How Can I Help My Dog Age Gracefully?

By Morieka Johnson, MNN

Q: It’s getting harder for my 9-year-old dog to do the things she used to enjoy. How can I help her age gracefully?

A: While every dog is different, most canines enter their geriatric phase at 7 to 8 years of age. As with humans, advanced age can lead to arthritis, decreased mobility and decreased organ functions. An expert from my pooch’s veterinary clinic offers the following tips to help embrace your dog’s inner puppy as the years go by:

Keep up the exercise: Don’t discount those daily walks. Even if the pace is a little slower these days, it’s a way to bond with your dog and burn calories together. Just be sure to monitor your pet during and after the walk. Dogs don’t sweat, so be mindful of excessive panting or signs of exhaustion. If your dog is like my sister’s dog, Daisy, it will simply stop when enough is enough. If you have a couch potato, introduce exercise on a gradual basis. A few minutes of fetch each day can keep dogs active.

Watch the weight: On a small frame, an extra three to five pounds can strain hips and joints. Since older animals are less active, they require fewer calories. Talk to your veterinarian about reducing portions or switching to a senior formula, which has fewer calories and often includes joint-friendly supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. A smaller-size kibble or softer food also may be necessary to aid in digestion. I’ve added a bit of warm water or veggie broth to help soften Daisy’s food during her visits.

Get regular checkups: An annual veterinary exam is recommended for all dogs. Older dogs also should undergo blood work so vets can catch any internal issues such as kidney or liver damage. In some breeds, biannual blood work is recommended. Talk to your vet about blood tests during the next visit.

Keep it simple: A dog’s vision and sense of smell can diminish with age. Be sure to keep things simple by removing obstacles from around the house. It also helps to establish a routine for older dogs and avoid sudden schedule changes. Pet steps or doggie ramps also provide easy access so your dog doesn’t have to strain. Make sure that pet bedding is soft to cushion old joints.

Take note of toys: Try toys that are gentler on your dog’s teeth and jaws. Contrasting colors make balls and plush pull toys easier for older eyes to track down. Make sure playtime is still fun by adding new activities. You really can teach an old dog new tricks.

Protect those chompers: Teeth become more brittle with age. Make sure to check your dog’s teeth regularly and watch for signs of tartar or gum disease. Check out tips from an earlier column on keeping those teeth pearly white.

Socialize, socialize, socialize: Older dogs need love, too. They make the best cuddle bugs, especially for elderly relatives. Interacting with younger dogs also may help your pooch stay young at heart. Try one-on-one play dates with other dogs. Also, consider fostering a dog from a local rescue group. It’s a short-term commitment that allows your pet to help another dog learn the ropes and — hopefully — land a forever home.

— Morieka


DORIS L5 years ago

My 12 yr old pom has Cosequin DS every day for her trick knees, soloxine for hypothyroid, and enalapril to help her heart. She still enjoys a good run around the backyard every good weather day and two or three walks in the morning and afternoon. It's sad to recognize that she is aging, but then, so am I....

Ruth M.
Ruth M5 years ago

My dog is 17 and she has severe arthritis now but is still managing to get about not too badly due to modern medication although that wares off too in time. I also bought her a memory foam bed recently specially made for arthritic dogs which she seems to like but time will tell!

Josha N.
Josha N5 years ago

My 14 year old Jack Russel Terrier has been getting frozen meat (not the really smelly stuff, but the healthy kind :D) and it's really helped him. His coat is still in really great shape, you can barely detect any grey except for the ears. I would really recommend it, it may be a bit pricey but it's worth every penny, in my opinion.
About the getting a younger dog to interact with him, that won't work! We have recently adopted two dogs, one is about two years old and the other was about a year old. The youngest constantly tries to play with him, but our Jack just keeps on getting grouchier, LOL.

Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C7 years ago


Mary A.
Mary A.7 years ago

Jessie, you might think about putting your mattress on the floor. That's what I did, and my girl has no trouble joining me for a god nights sleep. I don't have to worry about her falling off, either. It's great.
Our vet has her on Previcox and Arthrisoothe. They really make a difference.

Julianna D.
Juliana D7 years ago

Good lean meat based food, regular exercise, fish oil, and a soft bed to sleep in!

Megan C.
Megan C7 years ago

I work at a specialty veterinary hospital, which offers holistic care, and I must say acupuncture and herbs can do wonders for elderly animals. We've seen great results for dogs who are suffering from arthritis, or are becoming weak in their back end. My dog has been having acupuncture treatments for 2 years to help his body fight off his cancer. Glucosamine/Chrondroitin supplements are also great for aging joints, if that doesn't work ask your vet about Rimadyl or Metacam, Rimadyl gave my parents 15 lab mix another year of running around the yard with his best friend.

Casey i.
Casey Irizarry7 years ago

thanks :)) i'll try to make my dogs senior years the best :)

Leisha A.
Leisha A7 years ago

Thank you for these tips. My dog is over 10 and though, like me, he thinks he's still a puppy, it's obvious that he's changing. Also like me! Hope we can continue to grow older together with a little grace.

Jessie D.
Jessie D7 years ago

Bitter sweet article. Brought tears to my eyes.