Similarly to us humans, dogs’ health and strength tend to deteriorate with age. Senior citizens and senior dogs alike struggle with mobility and may need more support to get up and around. However, just because mobility in senior dogs declines over time, doesn’t mean their quality of life has to too. If you notice your dog is slowing down with age, you will want to do everything you can to make their life easier and more comfortable.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up those joyous trips to the park or treasured evening strolls with your canine. This guide to senior dog mobility will explore the various measures you can take to help keep your dog merry and moving in their old age.
Why Mobility Matters
Did you know that loss of mobility is one of the foremost causes of euthanasia? Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware of adjustments they can make to accommodate older dogs, and opt to put their beloved companions out of misery rather than see them slow down and suffer. But let me let you in on a little secret: senior dogs don’t have to suffer.
While it’s indeed heartbreaking to watch your once agile pup grow old and labor to get around, challenges in mobility aren’t necessarily a cause for despair. Senior dogs can and should still live fulfilling lives, even though they may have more difficulty moving. When given appropriate treatment and care, a dog’s life can be extended rather than cut short in the face of mobility problems.
Making even the smallest of changes to assist mobility in senior dogs can improve an animal’s overall wellness and lengthen its lifespan. A greater understanding of the kinds of mobility problems geriatric dogs experience and a willingness to make changes to address these problems can help your fluffy friend thrive during the golden years.
Is Your Dog Struggling with Mobility?
Most dogs are considered to enter old age beginning around 6-7 years. Noticing signs of loss of mobility around this time and understanding their underlying causes are the first steps to rectifying the challenges elderly dogs face. Before deciding what actions you need to take, you need to know what specific mobility issues your dog struggles with.
Signs and Symptoms
Being able to identify symptoms will help you find the most targeted solutions to your dog’s mobility issues. Here are some telltale signs of mobility problems in senior dogs to look out for:
- Walking slower or limping
- Struggling to sit and stand
- Slipping when getting up or walking around
- Exhibiting pain or stiffness
- Shifting weight on to front or back legs
- Favoring a limb
- Hesitating to engage in previously normal activities
- Showing trouble jumping and climbing
Common Causes of Mobility Issues
The above are indicators of a whole host of different mobility-related health issues in senior dogs. If you find your canine is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, you may want to visit the doggy doctor. Getting a diagnosis from a vet can inform what kind of mobility aid your dog needs.
To better understand what your dog is experiencing, the following list describes some of the common causes of decreased mobility:
- Arthritis – Arthritis is one of the most common mobility issues faced by dogs across breeds. It’s a degenerative joint disease that causes inflammation and discomfort. Oftentimes, it’s a result of a lack of joint lubrication that slowly wears down cartilage. Over time, this may lead to bone friction and severe pain.
- Hip dysplasia – Hip health and strength are crucial to movement throughout a dog’s lifetime. However, hips are susceptible to developmental issues as well as over-exercise. A lack of attention to these sensitivities can lead to abnormal hip socket formation, known as dysplasia. This condition can impact mobility and cause bone and joint pain. Another important factor to note here is that hip dysplasia is highly correlated to genetics. Be sure to ask breeders or rescues of any history of hip dysplasia.
- Degenerative myelopathy – This disease of the spinal cord comes with old age. The onset tends to be in a dog’s later years and is caused by nerve and spinal cord degeneration that, in turn, impacts coordination and limb strength. While not painful, progressive weakness in a dog’s rear and hind legs can hinder balance and present a handful of mobility obstacles.
- Cruciate ligament – This type of ligament injury occurs either when the cruciate ligament is partially torn or entirely ripped. Damage in this ligament between the femur and tibia affects a dog’s knees and can be crippling. While this damage isn’t always permanent, ease and range of mobility are limited during the healing process.
- Muscle atrophy – Atrophy is a fancy way of saying loss of muscle mass. It is often related to the onset of disease or reduced exercise in a dog’s later years. It is observed more in hind legs than front legs. When muscles waste away, dogs have more trouble supporting themselves.
Other possible causes of loss of mobility include intervertebral disc disease, general bone degradation, and side effects from heart disease, digestive disorders, or sickness in organs.
Treating Mobility in Senior Dogs
When it comes to mobility, vets and pet experts recommend that dog owners combine a variety of approaches for best results. While different conditions may at times require different treatments, there are a surprising number of simple remedies and accommodations that can help with symptoms of decreased mobility in senior dogs across the board.
A comprehensive treatment plan for senior dog mobility usually involves both “at-home” lifestyle changes and professional medical care.
How to Help: At-Home Solutions
The importance of making small environmental changes and adjustments in everyday activities is often overlooked as a means of managing pain, providing comfort, and affording self-sufficiency to senior dogs.
However, if you’re not paying attention to your elderly dog’s daily needs, you may end up causing them even more physical stress. For example, neglecting a little thing like nail trimming can have detrimental effects on mobility. The difference between comfort and discomfort can come down to something as small as nail-cutting.
