If you have an aging dog, there are so many things you can do to help their lives be easier well into their golden years. Aside from regular veterinary care, appropriate exercise, and a proper diet, here are some things I have found helpful for my senior dog that you might not have considered yet.
Sunrise Alarm Clock
While this is admittedly my preference for waking up too, I've found its really helped my 13 year old Russell Terrier mix, Gracie. Older dogs often struggle with being abruptly woken up and benefit from a gentler approach. I find my sunrise alarm clock does just that and takes the guesswork out of it for me. I personally use the Phillips Smart Sleep, but any sunrise alarm will work.
Motion Activated Lights
Seniors are more likely to have vision loss due to normal aging or disease, so they often struggle more in low light. To counteract this, I've added motion activated rechargeable lights in low light areas of my home like the stairs.
I'm a big fan of using gates in strategic locations like the front door for all dogs, but even more so with senior dogs who might be struggling with slower cognitive function or cognitive dysfunction. For seniors, I also like having a gate at the bottom and/or top of stairs to either limit or prevent use. Gracie may be 13 years old, but she still loves to sprint up the stairs so I put "slow" on cue which has resulted in a strain in the past. So now, we only go up together when I can remind her to be slow.
If your dog takes medication at any age, I strongly suggest buying a pill container to prep their medications for the week. I personally have two dogs on a few different medications, so this honestly makes it so much easier. If you have time sensitive medication, I also suggest setting an alarm in your phone so you keep on top of it.
Dogs of all ages thrive on some level of routine. This goes even more so for senior dogs who might have lost some of that mental flexibility. Personally, I have a dog with early signs of canine cognitive dysfunction so consistency is even more important and not only in routine, but also in the location of her pet stairs and ramps and beds. While rearranging might be nice for us, for seniors is can be potentially stressful. I also highly recommend the use of ramps and pet stairs for pets of all ages to prevent additional wear and tear to joints.
Bed in My Bed
With Gracie's cognitive dysfunction and cancer also came some night time anxiety, so she no longer sleeps in her own bed on the floor. Instead, she sleeps in our bed. And while I love her snuggles, she has a tendency of stretching out sideways or working her way between my legs so I am unable to move. Now that I'm also getting older, I'm finding these positions less and less comfortable. So I invested in a bed for her to sleep in, in my bed. This keeps her in a consistent location and helps us all sleep more soundly throughout the night.
There are studies on the neuroprotective effects of mental stimulation in our pets (read more here). In fact, it can help reduce the change of canine cognitive dysfunction in the first place. It's even more important for our senior pups. The level of difficulty you provide will depend upon your dog's problem solving skill level. Gracie has been doing puzzle toys, training, snuffle mats, and more nearly her whole life so we do a variety of things to help ensure she is flexing the old noodle. Personally, I love trick training for senior pups - and yes, old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Not only is it mentally stimulating, but it also involves physical exercise and is fun for you and your dog. You might consider one of my virtual trick dog classes. With just a few minor modifications, the tricks are safe for pups of all ages.
Senior dogs are more likely to have pain due to arthritis or other diseases and they deserve to move their bodies in a way that is comfortable for them. That often means slow walks (sometimes painfully slow), so I make sure to plan my day accordingly so Gracie can get out sniff as much as she would like and take as long as she wants to walk. There are times where might need to move along for safety or other reasons, in those rare cases, I've trained a special recall cue so that we can do so without force.
This last one is more for the human end of the leash. Having an older pet can be really difficult. Anticipatory grief and stress are not experiences that are uncommon for those caring for an older pet. I can attest how hard it is, but having a support system helps. This may be in the form of a friend who understands, a therapist, or other forums. I strongly recommend checking out Senior Dog Revolution for resources on senior pets and Pet Loss Community if you are providing palliative care, struggling with anticipatory or grief post loss of your pet.
In addition to the above considerations, I also highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and pain. If your dog shows any signs or has a sudden behavior change, make an appointment to see your vet. Catching illness and disease early allows for better intervention.