Thursday, July 21, 2011

10 Commandments for Seniors

With Norbert's 9th birthday passed I am now living in a house filled with senior dogs.  Four of my five hounds are over the age of 7 and there are definitely more gray and white hairs on my guys.

Its hard not to hear the tick tick of time passing when I look at them.   All of us who share our lives with dogs know about the inevitability of loss.   Part of the wonder of dogs is they show us how to face our own mortality.  If we are luck watch them go through a version of our life span in 10 or 15 years, from puppy to adolescent to adult to senior. Dogs of course live in the moment, something most of us humans need to get better at.

In the last few years Ive read quite a bit about senior dogs and these are the ten things I think are the most important for insuring your dog enjoys their golden years (please remember I'm no expert, just mom to some great older dogs and cats.)

1) A quality diet: Of course this is important for every age but older dogs and cats in particular need quality nutrition.   Many of the popular senior diets are actually  not ideal for pets, for example they reduce the protein, when in actuality older dogs and cats need even more protein then their younger counterparts.   I believe every dog owner should have a subscription: Whole Dog Journal if only to read their yearly dog food review.  I personally will only feed foods they recommend to my dogs and casts.   Among the kibbles they recommend are Natures Variety, Blue Buffalo, Merrick, Canidae, and Wellness.   They also recommend several varieties of premade raw (Natures Variety, Stella and Chewys) and freeze dried foods such as the Honest Kitchen.   I feed my little guys (Tubby, Ping, and Zira) Natures Variety Raw or Honest Kitchen.  Unfortunately both of those foods are cost prohibitive for my big guys and so I feed them a rotation diet of quality grain free kibbles (Wellness, Canidae, Natures Variety, etc).  The kitties also eat a rotation diet of quality kibbles.

2)  Add some love to the food with fresh additions: I know this really connect with number 1, but since most pet parents  feed kibble (as I do with my big guys) I think its important.   You can cook up some doggie stews with fresh meats and veggies or if you are pressed for time you can add canned sardines in water, yogurt,  or a lightly cooked egg.   Or you can make a very simple stir fry.

The one pictured above is made with ground turkey, summer squash, and blueberries (blueberries are an excellent source of antioxidants.) By adding fresh foods to the kibble you make it healthier and more appetizing and you don't have to take as much care to balance the diet as you would with an entirely home made diet.  Of course if you are not the cooking type you can also add some raw meat to your dogs diet, there are lots of good internet resources like this article from Dog aware about feeding your dog raw.

3) Supplements: I am a big believer in supplements to the point that I have to work really  hard to stop myself from buying every doggie tonic on the market.  However, I still give quite a few supplements and I also try to rotate the supplements, just as I rotate the kibbles.  These days my seniors are taking Dr Harvey's Golden Years.  All of the dogs get fish oil every day, I use salmon oil from Olive Green Dog because it comes in a large cost effective size.   Everyone also get glucosamine, I buy  Glycoflex 3 from   Other supplements I give the dogs include milk thistle for the liver, curcumin for antioxidant properties, and hawthorne berry powder for the heart.  I get these herbs from mountain rose herbs which is cheaper then many other sources.   I also give Bob Barley Dog a green foods supplement since he is a grass eating addict and Dr. Zira gets Vetri Science renal essentials since she has early stage kidney disease. 

4.) Regular vet visits-every 6 months.   All my dogs and cats over 7 go to the vet every 6 months for complete blood work and a thorough physical exam.   I think this helps catch anything early, caught early many life threatening disease are treatable.

5) Specialist vets.  You wouldn't go to a general practitioner if you had a specific health problem, and neither should your dog.   Veterinary medicine has exploded in recent years and there are specialists for everything.   They may not be cheap but their expert knowledge is well worth it.

