Elderly dogs — just like elderly humans — have health and mobility conditions. They develop arthritis, heart problems, and their joints get stiff. Older dogs need a comfortably warm bath to help loosen up those stiff legs and hips and soothe them. Some older dogs become incontinent as they age. While not all elderly dogs develop incontinence, they seem to need to go more often. You should accommodate the older dog with frequent bathroom breaks.
While you are combing or clipping an older dog, you need to be on the alert for skin growths, moles, warts, and tumors that can ooze and bleed when touched. Be aware that older dogs have thin, delicate skin, just as older people do. It becomes loose and saggy and you need to pull it taut when grooming those areas or you could nick the dog.
Old dogs are afraid of slipping on hard, slick floors. Many older dogs won't even walk on linoleum if they have slipped and fallen in the past. Putting down throw rugs or towels for your older dog to walk on will help give her some traction and confidence when walking. A rubber bath mat in the tub will also help her keep her balance.
Sometimes older dogs also have vision problems, so if they seem balky about walking on an unknown surface, the mats or towels can also reassure them that the surface is solid. There are dogs that refuse to walk on the black tiles of a black-and-white kitchen floor because they think they are holes.
Many older dogs have a reputation for being grouchy while grooming, but many times it's due to pain. Giving your elderly pal pain medication for his arthritis can help improve his quality of life. Discuss your options with your veterinarian.
You need to be very careful when moving an older dog around. Be gentle and don't pull her legs out to the side when clipping her nails. Let the older dog lie down for grooming if possible. You can put a hand under her rear to keep her standing while you attend to her underside. After you groom her underside, let her lie down while you do the rest. Many geriatric dogs can't stand for long, just like many geriatric humans.
If you notice your dog's tongue turning blue, purple, or gray while you are grooming him, that is a sign of inadequate oxygen levels. Many dogs with heart problems will pant and their tongues will turn a bluish gray. Stop immediately and let the dog rest and recover, then get this dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible!
If your senior dog has a heart problem, you need to keep stress to a minimum and dry her very carefully to avoid overheating her. Bathing and drying dogs can heat up a room quickly; make sure you are using air conditioning when necessary to remove the excess moisture from the room and keep the room temperature down. If your dog shows symptoms of overheating, take her temperature and go to the vet if it registers over 105°F.
The foo-foo hairstyle of the young dog may have to give way to a new, more practical cut more suitable for the senior dog. Shaving Poodle feet on an old, arthritic dog can be torture on his stiff joints due to the way you must hold the foot in order to shave it. Instead, opt for a cat foot, which is a short foot that is not shaved between the toes. Just take a slicker brush and back brush the feet from the nails toward the leg, and either clipper or scissor any hairs that stick up.
The geriatric dog needs more care with grooming, and needs it more often. She lies down more often and does more sleeping, so the hair tends to pack more, and some dogs become less tolerant of brushing as they age. Everything hurts more, so be as gentle and thorough as you possibly can, and make grooming easy for both of you.
Many senior dogs have problems with mobility, and having long hair on the rear may make things harder on the senior dog when nature calls. Because of the condition of many senior dogs' bodies, with arthritis and lack of muscle and mobility as they age, you may find it much easier to keep the rear end shorter for cleanliness. Sometimes a short, same-length-all-over hairstyle is easier on the elderly dog. Any problem areas your dog has can be trimmed shorter for upkeep.
Elderly dogs that lie around most of the time can get sores on their legs where the leg touches the floor. They can also develop bedsores from lack of circulation. Long hair may hide ulcerated skin and the dog could suffer from wounds you never knew existed. If you encounter these sores on the leg, which are caused by pressure of the joint on a hard surface, give your dog a soft orthopedic cushion to lie on.
There comes a time when making an old dog stand for a long time to put up with dematting or fancy trims is no longer humane. Make it easy on the senior dog and give him a short, easy-care hairstyle that won't tax his body.
Certain breeds are prone to genetic disorders, such as hip displasia and luxating patella. Responsible breeders screen the dogs they breed for these disorders. Your puppy's parents and any past generations should be free of these disorders. Buying from a responsible breeder does not guarantee that your dog will not have health issues, but it does reduce the chances.
Older dogs, like older people, develop thinner skin as they age. It is more easily bruised, scratched, and susceptible to bacteria. If the dog has skin issues, keeping the hair short will allow air to reach the skin, and it will allow you to take care of any sores that you couldn't normally treat with long hair.
To prevent sores, you may need to turn your elderly dog every couple of hours or get her up to walk around so there is good blood circulation to the area. This is done to many elderly bedridden patients in nursing homes. Bedsores are extremely painful and can cause septicemia, which is infection that spreads to the blood, or blood poisoning, and that can cause a long, painful death.
Most dogs do not show the pain they are in. If your dog moves slowly or has trouble getting up and down, have your veterinarian check him for arthritis and other conditions. There are many new painkillers on the market for dogs that can help ensure your senior dog has a quality, pain-free life for his remaining years.
Long hair also tends to stick to sores and makes a wick for bacteria to enter. Always shave closely around sores so air can get to the skin, you can apply medication to the wounds, and you can keep longer hair from touching the wound and sticking to it.