting to have problems going up or down stairs? Bumping into things? Sleeping more? Even getting forgetful?

Just like humans, dogs can have a multitude of things go wrong with their bodies and capabilities as they get older.

Luckily for them, in this day and age there are unprecedented numbers of products to help them and their owners, and the Internet allows people to share tips and tricks to make their dogs' lives better.

This page covers tips, tricks, and helpful products related to the following challenges for caring for older dogs:

  • Mobility problems
  • Eating, drinking, and diet problems
  • Elimination problems

Also there are tips for creating a safe room for your dog and administering medication.

Old Dogs Have Special Needs


Mobility problems

Issues with getting around are probably the most common problem our older dogs have, but also the ones that have the most solutions. The solutions roughly fall into three categories: getting from here to there, direct human assistance, and aids with footing.

Choosing assistive interventions for dogs must be done with care. For example, a dog with balance problems would not be safe unattended on most ramps. Dogs with missing or weak limbs and cognitive dysfunction probably can't learn to walk with wheels, although if such dogs have been using wheels for a long time they may retain the skills.

But any one of the items below could be the one thing that can help you keep your pet moving and happy and able to continue their life

Getting From Here to There

The first group of products that can help your dog get around are structural and mechanical devices. There are many good ramps on the market--even ones that help your dog get up into bed!

If your dog can't manage steps anymore, consider a pet elevator. (Supervised, of course.)

For dogs who have read end weakness but still have good cognitive skills, wheels are an option. There are several companies that make custom wheels for dogs now.

A Ramp Can Help Him Into Your Car or House--even the Bed!

Helping Your Dog Directly

Next, there are products that help you help your dog directly. There are slings that are designed to run under your dog's torso so you can take some of the weight off his legs. Lift harnesses work similarly, except that they are buckled onto the dog.

Finally, there is a surprising assortment of carriages for dogs these days, including for very large breeds. If your dog still likes to get out and about but can't handle the walking, you can help!

Help Your Dog Along with a Sling Harness

Aids for Footing

Sometimes all your dog needs is some help with her footing. There are now high quality shoes, boots, and socks that give your dog some traction on smooth floors.

Another clever invention is toenail covers--plastic grips that also help with traction.

Finally, instead of putting something on the dog, you can put something on the floor. It can be as simple as a pathway made from foam-backed bathmats to specially made tread strips on the floor.

Eating, Drinking, and Diet Problems

Many senior animals will eventually have a decrease in appetite. Some will be difficult to keep hydrated. And then there are the difficulties associated with special diets.

Making it Easier to Eat and Drink

Bottled baby food (chicken, turkey, or ham) is a secret weapon of many owners of elderly pets. It is high in fat, so one has to be careful not to feed it in too large a percentage. (On the other hand, it's a good way to get calories into an animal that is losing weight.)

It's often necessary to make the food more tempting with tasty additions. But depending on the problem, some dogs are helped by elevating their food bowls. (Certain deep chested breeds who are prone to bloat should not be fed this way; it's best to check with your vet.)

Most foods can also be made into a fine slurry using a food processor and fed to the dog using a food tube (such as be found in camping stores) or a syringe without a needle (for tiny dogs).

My elderly rat terrier with canine cognitive dysfunction would tend to walk over both her food and water bowls, so I started putting them in corners. Then I elevated them, and I switched to a waterer with a tank that she couldn't knock over. Finally, when she was so old that she actually forgot how to drink, I mixed liquids in with her food, essentially making every meal into soup.

Some dogs are especially attracted to very fresh water, so that's another thing to try with a dog that is hesitant to drink. Some are fond of the commercial fountains that are available now.

Elimination Problems

It can be a hard time if your senior dog becomes incontinent, but not the end of the world. Besides taking your oldster outside frequently, just as you would a puppy, there are some products that can often help

First are pee pads. Especially if your dog used them earlier in life, they can come in very handy if he is losing his ability to "hold it" or to tell you when he needs to go out. (The latter is common in dogs with dementia.) Indoor grass can work the same way, again, if your dog has used it before.

For male dogs you can try belly bands, which deal with urination incontinence only, and both genders can use doggie diapers. Be sure you observe proper hygiene and don't overuse either of these products. They can be a lifesaver though. Also, good news: diapers are available even for very large breeds.

Create a Safe Room for Your Old Dog

If your dog has dementia, she may be prone to get stuck in things and needs a very safe environment. You can make her a safe room.

  1. Remove any furniture that she can get stuck in (for instance, in support structures under chairs), under, or behind.
  2. Make sure the floor has good traction. Put down foam-backed bath mats or floor traction strips on smooth floors.
  3. Use edge and corner guards to protect her from anything sharp.
  4. Put her food and water bowls in corners so she can't walk through them.
  5. Give her a comfortable but safe bed. Make sure when she gets out she can get some traction on the floor.

Below is a photo of my little Cricket in her safe room. I used the exercise pen panels to seal off an area that had unsafe furniture.

Cricket's Safe Room

Taking Medication

Administering pills can be a challenge even when our dogs are younger; it can become very difficult when they are old and savvy to our tricks.

Below are two videos that can help with administering pills.

In addition to those ideas, you can also crush some medications (check with your vet; some pills can't safely be crushed and remain effective) with a mortar and pestle and mix them with baby food or yogurt. You can then administer them in a syringe. Even though the medicine is probably "taste-able," this does work better for some dogs than trying to get a dry pill down.

How to Give Your Dog a Pill Using the Multiple Meatball Method

Some Easy Ways for Dogs to Take Pills

15 Year Old Kaci Goes for a Walk

Kaci is diabetic and visually impaired but still enjoys life
Kaci is diabetic and visually impaired but still enjoys life

More Tips?

If you have tips for caring for another dog, please leave them in the comments.


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