Start now preparing your younger dog for his old age

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If you get lucky, your beloved dog will live between nine and 16 years, depending on its breed and start in life.

Like humans, dogs can come down with a variety of diseases, illnesses and conditions that might require special diets, surgeries, supplements and changes to their exercise regimen. Being prepared and sensitive to their changes will help you proceed with their care.

Diet: Changing to a diet lower in fat and protein, or even to a prescription diet if your dog has been diagnosed with a medical condition, is very possibly in the cards for your maturing dog. Usually we switch to a senior food formula if there are no medical conditions, the dog is 8 years old or more, and activity level has slowed.

Don't switch too soon if your dog is lean and active and his breed's average life expectancy is longer.

Supplements: Though many vitamins and minerals are found in food, other supplements might be beneficial. Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and hyaluronic acid will help those aching joints. Antioxidants might help to slow down the aging process and cancers.

Make sure you are adding good quality fish oils and probiotics that help with intestinal changes and allergies. If you can, switch to a natural food as early as possible.

Dental care: Wet food that is more easily chewable and digestible might be a better choice when your dog's teeth aren't in good shape and digestive issues need addressing.

In preparation, brush your dog's teeth and give plenty of bones and dental chews to keep teeth as healthy as possible for as long as possible. A periodic veterinarian dental cleaning might also be required.

Comfort: Orthopedic beds help dogs to get up and down easier. The most supportive are memory foam.

Training and behavior: While your dog is younger, make sure to teach hand signals and verbal obedience cues. If your dog were to become deaf or blind, he could still function with you.

Teach your dogs to walk on a short leash so they can potty closer to you rather than far away. Practice recalls with whistles or squeaky toys which they can hear better than your voice as they age.

Scent training for an aging dog is done by using specific scents to identify you. Start now wearing a specific scent, such as lavender or vanilla, which are calming to dogs and will identify you.

For large-breed dogs, teach them about steps and ramps while they are young and small.

As dogs age, some might get grouchy when being moved, or by the activities of puppies or children. They should have safe havens away from pups or toddlers. Wake them by sound rather than touch when they need to be moved or are sleeping.

As their hearing deteriorates, unusual sounds might disturb them. Acclimate them early to loud noises. As vision decreases, dogs might start barking at shadows. Redirect them quickly and try to adjust lighting to reduce light flashes and shadows.

A Thundershirt can help with new anxieties; holistic calming remedies are available containing valerian, chamomile and CBD oil.

Urinary incontinence might be helped by adding supplements specific to that condition. Cranberry, saw palmetto and more are available at any pet store. Other remedies are available by prescription from your vet.

We all want our dogs with us as long as possible with a good quality of life. Knowing how to prepare for aging will help you both.

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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