6) Exercise. I admit it  I can be a bit of a sloth.  When I picture the perfect dog human relationship I don't see myself jogging down the street with my canine companion, I see myself curled up on the couch with them reading a book or watching TV.  That's not to say I don't love walking my dogs, I do.    I really believe all dogs need some exercise even if its just a walk around the park,  no matter what the age.   Exercise is just as important for mental stimulation as it is for physical health.   People who exercise regularly have a lower incidence of Alzheimer's and it stands to reason that active senior dogs will have a lower incidence of canine cognitive disorder.   Even if a dog is too old to walk you can put them in a stroller--here is a picture of the late sweet Bingo out in his stroller in Hoboken.

7.) Toys:  Older dogs like their toys too:  Here is a picture of Norbert playing with his baby brother Bob in our back  yard:

Planet dog makes a line of toys just for older dogs called old souls with contrasting colors to help older dogs see them.  I have not tried these toys out myself yet, thankfully all my older guys seem to see just fine, but I bet my older guys might be getting them soon.  

 8.) Read a good book about dogs getting older:  Well this is for the pet parent not the dog,  but you could try reading to your dog for some nice one on one time.  My two favorite books about older dogs are the photography book Old Dogs are The Best Dogs


and the memoir Dog Years by the poet Mark Doty.  The first book is wonderful for its beautiful photographs of greying canine faces and the little blurbs that accompany them telling you all about the dogs fascinating lives.  The second book is my favorite and is a memoir not just about older dogs and loss, but about life and loss in general.   In the book Mark Doty writes about losing his partner to aids, and how his dogs Beau and Arden help him deal with the enormity of that loss.  He then writes about his life with the dogs and his new partner, Paul.   Since he is a poet his writing is particularly beautiful.  Much of the book deals with his dogs aging and passing and I found it particularly moving, but not overly sentimental.   Reading the book really helped me understand my own older dogs and feel better about their aging.

9.) Inspiration: Check out these gorgeous photos by artist Nancy Levine from her photo project Senior Dogs Across America.  Many of the dogs are in their late teens, one is 21!  Or read this wonderful story from Bark magazine about Muttville a California based senior dog rescue group celebrating the adoption of their 1,000 dog.  
10.) Appreciation: This is the most important tip of course.  Don't forget to cherish every single day with your dog. 


  1. What a great post. I often think about what it will be like when Kendall gets old, but then I remind myself to enjoy the moment. I've never been so attached to a dog as I am with her. You have quite the brood! I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog.

  2. Such excellent information! Momma has been experimenting with my diet so I will read her this post so that she has more info to pour over. I take glucosamine every day but that's it. I think I need to take some fish oil because I want a nice, shiny coat.

    Thanks again!


  3. With all the loss in the pug blog world in the last few months, this topic has been on my mind a lot. Isabelle is 11ish. Although I've only had her for two years, I've only had her as a senior. We've made great strides in getting her healthier, but she is elderly. I know I will lose her sooner than later. I try to focus on making her remaining years as great as possible.
    The Whole Dog Journal is a wonderful resource. And I'm a supplement person too. Isabelle takes the Glyco Flex III soft chews. Everyone takes a probiotic, multivitamin, Missing Link Plus and a rotating variety of other things. One thing we definitely need to improve on is calcium intake.
    Glad to know that I'm not alone in being very concerned about the health of my dogs!

  4. I know Isabelle has some issues-but remember some pugs make it into their teens. She might stick around for longer then you think!

  5. The senior issues are so important. The specialized vet issue is one our friend introduced us to when his previous Lab was aging. I had not realized we had them in this area prior to that.

  6. Okay, so Momma read this post and has a question about the herbs. She is thinking about buying me some echinacea but doesn't know how much to give me. How to you know how much and with what frequency to give your dogs herbs?


  7. What a very informative post. Thanks for all of the great information.

    That last picture is priceless!

    Nubbin wiggles,

  8. Woof! Woof! Oh! My vet told my mom I was a senior when I turned 8. Ever since mom made many adjustments. It's only days ... I'll be 10. On our post yesterday (Friday) we said "embracing the process of changes (getting old) as a reminder of the importance of spending every moment with your very Best Friend canine companion."
    Lots of Golden Thanks for sharing these ... Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  9. oh what a wonderful post!
    we love seeing your family and seeing how you all love and appreciate each other everyday!
    a & m