These tips will keep your senior dog more comfortable
They say that “old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable”. As an owner of an old dog, it’s vitally important that you make sure they stay comfortable in their ‘Golden Years’.
Whilst a dog’s lifespan is shorter than ours, their life stages are similar to us humans. Some stay healthy and active, while others develop ailments such as arthritis, joint pain, diminished eyesight, inflammation, muscle soreness, dementia and general fatigue. As a groomer, it’s an important part of my profession to know how to adjust the way I groom older dogs and to accommodate their changing needs.
No dog is too old to be pampered, and taking your senior fur family to the groomer can be as enjoyable as ever for them as long as proper consideration is given to their senior circumstances.
What classifies as a Senior Dog?
The old rule of thumb for a dog’s age, to compare with human age, is seven dog years to every one human year – for general purposes this is quite accurate. We do however, need to expand on this rule to be more accurate for grooming purposes - a dog’s size and breed make a big difference to the age outcome.
In my salon, the smaller breeds such as toy poodles, terriers and pugs are deemed to be seniors when they are 10 to 12 years old. The large breeds, such as Great Danes and Mastiffs are considered senior citizens at age 5 to 6. Most vets and the pet insurance industry consider a dog of 7 or 8 years to be older or senior.
Should Senior Dogs be Groomed?
The answer is simple – absolutely yes! Grooming is essential throughout a dog’s entire life but can be especially important as the dog gets older. A grooming session is the best time to note any changes in your dog’s health. As groomers we often pick up health concerns long before an owner or vet – checking ears, teeth, gums, joints, skin and coat conditions, as well as picking up on lumps, bumps and painful spots as we wash and dry your dog. We also pick up on the onset of dementia, loss of eyesight, mobility and weight gain or loss.
During my time as a groomer over the past 22 years I have had the privilege of grooming dogs over their entire life, from pup to senior citizen. Knowing what signs to look for and how to accommodate changes as each dog grows older has made a huge difference in each dog’s life as well as their owner’s.
Understanding the Limitations
Our first priority, has, and always will be, the health and wellbeing of every dog that enters our salon. With this in mind, it’s important for us to know exactly what, if any, potential health issues your dog has, so that we can cater specifically for the particular ailment.
Senior dogs often have joint pain / stiffness, arthritis, and are also fatigued – this is always a recipe for a bit of grumpiness. Grooming, if done incorrectly, will protect your loved one from unnecessary pain, discomfort and stress. It’s our job, and yours, to make sure this doesn’t happen and to make their visit enjoyable and revitalising.
What can an Owner of a Senior Dog do to ensure Grooming is a Pleasurable Experience?
Don’t leave it up to your groomer to take care of your senior dog’s condition. There is only so much a groomer can do during any one grooming session. There are several things you can do to avoid pain and stress for your senior dog at his next groom.
Keep things Comfortable
If your dog is on any medication for any form of pain, make sure you give him the medication prior to his groom.
Before leaving home, and on arrival at the salon, make sure your fur baby has an opportunity to relieve himself.
Watch for Signs of Distress
Generally, older dogs can communicate through body language and behaviour. A typical sign of painful joints is your dog constantly licking the same spot and developing brown stained fur in the area. Keep an eye out for tell-tale signs such as shivering, growling, whimpering, scratching and rubbing. These behaviours could indicate discomfort such as itchy spots, a knotted coat, dirty ears or other that indicate it’s time for a groom. By the same token, if your groomer notices any of these factors, they too need to be skilled on how to proceed during the grooming process.
Matting is exponentially more painful for a senior dog as its skin is thinner and more prone to tearing and bruising. A regular brush will assist in keeping your dog’s coat from matting too much. Older dogs need a softer, gentler brush, and brushing needs to be done slowly and delicately.
If your dog’s coat is too matted, your groomer will need to clip your dog’s coat rather than put him through the pain of detangling.
If you are up to the task of bathing your dog, there are some things you can do to safeguard your dog’s well-being.
Make sure your dog can sit during bathing. If you are using a tub, make sure you have a non-slip mat that will secure their footing. The water must be warm.
Dogs should never be shivering during a bath, especially the old guys.
Use a gentle, dog formulated shampoo to wash your dog.
Use warm towels to absorb as much water as possible and then use a blow dryer. Make sure the dryer isn’t on a hot setting that can potentially burn your dog.
A senior dog will need its nails trimmed more regularly than their younger counterparts. Healthy nail lengths are critical for dogs who have joint pain or arthritis as their posture is effected significantly when their nails grow too long (see our previous blog on Dog’s Nails).
A dog will normally clean itself in the groin and gland area, however, with age, they might need some help. Keep these areas trimmed to avoid urine stains and to prevent faeces getting trapped in their fur.
When it comes to clipping your senior citizen, your groomer may not be able to clip your dog’s coat as short as usual due to possible lumps, bumps, sores and warts. A groom will also tend to be longer than usual as your groomer will need to give your dog rest periods.
Every dog’s needs will be different, and proper communication between you and your groomer will be the best method of determining how to approach those unique needs so that the grooming process will be both comfortable and effective.
At the end of the day, it boils down to understanding that aging dogs will usually require more patience, tenderness, and consideration when being groomed. These tips can go a long way to ensuring that older pets, which have been loving members of their households for many years, will receive the level of care and respect they deserve.
It’s a beautiful sight to watch a freshly groomed old guy swagger away feeling refreshed and free from itches. Dogs know they look and smell good after a groom and they appreciate it when their parents fuss over them – this is especially true for the golden oldies.