How to keep your dog healthy and happy

SPCA vet ambassador Dr Shalsee Vigeant’s five ways to keep your four-legged friends happier and healthier for longer.

Our fur babies are always there for us – making us laugh, giving us snuggles and loving us unconditionally. So it’s only natural for us to want them to live the longest and healthiest lives they can!

It’s normal to worry if we notice them becoming less interested, less active or more forgetful. Sometimes, the changes of ageing may be so subtle that we don’t even notice.

From the age of seven when our dogs are ‘senior’, it’s important to adapt how we care for them. From food to enrichment, there is a variety of things owners can do to ensure their treasured dogs stay happy and healthy for longer.

SPCA Vet Ambassador Dr Shalsee Vigeant has a soft spot for older animals. Her last puppy lived to be a grand old age of 18 (that’s 125 human years!), and her self-described ‘better half,’ eight-year-old chihuahua Kooper, is ageing particularly gracefully thanks to Vigeant’s expertise.

Dr Vigeant shares her five top tips for looking after our loyal companions as they age.

1. Enrichment

Even at a senior age, a dog needs lots of activities to keep mentally stimulated. There are hundreds of new enrichment ideas for dogs of all sizes and ages online including taking them to work, giving them toys or playing hide and seek. You can and should teach your old dog new tricks!

2. Exercise

Regardless of age, dogs still need to be taken out for exercise. Many owners are concerned that because their doggy is a little older, they might be too tired or sore for a walk, but like us, they need to remain active throughout old age. Also like us, medication can help if they exercise and feel sore. Your vet can help you create a personalised exercise plan for your dog, and options to help make them more comfortable while you do it.

3. Nutrition

When we adopt puppies, we know to feed them food specially formulated for young dogs, but it’s been found that very few dogs are being a fed a diet appropriate for their senior brains. Feeding older dogs a diet especially formulated to provide energy for brain function, support their changing immune system and healthy teeth and joints is incredibly important.

Our dog’s cognitive function becomes impaired as they age, affecting their memory, learning and decision-making ability. Scientists from the University of Toronto found that enhanced botanical oils can be used as an additional source of brain energy for senior dogs, which appears to help reduce the energy deficit their brains experience. Results from this particular study showed clear improvements in mental alertness and sharpness.

I feed Kooper Purina’s Pro Plan Bright Mind because it’s the only scientifically tested dog food proven to promote memory, attention and trainability in senior dogs and have been really impressed with the improvement to his energy levels and the positive effect it’s had on him all round.

4. Comfort

As our dogs age they may need additional attention to their comfort levels. This can mean anything from changed exercise routines, pain medications, extra padding for their beds or bringing them inside during the hot or cold months. All of these things can help them feel more comfortable since they don’t have a way to tell us when they need something.

5. Find your dog a good vet

Making sure that you find a good veterinarian for your fur baby is extremely important. This not only ensures your pet receives a good quality of care, but will also make sure you have the right information regarding your ageing pet’s needs. You want to make sure you have a vet who will explain things in a way you can understand, and who takes both yours and your pet’s lifestyle into consideration with their care.

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