Ageing is inevitable, we can’t escape it, and if we are lucky enough, we’ll have the opportunity to grow old. Many of us perceive ‘growing old’ as a negative, while we prefer to view ageing as a windfall – where we’ve been given more time to explore and experience life, whilst many others have not been lucky enough to do so. Therefore, instead of thinking of ageing as a gradual decline, maybe it is time to start thinking of how life gets better as we go along.
Studies suggest that senior adults are among the happiest and content groups of people on the planet, compared to their younger counterparts. Elderly people have developed better coping mechanisms and tend to be more comfortable in their own skin. Plus, their plethora of life experience also comes with a wiser perspective and infinite wisdom! The other interesting benefit of ageing is brain plasticity. Studies have shown that our brains continue to grow neurons as we age, and this can actually reshape the brain in response to what you learn. Therefore, as long as we keep learning and absorbing new information, we are in a much better position to keep our brains functioning well, compared to if we stopped. Interestingly, young people often use one side of their brain for certain tasks, whilst middle aged and older adults are more likely to simultaneously activate both brain hemispheres – this process is called bilateralization, and allows mature people to use the full power of their brain, which has proven to be ideal for reasoning and problem-solving!
Ageing: The power of epigenetics
Over the last few decades, scientists have made significant advancements in helping us better understand why some of us are more likely to develop certain diseases when we become older. The answer is often linked to epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of how factors, such as your lifestyle, habits, behaviours, and physical environment can affect the way that your genes are expressed. The difference between genetics and epigenetics is that while your DNA cannot be changed, how your genes are expressed (epigenetics) can be – and these factors can drive and modify the ageing process. Epigenetics has the power to switch our genes on and off – and therefore change our experience, and lives. If you’re not fully aware of epigenetics, we recommend you take a Google!
Ageing and our dogs
As we age, our body undergoes many significant changes, which can vary from person to person, and dog to dog! For instance, spinal discs may shrink and lose elasticity, sensory organs can decline, cell regeneration slows, and our energy levels alter. Plus, our mature frame requires a little extra love and care. In addition to this, many of us fear and question the biological aspect of ageing – such as, will we develop disease, how will our quality of life be altered, and how can we effectively adjust to this new lifestyle? Fortunately, scientific and technological advances have gifted us with a whole variety of valuable resources to help us live our lives to the fullest, whether we are old or young – to ensure we live our optimal life. From adopting a heathy eating regime and implementing frequent exercise to breaking bad habits, exploring nature, and meeting new people – these exercises really do have an influence on our wellbeing.
Whilst we are busy growing older, so is our dog, the one true companion that stayed by our side through it all. The ageing process of dogs is a long and progressive process, yet it seems to go by in the blink of an eye. You’ll slowly start to notice that your dog is maturing via subtle physical and behavioural changes, ranging from mobility decline, illness susceptibility, and loss of hearing or sight. Plus, you may notice that your dog has a little less energy and motivation to leave the comfort of their home. However, this is not always the case, each dog is unique, and will undergo their own experience of ageing, just like humans. Caring for your older dog can certainly be a challenge. Fortunately, you have the ability to support your beloved dog to live with good health, happiness, and joy as they grow older.
Top 5 tips for caring for your ageing dog
1. Tweak the diet:
Whether you’re a human or a dog, nothing beats a well-balanced diet, particularly as we age. As your dog approaches their senior stage of life, their metabolism will slow, digestion will start to alter, and their immune system may need some extra support. Plus, your senior dog will be less inclined to move around with the same vigour as when they were younger, particularly if they have developed mobility issues, such as osteoarthritis. Since your dog will not be dashing around as often, they may even gain or hold onto excess weight – which can lead to further health issues, such as placing strain on their joints and heart. This can be a good time to gradually switch to a complete and balanced ‘senior’ dog food, which has been formulated with less fat and quality protein to help them thrive along their ageing journey.
2. Consider nutritional supplements:
As your dog grows old, their elderly body will require a little more tender, love, and care. To ensure they are provided with solid nourishment, we recommend on your next trip to the vets you also discuss supplementation. For instance, Omega Fatty Acids, referred to as ‘essential’ fatty acids (EFAs) are vital for your dog to consume, since their body cannot manufacture these on its own, hence the word ‘essential’. These fatty acids are a fantastic supplement for optimum brain function, and promoting heathy bones, joints, and a shiny coat.
In addition, Glucosamine is a structural component of cartilage, which is the tissue responsible for cushioning the joints. Glucosamine supplements can help ease inflamed joints in arthritic dogs. Plus, now is also a good time to introduce probiotics into the diet (if you haven’t already done so). Probiotics will help keep the digestive tract as healthy as possible, while delivering controlled doses of good bacteria to help your dog fight-off disease. These supplies (taken frequently) can have a significant impact on your dog’s overall health and wellbeing, and some of these supplements can even be easily sprinkled over their normal food.
3. Keep the body moving: Maintain senior dog fitness
Senior dogs are more likely to develop health conditions, which may limit how much they are willing to exercise. Ageing dogs tend to slow down a little more, but it’s still important to keep them active. Regular exercise does not only improve their health, but also helps them maintain or lose any excess weight – which will only help improve their health and mobility even further. We recommend that you keep exercise regular and gentle – this will keep their muscles and joints mobile, whilst giving them the opportunity to get outdoors, sniff, and explore their surroundings for better mental stimulation and physical health. Also, be mindful of the conditions outside. Older dogs do not tend to cope well with very high or low temperatures. Remember, vets are often happy to create a workout regime tailored for your dog as they grow older. You might even find a reduced weight bearing form of exercise, like hydrotherapy super helpful.
4. Chemistry check:
It’s recommended that an owner with an ageing dog takes their dog for a ‘senior wellness examine’ at a veterinary practice to analyse their blood results. Checking the blood is vital to understanding what is going on inside the body. Blood chemistry tests are used to evaluate the functionality of a dog’s organs, and are valuable in detecting disease early, even before clinical symptoms have appeared. Interestingly, treatment is usually the most effective when it has begun in the early stages of disease progression. So, the earlier you detect disease, the better the prognosis.
The blood test that your vet carries out will be used to perform a CBC (complete blood count) and other blood chemistries that analyse the chemical components in the blood to check liver and kidney function – for example.
The blood test for can also identify:
5. Home sweet home: Make adjustments
There will come a day when your dog is no longer able to do the things they usually were able to do at home, like climbing on the furniture. You may need to make a few small adjustments to your home to accommodate your now senior dog and help them live happily within your house. From installing carpets and introducing dog ramps, your dog will no longer have to struggle getting up off hardwood flooring, or battle their way up the stairs to reach the bed or car. It’s also advised to use raised dog dishes to prevent any stress on the dog’s neck and head, and to pet-proof your floors. Pet incontinence becomes a problem when your dog reaches maturity. One of the most popular solutions to combat this issue is a waterproof and stain-resistant non-slip rug, which are both easy-to-clean and cost-effective.
As your dog can’t tell us how they are coping with their ageing body and mind, it’s important for us to keep focused on recognising the subtle signs they exhibit overtime and play our part in supporting them. It can be hard to read the signals of cognitive, physical, and mental decline – so make sure you consider all of the tips we have listed above. This will help support them to have the best time as they grow old, so that they can continue to not just grow older, but also thrive as they do so. Most of all, be assured that your older dog will still enjoy your companionship and love, even if they seem a little slower and quieter. Growing old with our dog really is a privilege.