Keeping your dog in peak condition as they age isn’t just about keeping their bodies lean and fit, it’s about doing the same for their minds too. Cognitive decline in dogs can be a very real problem, but fortunately, there’s a myriad of hints and tips out there that can help you keep their minds ticking over well into their twilight years. If you’re concerned about keeping your dogs mind agile as they age, try a few of these helpful tricks.
Feed Them A Nutritious Diet
Good nutrition isn’t just for pups. While young dogs need a healthy diet to help build their future health, senior dogs are equally in need of good food to maintain theirs. Ensuring your senior dog has adequate supplies of vitamin C and E, as well as selenium, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet will go a long way to ensuring their brain (and the rest of them, for that matter) stays fit, strong, and healthy for as long as possible. If you’re not quite sure where to start, let the pet food manufacturers do the hard work for you: most brands now carry senior lines specially formulated to meet the exact nutritional needs of your senior dog and to help maintain and even improve cognitive function.
Brush Their Teeth
We all know how dogs love to have their teeth brushed, right? Or maybe not… while it can be daunting to face down your dog armed with nothing but a toothbrush, it’s a risk worth taking. Gum disease has been linked to all kinds of problems in both humans and dogs, including cardiovascular disease and cognitive problems. Keep their hearts and minds ticking over nicely by tackling those pearly whites at least three times a week (and don’t forget yours while you’re at it, either).
Supplements aren’t something to be used with wild abandon, especially if you feed your dog a food marked “complete and balanced”. Overdo one mineral or vitamin, and you risk throwing that careful balance completely out of the window. That said, there are a few key supplements that are worth a second glance. Coconut oil and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) have both been shown to have a protective effect on cognitive function, as have several other supplements…. just make sure to speak to your vet before introducing them to your pet’s diet.
Keep A Healthy Weight
If you find your pet is becoming more sedentary in their senior years, it’s vital to pay attention to just how much you’re feeding them. While it’s never exactly a good thing to let your pet become over or underweight, weight problems in older dogs can quickly turn into bigger problems- problems that can have a significant impact on both their physical and mental health. With most dogs, the issue is easy enough to spot and even easier to address: simply keep an eye on their weight and activity levels and make any adjustments to their food quantities to compensate for an increase or decrease in either.
Exercise Is Key
While your senior dog may like to do nothing more than catch 40 winks between feed times, it’s important to ensure they still get plenty of healthy exercise. As dogs exercise, their heart rate increases, with the result that more oxygen (which is essentially the brain’s main “nutrient”, keeping it sharp, focused and youthful)) is pumped to the brain. If your senior dog can’t handle the same lengthy runs they did in their youth, aim for shorter (but more frequent) strolls around the block or a quick game of catch in the yard.
Teach Them New Tricks
Remember that adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? As it turns out, it’s not only untrue, it’s also seriously unhealthy. As veterinarian Dr. Hare tells AKC, “an old dog needs to learn a new trick if you want to mentally stimulate them and keep their mind and body healthy.” While we aren’t suggesting you sit them down with a crossword puzzle, teaching them some new games can go a long way to keeping their brains sharp. Fortunately, there’s lots of puzzle games on the market that exist for that exact purpose; buy a few and alternate between them to keep your dog interested.
Play Hide And Seek
Stimulating your pet’s senses will go a long way to keeping their brains active- and what better way to do this than with a rewarding game of hide and seek? If you haven’t played the game with them before, it’s easy enough to master. Start by telling them to sit, then (while they’re still watching) hide a toy or a treat in an obvious place that they can easily find. Give them a release signal, and then, once they’ve found the toy, make a big fuss to show how clever they are. Once they’ve got the rules of the game down, up the difficulty factor by getting them to wait in another room while you hide the treat – forcing them to use their sense of smell to discover the buried treasure will not only be fun for them, it’ll also do wonders at keeping their minds sharp.
Make Mealtimes Fun
Games don’t have to end at mealtimes. As Dr Maggie suggests, a great way of stimulating your senior dog’s mind is through introducing new little games at every opportunity, even at dinnertime. Divide their food into portions and hide them in different parts of the house. Letting them hunt down their dinner is a great way of sharpening their mind (not to mention their appetite)!
Training Is For Life
Training needn’t end once your dog hits puberty. Agility training is not only a great way of keeping your pet fit and athletic as they age, it’s also a fantastic way of getting them to learn new, stimulating skills. If all the running, jumping and twisting is too much for your pet, consider something a little less energetic like rally, where pet and owner work together to master a set of different obstacles.
Name Their Toys
While it may seem a slightly leftfield suggestion, naming your dog’s toys (and then getting them to learn them), can be a great way of keeping your pet’s mind active. “Give each a specific name, always use that name whenever the dog is playing with that toy, and then start asking the dog to choose between toys based on name,” animal expert Dr Leigh advises AKC.