Having an emotional support animal can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. But as your ESA dog ages, it can be challenging to know how to continue providing them with the best care. Here’s a look at some ways to make sure you’re still helping your elderly ESA lead a happy and healthy life.
Watch for signs of aging
Because different-sized dogs reach senior status at various times (smaller dogs tend to live longer lives), you should keep your eyes open for signs that can help indicate your ESA is becoming elderly. Although there might be some signs of aging in their appearance (some dogs’ coats begin to turn gray or white), you can also see if simple activities (like walking up stairs) takes them longer. They may seem to be slower to respond when you call them or don’t jump up as quickly when you enter a room. They can also exhibit signs of vision loss by bumping into things, and some animals seem to forget parts of their training. You may even notice changes in their personalities – perhaps they’re a little more grumpy or lethargic. These are all signs that your ESA dog is becoming a senior.
Have regularly scheduled visits with your vet
Partnering with your vet is essential to keeping your elderly ESA dog healthy. Vets can help diagnose conditions (like vision loss or arthritis) so that you’re always well-aware of your pet’s health. It’s also a good idea to ask for a body condition evaluation every time you visit the vet. This can help determine if your ESA dog is at the right weight or if you need to take any steps to help them reach a goal weight (whether that’s to gain or to lose pounds). Some vets also recommend that senior dogs change their vaccination schedule to every three years.
Feed your ESA dog a high-quality diet
A healthy diet is crucial for any emotional support animal, and your vet can help you pick the right type of food that will best fit your dog’s needs. Senior dogs can benefit from foods with fatty acids (like DHA and EPA) that can be helpful for arthritis or other joint disorders. If you don’t want to change your dog’s food, consider adding supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to their food. If your elderly ESA dog is overweight (which can happen as muscle mass decreases and their metabolism slows down), your vet might suggest foods that are low in calories but high in L-carnitine or carbohydrate blends that can keep your dog feeling full longer. Your best bet is to check in with your vet before making any changes.
Make sure they’re getting enough exercise
Even if your dog doesn’t seem to want to do much, it’s still important to keep them as active as possible. Just by taking a walk around the block, your ESA dog will reap the benefits, like keeping them leaner and helping make their joints and muscles healthy. You can consult with your vet to see what would be a good amount of exercise for your dog.
Be prepared for incontinence
Even if your dog is well-trained, old age could mean that they’ll have more accidents in the house. If your ESA dog is having trouble with frequent urination or accidents, you should check with your vet to rule out serious issues like kidney failure. If there aren’t any medical conditions causing the issue, you can buy pee pads for your ESA and keep one in each room, so you’ll have an easier time with clean-up.
Fight off cognitive dysfunction
Ever wondered if dogs get Alzheimer’s like people do? Well, they can definitely suffer from a version of it called cognitive dysfunction. This condition affects about half of all elderly dogs and can manifest itself in your dog becoming disoriented and less active, or having memory lapses. To keep your pet’s mind sharp, make sure to interact as much as you can with them, even if it’s just playing with them. Some trainers recommend using food puzzles, so that your ESA dog can get their food while also being entertained.
Pay attention to signs of vision and hearing loss
It’s very common for elderly pets to exhibit signs of vision and hearing loss. You might notice that your ESA dog no longer responds to your commands. If this occurs, use verbal directions as much as possible so your pet can hear you even if they can’t see your gestures. For ESAs with hearing difficulties, consider using a flashlight to help get their attention. Keep in mind that some things that were once easy for your dog might become more challenging over time. For example, if they’re used to going for walks at night, darkness might be intimidating for them. Try taking them out in the morning when it’ll be easier for them to see.
Make special accommodations
There are tons of options for ways to make your home more pet-friendly for your senior ESA. Putting carpeting or rugs over hardwood or tile floors will make it easier for your pet to comfortably walk around if they’re having joint issues. Pets suffering from arthritis can also benefit hugely from having specially-designed orthopedic dog beds. These beds can be more comfortable for ESAs that have pain in their joints, giving them something softer to lay down on. Many elderly ESA dogs also benefit from having ramps so they don’t have to climb stairs (you can find a huge variety to choose from on Amazon.com). Even buying something as simple as elevated dog bowls can make it easier for arthritic pets to eat. Just pay attention to which areas your dog is struggling with, and then ask your vet for suggestions if you’re unsure how to help.
Your aging ESA dog still deserves all the love and care in the world. So try out some of these options to help show them how much you appreciate them!