As dogs get older they can struggle with their eyesight and hearing, they can get stiff joints, and can sometimes become confused. Simple adjustments can be made to the home environment to keep older dogs feeling happy, safe and confident.
Hard flooring is difficult for older dogs with joint stiffness and arthritis to walk over. Rugs, mats and runners improve traction.
Leaning forward to eat or drink can destabilise senior dogs. Providing raised bowls can help.
Various beds around the house provide choice for resting and sleeping.
Keeping the layout of furniture the same means dogs with poor eyesight can remember where objects are
What physical changes should I look out for in my senior dog?
As dogs get older, they might start to show signs of slowing down or stiffness, difficulty getting up and down stairs or from furniture, increased time spent resting or sleeping, hearing or vision loss, or signs of doggy dementia.
Speak to your vet if you notice any of these symptoms in your dog. They will be able to discuss potential treatment options to help reduce the signs.
How can I alter the home environment to benefit my older dog?
Adjusting the home environment can lessen the impact of physical changes on the older dog and improve welfare.
Relatively minor changes can be made that can have significant benefits to the dog:
Slipping & Sliding
Hard flooring is a practical choice for dog owners. However, older dogs with mobility issues struggle to gain traction on hard floor and will generally choose to orientate to rugs or carpeted areas. Hard floors can create additional problems such as pulled muscles from slipping and difficulty standing up from lying down.
Consider covering hard floors with rugs, mats and runners as much as possible – ensure these grip the floor so they themselves do not slip around.
It is particularly important for older dogs to have suitable non-slippery flooring around their bed areas and feeding/drinking stations as they navigate getting up from sleeping locations and change their balance to eat and drink.
Stairs and steps might become difficult for senior dogs – consider ramps for garden steps and access to vehicles, and if possible carry them up and down stairs if the dog is small enough to do so and they will tolerate being picked up.
Some dogs with rear-end mobility issues can struggle to lower their head as a lot of their weight is often at the front end and it can destabilise them when they lean forward. However, others maintain better balance when lowering their heads. It can be a useful observation exercise to provide the option to eat from a raised food bowl and one on the ground (both surrounded by mats) and see which the dog chooses to eat from.
Activity feeders are a great way of providing gentle exercise and mental stimulation but it is important to provide choice. Snuffle Mats and LickiMats can be a simple tool but may need to be placed on a raised surface.
Chewing and gnawing are also really important activities that can be provided on a daily basis. These allow older dogs the opportunity to hold something in their paws and exercise their feet and jaw muscles as they manipulate and chew the item.
Sleep is particularly important for older dogs, and several options of comfortable resting areas ensure adequate rest is obtained. Dogs like to alter sleeping locations throughout the day depending on how hot or cold they might be, where owners or other pets in the house are situated, or whether they want to stretch out or curl up. Choices of harder and softer beds, and beds on or raised off the floor can be beneficial. Pain levels at any particular time will also determine what kind of resting area they choose.
Some dogs may prefer to take themselves off to a quiet area to rest whereas others may only be able to relax in the presence of company. Finding a way to encourage the older dog to rest as much as necessary will be advantageous.
Don’t make any big changes
Older dogs with bad eyesight will struggle if you change the layout of the furniture. They will remember where large objects are and navigate around them easily, but will become confused if you change the location of furniture, their beds or their water bowl and be unable to orientate themselves. Consistency is key.