Like regular nail trims, the following quick-fixes to everyday mobility obstacles are easy, low-cost, and highly effective. Simple solutions like these can help with senior dog mobility problems caused by a range of geriatric conditions:
Slipping and Sliding
Slick surfaces like laminate floors, tiles, glossy wood, and more present a problem for elderly dogs just trying to get around. A lack of traction makes household surfaces like these hard to grip, which may cause a dog to skid and stumble.
If your senior dog is slipping and sliding around, you may want to invest in one of the following:
- Rugs – There are a variety of different options for different spatial needs, from big rugs to carpet tiles and rug runners.
- Paw grip socks – Little socks or booties with rubber soles create paw traction and can reduce slippage. They can be taken on and off.
- Toe grips – These rubber bands worn around a doggie’s nails also help them grip the floor and can stay on for weeks.
Up, Up and No Way
Many elderly dogs have trouble climbing and jumping. As they age, dogs may have more difficulty getting into cars, reaching couches and beds, or getting up the stairs. Making big leaps without the necessary strength and balance makes a dog more prone to injuries that further exasperate mobility.
That’s why ramps, pet steps, or stair treads are great options for senior dogs. They offer a more gradual, safer way for dogs to reach elevated surfaces. With products like these, senior dogs also don’t have to be picked up, which allows them to remain independent and active.
To manage pain and ensure stability, senior dogs will often require support. Whether resting, eating, or walking, they will likely need extra reinforcements in order to be comfortable.
- Sleep support – A dog experiencing physical stress and mobility problems shouldn’t have to lay on the cold hard floor. Inflammation, soreness, and aches and pains can all be aggravated by hard surfaces. Luckily, special foam beds and orthopedic cushions provide senior dogs with a place to lounge pain-free.
- Suppertime support – If your dog has back or neck issues, you might want to consider getting a tray to slightly elevate their bowls. Additionally, putting a mat in front of food and water bowls keeps dogs with weaker limbs or coordination issues stable while chowing down.
- Support on the go – Harnesses take the strain off of a dog’s limbs by providing a way to help lift them when getting up, climbing, or walking. They’re especially helpful for dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis, and leg weakness. They support a dog’s weight and take the pressure off the joints. For dogs with paralysis or more severe mobility issues, doggie wheelchairs are also an option.
A Balanced Diet
A well-rounded diet can get your dog farther at any age. However, a healthy diet is especially important for senior dogs as obesity puts them at higher risk for joint issues. Added weight puts pressure on joints and bones, which can cause a more rapid deterioration of mobility.
Adjusting your dog’s diet with age is important and easy to do. If they are less active, they need less food. Additionally, older dogs might need more or different kinds of nutrients to give them energy and address mobility-related health issues. To prevent excess weight gain, it’s valuable to pay attention to appropriate portion size and food recipes. There are a variety of senior dog food formulas and nutritional supplements that can help keep your dog’s body mass stable.
- Fun Fact – Omega-3 fatty acids can do wonders for an arthritic dog. Adding natural anti-inflammatory ingredients or supplements into your dog’s diet is a great way to help reduce pain.
Understanding how to exercise your senior dog can be tricky. On the one hand, you don’t want to push your dog too hard and risk injury, and, on the other, regular activity is vital to wellness throughout a dog’s entire lifetime.
If you’re confused about how to keep your elderly dog active, follow this holy trinity of senior dog exercise: take it easy, take it slow, and take them out every day. Opt for moderate walks over high-intensity exercise. Going on regular short walks can help senior dogs maintain endurance and, over time, can even stand to improve their stamina.
Seeking Medical Care
Although at-home solutions offer great ways to address senior dog mobility without drugs, depending on the severity of the case, you may want to supplement such day-to-day changes with regular veterinary care. Not only can a visit to the vet provide clarity on the root of your dog’s mobility problems, but vets can also offer prescriptions and referrals to massage, acupuncture or physical therapy treatments for dogs in need.
TLC for Senior Dogs
Just because they may not be able to run as far or as fast as they used to, doesn’t mean older dogs should have to be trapped inside all day. With the proper care, they should be able to remain reasonably active, have freedom of movement, and, most importantly, enjoy life.
Understanding the mobility challenges your dog faces can help you make appropriate accommodations for them and, with these easy at-home remedies, such adjustments don’t have to turn your life upside-down or break the bank. When it comes to mobility in senior dogs, a little tender love and care go a long way.
Reviewed by Dan Richardson, Veterinarian
Dan Richardson has been a practicing veterinarian for over 10 years. He specializes in surgery and orthopedics. Dan is originally from rural western Nevada and attended the University of Idaho for undergraduate study and Oregon State University for Veterinary School. The Richardson Family enjoys camping and spending time on the water fishing, paddle boarding, or digging their feet in the sand somewhere warm.
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- Healthy Pets. A Top Reason for Euthanasia – How to Help Avoid It. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2016/06/24/lack-of-mobility-senior-pets.aspx