Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Seniors Rule.....Still

by User Not Found | May 01, 2013

This week we’re going to talk about Senior dogs again, mostly because I love them and well, they are special so they get two blogs.  Now that the great stories we shared and the great reasons for adopting a senior dog have convinced you to get an older pet, let’s squash some of the other “urban legends” surrounding these guys. 

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  False

Gus is going to be 11 years old this fall.  He learned just last year how to fetch a beer from the fridge and bring it to me.  We’re still working on closing the door and then picking up the can for recycling, but he’s got a pretty good handle on it.  Older dogs are like mature adults.  They have an attention span and are much calmer and more focused which actually makes them easier to train!  Find something they love and you won’t have to deal with the stubbornness of a cranky, old guy because they have learned that being with your people is the most important thing in the world.  In my humble opinion, golden retrievers are the most people loving dogs in the world.  Sure they love to chase a ball and are typically pretty food motivated, but as a wise friend once said to me, they just want to be with you.  It takes puppies and young dogs some time to learn and trust and realize it’s all about their people, but an older dog’s experiences have already taught them that.  You would think as wise as they are, they wouldn’t be scoffing around the backyard eating clods of grass off the lawn mower. 

Tricks are a great way to exercise an older dog and for my tripod Shaggy, it’s more exhausting than the short walks he can take.  He can’t walk really far, but he’ll sit for hours with me outside on the deck learning shake and say your prayers.  It forces us humans to get creative and maybe that’s exactly what our old minds need.  And maybe this is why I always say that I get way more from my dogs than they ever get from me. 

Older Dogs can’t walk or exercise with us.  False

The biggest problem here is overweight dogs.  I won’t even start on that kick again since we had a great discussion about it in WE ARE NOT WHALES last year.  It’s a vicious circle, the less you move, the more weight you gain and the more difficult it is to move.  Sure, at some point your friend won’t be able to take that two or three mile hike any more.  They may start to fall behind or have trouble with sore muscles the next day, but so do I!  There’s certainly nothing wrong with taking them for that first 30 minute loop and then finishing the rest of a longer walk by yourself.  They’ll enjoy a quick cat nap and by the time you get home, they’ll be ready to snuggle up on the couch for an afternoon snack and a movie.  Be observant.  If you notice something isn’t “normal” for your dog, you are their only advocate because no one knows them better than you do.  You can help with massage, passive range of motion (PROM) exercises and sometimes even medication as needed.  The world of vet medicine has expanded greatly in to the realm of complimentary treatments and the accessibility of things like laser therapy and acupuncture are available.  The point is, you have lots of options and the longer you keep your dog moving, the better.  Use well-padded beds to keep them up off the hard floor, orthopedic foam and raised cots are great because it’s not challenging to get in and out of.

Senior Dogs need "Senior" Food.  False, well kinda

Exercise ties closely with feeding.  Most dog foods labeled for seniors contain more fiber.  The idea was that you could feed less food but still fill up your dog’s tummy, hence the marketing “less active”.  In order to add more fiber, they have to take away something else, unfortunately that means they are also lower in protein and that’s actually the opposite of what you want for an older dog.  Granted with a dog who has kidney issues a low protein diet is ideal, but in your everyday older dog, >7 years, protein continues to be essential to their diet.  There are many “senior dog” formulas out there, but when do you start feeding those and what’s so special about them? 

1. Look for something with a lower calorie intake, but that maintains good protein levels. 

2. Aging can affect intestinal bacteria levels, so look for senior diets with fructooligosaccharides which are known to promote growth of beneficial bacteria.

3. Vitamin E and beta-carotene—these help eliminate free radicals that can damage tissue and they can also make immune systems more effective.

4. GLA or Gamma-linolenic acid which are omega 6s made in the liver tend to decrease with age, so supplementing with a food that contains GLA will help!  Or better yet, Fish Oils!

Every older dog is prone to putting on weight, but gaining fat is ten times worse with no exercise!  Last summer my dogs spent a week at the beach and I was feeding them more than what I normally feed them every day.  They were swimming and running up and down the beach every day and going for walks nearly everywhere.  They were way more active than in a normal week, so I fed them more food.  When we got back home, I transitioned back to their normal amount.  It is important to measure your dog’s food, yes, however it’s also ok not to be so regimented in their feeding.  If they are out swimming all weekend and playing, it’s ok to give them a little extra food and on days when they are laying around sunbathing, it’s ok to give them a little less.  You do it for yourself, why not for them?  But be careful, watch their weight!!  They may not LOOK heavier to you, but that can be deceiving.  Most vet offices are more than happy to let you bring your dog in for a quick weight check and some pet stores even have them now.  I know the face…the sad, I’m starving and please share your snack with me face.  I get it, we all love to give our dog’s treats, but be smart about it.  It’s the season for fruits and veggies at the Farmer’s Market.  Steer clear of grapes, raisons, onions and other foods that are not safe for dogs, but apples, carrots, green beans, zucchini, cucumber among others make a great snack for dogs of any age.

Periodic vet visits, massage (to checks for lumps and bumps), rugs to help with slippery floors, frequent potty breaks and other small changes in your life can help your senior dog feel more comfortable and confident.  Making efforts to keep them engaged in life and interacting with your family and the world around them will make all the difference in their “golden” years…..and it just might help you too.


Here's to snuggling...


Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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