There are many guardians out there who may be going through a similar experience as myself, as my dog ages.
My dog, Hazel, is an 12-year old lab mix. She has always been active throughout her entire life — hiking, running, camping, and walking almost everyday of the week (sometimes twice a day)! She has always been my partner in crime, and has accompanied me through it all — whether taking longs runs in the woods, backpacking through the backcountry, hiking all over the USA, or just enjoying long strolls through the streets. As she ages, I am finding it more and more difficult for her to do the activities she once used to do, and loves so much. In return, I am feeling more and more guilty when I do activities without her (I know that she will be sore and unhappy if I take her with me). This is a double edged sword that I am sure many pet parents are dealing with. You are not alone!
There are many ways we can change our lifestyle to accommodate our aging pets, and ourselves, without either party feeling a sense of loss or betrayal. From personal experience, I understand how hard it is to accept the fact that our pets, our best friends, are not as young as they once were, and cannot do everything they once were able to do. Not only is this very sad for us as human beings, to have lost our fav workout buddy, but can take an emotional toll on our pets too. Here are some great tips and ideas to help you and your pet deal with normal aging changes, while continuing to do all of the activities you love.
CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE: Hazel used to be my absolute favorite running partner (yes, I understand there is controversy about running with your dog, we can open that can of worms another time!). Several years ago, I noticed her lagging behind when we reached mile 3, so I started leaving her home. Every time I would get my running gear on and start stretching, she would begin to whine with excitement. When I left the house, I would look back and see her staring out the window at me with this terrible look of longing that would just tear at my heart strings! After several months of this torture on both of us, I decided on a new plan. One night, I donned my running gear, started stretching, then hooked Hazel to her harness and started out the door. We did a long, fast-paced walk for about a mile, then turned back toward the house. The rest of the mile home, we did a walk/run until we got home. As soon as we reached the house, Hazel had a nice frozen Kong waiting for her, and did not even notice that I left to finish my run without her. This way her feelings were not affected, I wasn’t feeling terribly guilty, she was still getting exercise AND receiving a special treat/distraction. Changing your routine can be tough, but the positive outcomes that come from retraining your brain can be very effective. Come up with a new routine for daily workouts with your dog, so that both of you are getting the right amount of physical activity, without being too hard on your pet’s body.
DON’T GIVE UP! Just because your pet is having a hard time, does not mean that they can longer do the activities they enjoy! Take backpacking for example. Hazel and I shared so many backpacking adventures, I cannot even remember them all! As she ages, I have grown to accept the backpacking we used to do is just too tough. But that does not mean we can’t enjoy endless days together in the woods! Instead of the 4-night, 25 mile, backpack trips we used to do, we now enjoy a pleasant 1-2 mile hike into the woods for a night or a multi-night car camping adventure. Living here in Colorado, we are lucky enough we have endless miles of wilderness areas to explore. Invest in a dog camping mat for your dog — Ruffwear makes an amazing lightweight mat that is very reasonably priced, around $30 (check it out here). Your older dog may also get colder than they used to, due to a decrease in circulation as they age (massage helps!). Bring additional blankets for them, or better yet, encourage them to sleep in your sleeping bag with you! Dogs make amazing radiators! Keep a water bowl accessible inside the tent. I use an amazing no-spill water bowl by Ray Allen (check it out here) — there’s nothing worse than a wet tent! Choose a spot with short days hikes. This way you can have different adventures with your dog each day!
DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you are going to embark on a new adventure, and hike or camp somewhere new, make sure you do a lot of research on the trail, and know what obstacles you may encounter. What is the elevation gain? Is the trail marked easy, moderate, or hard? Avoid trails that are described as technical, rocky or steep, and any trails that require scrambling. Read reviews about the trail to get a better idea of what you are up against. There are numerous websites with trail descriptions and reviews — I use AllTrails.com.
