Grooming Your Older Dog
Throughout her life, your dog will benefit from regular grooming (as explained in detail in Chapter 8). As she ages and her skin becomes less supple, her fur less lustrous, her ears and breath a bit stinkier, you may feel less inclined to keep her looking her best. However, this is when dogs seem to appreciate being groomed most. Older dogs seem to particularly love the attention they receive from grooming, and seem to understand that they look better with your help.
Skin and Coat
Regular brushing will keep shedding under control and continue to stimulate the natural oils in your dog's skin that keep his skin and coat looking and feeling their best. For dogs with longer hair who spend more time lying down, regular brushing will also keep mats from forming in the coat. These can be painful to detangle for older, more sensitive dogs.
Seniors should still be bathed — in fact they may need more frequent bathing if they accidentally soil themselves. Pay particular attention to the water temperature you use, take care in getting your dog in and out of the tub, and avoid drafts. Keep a “waterless” shampoo on hand for quick cleanups.
Teeth and Gums
If you haven't been keeping your dog's teeth and gums clean and healthy until now, you're in trouble. The accumulated plaque and tartar of a lifetime can have serious effects on the teeth and gums. Your dog may start to lose her teeth, which exposes the mouth to infection. She will probably have bad breath, which will make her a less lovable companion in close quarters (through no fault of her own!). Her gums may become so sore that she isn't able to eat the kibble that is her best source of nutrition.
Don't forget to keep your older dog's eyes and ears clean of dirt or waxy buildup. Both tend to increase with age, so make a point to go over your dog's face with a soft cloth every day and wipe her ears gently with a cotton ball or gauze pad. Report anything unusual to your veterinarian. This could include excessive discharge, redness or swelling in or around the eyes, cloudiness in the pupil (a sign of cataracts), or other signs.
Being able to continue to exercise means a lot to any dog, but it's especially helpful and important for senior dogs, as it keeps them physically and mentally connected to their world, providing inspiration for life. This lucky senior has a cart outfitted to support his hind end so he can still make his rounds in the yard.
If you've been keeping up with regular veterinary visits, you should know whether your dog's teeth and mouth are in good shape. Your dog may even have needed to have her teeth cleaned under anesthesia. The thing is, you don't want to subject an older dog to this procedure if you don't have to, because older dogs are more prone to the ill effects of anesthesia. Keep brushing!