Oct 26, 2012, 1:02 AM EDT
By Jerry Sather
The old standard is that one dog year equals seven human years. When it comes to mental capacity and focus, this holds fairly true. Of course, you can always find a puppy prodigy now and then, just like you can find in people.
When it comes to physical health and capabilities, the comparison of one to seven doesn’t hold as true, especially on the backside of a dog’s life. A dog’s brain doesn’t register it’s “getting old” like a human’s does. And even in this day and age of miracle medicine and physical fitness, I haven’t seen many 91 year olds doing the kind of things a 13 year old Lab can do – or will at least try to do!
If you’re in the company of an older hunting dog these days (a dog that’s 10 or more), there are a number of areas of care on which you should focus to keep your dog safe, comfortable and happy.
Most important is weight control. This is really important throughout a dog’s life, and the dog will enter old age healthier and better able to perform if it has always been maintained on the slim side rather than the heavy side of things. The dog’s joints will be in much better condition without having taken the pounding of carrying extra weight all those years.
Maintaining proper weight in a geriatric dog relies on the same combination of exercise and diet that it did throughout the dog’s life, but now you need to scale back. For exercise, look for opportunities that create less stress on joints in particular – increased swimming is a great form of exercise for older dogs. On the diet side of things, you can move to dog food formulas specific to older dogs which are lower in calories.
A vet I know recommends the trick of reducing the amount of dog food, but replacing it by volume with canned green beans. The dog is eating the same volume of food so it won’t be hungry, but the calorie count of the beans in next to nothing compared to most dog foods.
An old dog is nearly impossible to resist taking to the field. You can feel its pain when you roll out of the driveway in your hunting rig and the dog’s not in its usual spot. If you’ve kept the dog in as good of physical condition as possible, you should certainly be able to take it to the field. Just don’t put the old dog into situations that are too much for it to handle, and don’t hunt it for long bursts. Ten to 15 minute loops back to the truck are just about right.
Just as you’ve done all its life, monitor the dog for stress and keep water available all the time. Ample water is important any time any dog is performing – even in colder weather conditions.
You can enjoy your dog’s senior years and add to that long list of great memories in the field. Just do it carefully and watchfully. That way you’ll both enjoy the time together.
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