LISTEN TO YOUR PET. You know your dog better than anyone, so listen to your pet during times of rigorous exercise. Since we don’t speak dog, and our dogs don’t speak human, it is up to you to be conscious and aware of signs that your pet is in distress.
Obvious signs that your pet is struggling could be things like: • excessive panting or drooling
• limping or lameness
• laying down
Seek immediate help if you notice:
• coughing or labored breathing
• change in gum color (blue-ish, gray, white)
Be sure to take lots of breaks to rest and drink water.
BE PREPARED. This is true for any dog, at any age! Being prepared for any and all situations is very important while adventuring with your pet. While camping or hiking, consider bringing a “doggy first-aid kit”.
Our first aid kits include:
–Gauze, self-adhesive bandage, medical tape and tissue adhesive glue (you can buy this on Amazon!)
–Dog booties. More than once, Hazel has lacerated her pad running free in the woods (and this is where the dog booties come in)! Dog booties are also great if you notice that the terrain is becoming too hot for your dog’s pads. This happens a lot during our high-temp summer days. Use the back of your palm to assess the trail or street’s temperature. If it’s too hot for your palm, it’s too hot for your dog’s pads — and it’s a good time to throw on the booties! Also, keeping your pet’s nails as short as possible will help avoid torn nails (look for our blog in March, all about nail trims!).
–Help-Em-Up harness. HIGHLY recommended. These harnesses are absolutely amazing! They have 3 handles- rear-end, mid-body, and front end- so that if anything were ever to happen, you could easily lift your dog without hurting yourself. This harness will also come in handy lifting your dog in and out of the car, and will be helpful to have throughout your dog’s life as he/she ages. Check out their website at helpemup.com. Bring enough water! I cannot stress this enough! It is extremely important for your dog to have access to as much water as they need to stay hydrated. This may be more than you think! If you’re by streams, you could also bring a water filter to ensure you’re never running low.
-Snacks. When you stop to have a snack, chances are your dog is ready for a bite too! Staying nourished will keep you and your dog strong during your work out, which will help avoid accidents or injuries. Local pet food stores have great options for high quality trail treats. Don’t be afraid to pack a PB sandwich for your dog too (side note: make sure the peanut butter is xylitol free).
-Pain relief. If your pet is on any pain medications, be sure to give these meds before you set out on your adventure. Whether this is prescription pain medications or natural remedies, medicating your pet preemptively will ensure comfort post-workout. Talk to your veterinarian before starting any and all medications/supplements. If your pet is not currently taking anything for pain, or if you are interested in having something on hand to give after strenuous exercise, talk with your veterinarian about options. If you’re going camping, you may also consider discussing medications for vomiting, diarrhea, or allergic reactions — just to be prepared.
Natural modalities are also a great way to relieve pain and discomfort. Massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and cold laser therapy can help heal sore muscles and reduce pain and stiffness by increasing blood and lymph circulation in the body. Schedule a massage for your pet before you leave for your adventure together, and possibly even after!
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:
-Don’t be a weekend warrior! If your pet does not get regular exercise, it is not a good idea to delve right into a long hike or camping adventure. Start slow, with regular, daily walks to build up their stamina. Starting too quickly will put your dog at higher risk for injury.
-Go for a checkup. It is never a wrong idea to bring your pup in to the vet just to get checked out and make sure they are in good enough shape medically for rigorous exercise. This may entail an orthopedic exam or even X-rays of their joints.
-If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! Regular exercise is SO important for our pets, especially as they age. So, get out there and move! The more your pets remains sedentary, the more uncomfortable they will be. If you keep your pet moving and exercising, they will remain mobile, active and stronger for longer. Exercise will also keep older pets from muscle wasting and gaining unwanted weight. It’s also excellent for emotional well-being –our dogs LOVE to be dogs!
I hope this blog gave you some good tips and insight on activities with your aging pet! Please feel free to email us at [email protected] with any questions. If you would like a list to my favorite hiking, camping and backpacking trails that Hazel and I frequent, shoot me an email! We would love to know your favorite spots, too!