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Pet Connection: A little TLC gives older dogs comfort

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4D

Cold weather is ruff, er, rough on older dogs, but they don't have to be miserable. Your dog's health in later years is not entirely in your control, but you can have a real impact on a pet's attitude by keeping him warm and comfortable and keeping his mind and body gently active.

As your dog ages, increase the frequency and diminish the intensity of his exercise. Instead of taking your dog to the park once a week to chase tennis balls until he's exhausted, take him for a long walk daily. If your dog is having problems with physical activity, talk to your veterinarian. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may help, as may supplements such as glucosamine or alternative treatments such as acupuncture.

For his mental health, talk to your veterinarian about products that help with brain function. And keep those brain cells clicking by using food puzzles. These toys require pets to play with them to get the food out, little bits at a time. They can also be a part of your plan to keep your less-active senior dog from putting on excess pounds.

Your dog has no real sense of shame or embarrassment, so he suffers no loss of face if you come up with some ideas to make his life a little easier. Truly, the number of ways you can give your oldster a break is limited only by your imagination. Here are a few tips to get you thinking:

Beds: Think soft. Think cushioned. Think low. Think heated. Your dog will thank you for all of these thoughts, especially in cold weather.

Clothes: Older dogs, like older people, have a more difficult time maintaining their body temperature. This problem is even more pronounced in slender, short-coated breeds like the greyhound or whippet. So check out the sweater selection at your local pet-supply store, repurpose thrift-store children's clothes, or make your own if you're crafty.

Ramps and steps: If your dog is allowed on the couch and the bed, get steps to help him if he can no longer make it in one jump. You wouldn't want to watch TV without your dog at your side, would you? A permanent ramp going down the back porch steps or a slide-out ramp to help your dog get into the car will also be appreciated.

While you're making household adjustments, don't forget to make an appointment for a senior dog checkup. Your veterinarian may recommend some diagnostic tests in addition to a physical examination – typically, blood work and an X-ray – to spot problems early or to establish a baseline of what's normal for your dog. You should also consider having your dog's teeth attended to, because gum infections and mouth pain will severely affect the comfort and health of your dog. Most veterinarians recommend twice-annual checkups for senior dogs, by the way.

The senior dog checkup is also a good time to determine if your dog's diet will need to change to take excess weight off his joints.

Helping to keep your older dog healthy and fit will mean his senior years will be happier and more comfortable as time goes by. When the weather is cold, nothing will seem so important to your dog as what you can do to offset the challenges of aging.

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