We recently wrote about common signs of aging in dogs, an important topic for the assistance dog community because of the need to make transitional plans for when your dog is unable to keep working. And, as discussed in our article on retiring your assistance dog, many people keep their guide, hearing, or service dog as a pet after she steps down from the working dog life.
So, now we’d like to share some information about caring for your aging, retired assistance dog. She’s earned a comfortable, happy retirement, and you can thank her for all her help over the years by making sure she gets it. Below are some tips for providing the best senior dog care possible.
How to Care for Your Retired Assistance Dog
- Bring your dog in for veterinary checkups at least twice per year, or more often if your vet recommends it due to specific health concerns.
- Talk to your veterinarian about proper feeding, as older, less active dogs typically require fewer calories and are more prone to becoming overweight; they also may need more emphasis on easily digestible foods and/or certain nutrients.
- Consult your vet about safe, appropriate exercises to help keep your retired assistance dog physically and mentally stimulated.
- Ask your vet whether your dog might benefit from any nutritional supplements; for example, omega-3 fatty acids are often helpful for older dogs, as are supplements for joints like glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Be vigilant about performing home health exams of your dog and promptly discussing concerns with your vet.
- Discuss any behavioral or mood changes with your vet as well.
- Follow your veterinarian’s prescribed parasite control and vaccination regimens, as dogs become more susceptible to infection and complications as they age.
- Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of cancer in dogs.
- Learn about arthritis and other joint problems in dogs, including how to care for affected animals.
- Monitor for signs of pain, such as limping, sitting strangely, struggling to lie down or get up, sensitivity to touch, excessive localized licking, and so on.
- Help keep your dog warm during cold weather and cool during hot weather; senior dogs are often more sensitive to temperature and cold surfaces they have to relax and sleep on (especially if they have a degenerative joint condition).
- Pay close attention for clues that your older dog needs new accommodations, such as less stair climbing, more time indoors, more frequent trips outside to relieve herself, easily navigable paths clear of obstacles, a quieter environment, etc.
- Brush your dog’s teeth regularly, talk to your vet about good oral hygiene, and make sure checkups include a dental examination, because periodontal disease is a serious concern in senior dogs.
- Give your dog plenty of toys, including interactive ones, and change them out often; dogs need adequate stimulation, which gets more difficult as they become less active. Also, former assistance dogs experience a considerable lifestyle change with retirement that can mean far less stimulation.
- Provide regular socialization opportunities with other people and other dogs, but be aware that older dogs may start to lose interest in social interactions; although it’s a normal part of aging, it’s best to mention this to your vet, as it can also be a sign of illness.
Remember to enjoy this time and celebrate their life!