Dogs are friends for life, and as your best buddy gets up there in years, he or she is going to go through the same aging process as a human being. We can't reverse this, no matter how much we might want to, but we can do a lot to help our dogs stay healthy and comfortable even in their sunset years.
As dogs (and humans) age, joints and bones deteriorate. Aches are frequent. Arthritis sets in and some dogs also suffer from dysplasia and other issues. Of course, there are supplements and even treats that can ease troubled joints, but never underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep on a comfortable, supportive bed.
If you've ever slept on a bad bed, you know the stiffness and pain that result. And if your bed is on the floor, the situation can be even worse. If you've slept on an underfilled air mattress, for example, or one that slowly leaks overnight, you're familiar with the sensation of your elbows or knees pushing through. This puts all your weight right on those joints. The exact same thing happens to dogs who sleep on a bed that is too thin or unsupportive— the dog's elbows and hips can end up pressing against the floor. While younger or lighter dogs may not notice, older dogs' joints are more sensitive to this type of pressure and can become quite sore. Sleeping on a hard floor isn't comfortable for anyone, let alone a senior citizen!
If your senior dog is a working dog or otherwise quite active, this joint pain and stiffness can have a noticeable effect on his or her abilities. Of course, even if your dog is a working dog that you rely on for your livelihood, he or she is still your best friend and a family member, and remember improving the dog's quality of life will also improve performance. Be aware that a decline in your dog's capabilities and behaviors commonly viewed simply as signs of aging may actually be signs of pain.
Dogs don't usually tell us when they're in pain because animal instinct prevents it— in the wild, cries of pain are signs of weakness that can attract danger. Some dogs overcome this reluctance and will definitely let you know, but you can't rely on having a direct message. You'll need to pay close attention to your buddy's behavior and watch out for visible signs of discomfort. Watch for:
• Stiffness in movement
• Reluctance to climb stairs or jump up (such as onto furniture or into a vehicle) or trouble doing so
• Limping or favoring one side
• Slow to get up from sleep
• Less energy
• Restlessness repeatedly shifts position while lying down as if uncomfortable (like a human tossing and turning in bed)
• Behavioral changes
We mentioned that supplements can help, but many people do overlook their dog's bed as a possible contributor to these aches and pains. Five Barking Dogs! carries orthopedic dog beds that can make a big difference in your quest to alleviate your dog's discomfort. A great bed should always be part of the treatment regimen for aches and pains, regardless of age or species.