Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Just like people, dogs age at different rates, but we can’t escape the fact that they age. We can however, help them to age gracefully.
If you have ever rescued a worried dog, and watched them grow old, you may have seen their worries that were left behind years before start to re-emerge. Even dogs who have never been anxious and who’s sight and hearing start to fade can show anxiety and clinginess with us, due to the new world they find themselves in. As a human who with hearing loss I can vouch for the emotional toil it has, and for dogs, with far less control over their environments, it must be even more of a jolt.
If your dog is showing signs of being unwell, it’s important to take them to the vet. Even if you can’t quite explain specific changes or physical symptoms, a good vet may recognise something specific.
If your dog is showing mental and physical signs of age, there are a few things that you can do to help improve their mental wellbeing.
Psychological Signs of Mental Ageing
These are common signs that are seen in dogs that would indicate that they are getting older and declining mentally.
Fear or anxiety around novel (or even familiar) people or objects.
Changes in the sleep cycle, such as restlessness or pacing at night.
Barking or vocalising more frequently.
Repetitive or compulsive behaviours such as licking or wandering.
Forgetting cues that they once knew.
Toileting in the house.
Decrease in activity level.
It’s important to consider pain.
Symptoms such as disinterest in walks and licking at joints could mean pain. Even if your dog doesn’t show the signs of stiffness when waking and still runs happily ahead on walks they could still be experiencing joint issues, so it’s vital to be aware of that.
When looking for a way to improve your dog's psychological health, you will need to find an activity that helps stimulate your dog's brain. A dog who is not mentally stimulated will quickly get bored. Boredom itself as we age can lead to mental degeneration. Remember that your dog can’t sit and read to stimulate their minds or play a brain trainer to keep their grey matter strong. If they are sitting still for a long time, they are not really using their brain and we all know the old saying, use it or lose it.
Simple enrichment a couple of times a day, new walks and learning new things is all excellent for older dogs.
Games, toys, snuffle rugs and general puzzles are all brain boosting activity. They can be made or bought. Something simple like old socks with a treat in will keep your dog busy, recycle cardboard boxes and envelopes through the dog first, anything that makes them motivated enough to try and get the food is boost their brain and their mood. Remember to keep the task at hand within their capacity for success or it will knock their confidence and make them feel bad.
Dogs are nose led, they sniff their way through life and even when the sight and hearing starts to wane, dogs still smell everything. You can help them age gracefully by enhancing their opportunities to sniff. Always let them sniff on walks and even add extra sniff opportunity where you can.
The new sights, smells and people your dog encounters on novel walks will keep them entertained and stimulate their brains. A new environment or change of scenery will also help mentally stimulate your dog. Try to change your walking route regularly or walk the normal route the other way around. to make for a change in your dog's daily routine. Or even just take them somewhere and sit, so they get to explore interesting sights and sounds in their own time.
If your dog seems like they have mental impairment, it would be best to see your vet. Older dogs can suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction, which is also known as canine dementia.
Your vet can examine your dog to see why they have a decline in mental function and give you some great tips on supplements that you can try to help increase your dog's brain function, and while prescribed veterinary dementia medication is still pretty new, it can really help slow down the condition as part of a holistic care plan.
We might age but we need never grow old if we manage our mental and physical health. Care of joints, the digestive system and the brain is an excellent lifestyle vaccination against getting old as we age. The same approach will keep our dogs fit, healthy and happy right into their senior years.