Unlike what a lot of people mistakenly believe, keeping a senior dog active is not just about focusing on the physical side of things. It is also crucial to provide mental stimulation to aging labs because it has a significant effect on your dog's quality of life.
If you've got an elderly dog and you'd like to learn how to engage him in the right mental exercise and activities, then you've come to the right place. Make sure you read on to find out how to properly mentally stimulate your older dog plus a few more interesting bits and pieces as we go along.
Why Senior Dogs Need To Be Mentally Stimulated Constantly
A senior dog's mind plays a key role in his overall wellness. Neglecting to provide adequate mental stimulation to older dogs may lead to negative effects on their nervous system, which can make it difficult for them to enjoy life during their golden years.
Contrary to popular opinion, a happy dog in his senior years does not just have sufficient nutritious food and lots of physical exercise. He also needs the right amount of mental stimulation to keep his brain health ideal.
While the whole thing may sound a bit technical right now, you won't believe how easy it is to pull off! We've actually put together a quick and straightforward checklist for you that we will go over in just a bit.
Why don't we start things off with the risks of not giving your senior dog the mental stimulation he really deserves?
Risks of Not Giving Older Dogs Regular Mental Stimulation
Like we've emphasized earlier, stimulating your aging pooch mentally is crucial in senior dog enrichment. If we're being honest, many dogs in their golden years encounter health concerns because of the lack of the same.
And what's really alarming is that these health issues can get in the picture without a warning. Just to give you an idea of how potentially serious this problem is, here are the possible risks that your older fur baby could be in for without proper mental stimulation:
Decline in cognitive function
Senior dogs that are not stimulated mentally on a regular basis become highly prone to the development of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). This health problem is considered the equivalent of dementia in old dogs.
Regardless of age, a dog likes to be habitually engaged in some sort of activity that provides him with a physical and mental outlet. A quick example is when you play fetch with your older pooch. Repeatedly leaving your pet with nothing to do can put a lot of strain on his mental health.
Increased risk of anxiety and depression
Speaking of your canine companion's mental health, his risk of suffering from depression and anxiety will significantly increase as a dog ages. It is crucial to take note that these mental health concerns can potentially lead to fatal consequences if your pet also has underlying conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Some physiological adverse effects
Surprisingly, an older dog can experience adverse physiological effects if he is not constantly mentally stimulated. These can range from erratic bowel movement and acid reflux to issues with this skin and coat like bald spots. Your dog's joints can be affected as well.
Decrease in overall quality of life
According to several institutions, such as the Grey Muzzle Organization, a dog's brain will age in an accelerated manner if there is a lack of mental stimulation. Besides the risk of cognitive decline, an overall deterioration in your older dog's quality of life can also be expected as a result.
Is Mentally Stimulating A Senior Dog Difficult?
Stimulating your older dog mentally isn't really that tricky. However, it is important to keep in mind that it isn't going to be a walk in the park either. You'll need a lot of patience and commitment (not to mention treats) to successfully achieve this.
Choosing the right activities is essential.
Mentally stimulating your senior dog is not just about choosing a fun game or toy and you're done. You have to really check if the game or activity you're doing is appropriate for your pooch. What's suitable for an aging Labrador Retriever may not be applicable to other dogs like a senior German Shepherd. Interactive toys work their magic on most dogs, though.
Don't be afraid to experiment.
Don't worry if your older dog doesn't warm up to an activity or a toy immediately. Some aging canine companions like to take their time before really getting in on fun games or playing with dog toys. One way to encourage your older pooch to interact with a chew toy or a treat-dispensing toy is by letting your dog sniff it for a bit.
Awesome Benefits of Mentally Stimulating An Older Dog Regularly
Just to emphasize, stimulating a younger dog mentally is not the same as stimulating an older canine companion. An older pup may immediately participate in a game of hide-and-seek or play with chew toys right away.
It is not uncommon for old dogs to take things at their own pace. This is just one of the effects of the canine aging process. Remember that having fun is your ultimate goal and you'll be on the right track—and your older pooch is going to enjoy the following benefits, too:
You are supporting your senior dog's brain health.
Your aging dog's brain is going to be highly prone to degeneration sooner or later if it's not "exercised" or stimulated as it should. While not all dogs suffer from cognitive decline during their golden years, prevention is way better than cure in this situation.
Physical and mental exercise means quality time.
Senior dogs love to be engaged in an activity where they are encouraged to use not only their physical fitness but also their smarts. Whether it's playing fetch or learning new tricks, your pet will consider it as a bonding time between the two of you. And don't forget the treats while we're at it.
Brain games help make senior dogs age in a much "slower" way.
It's crucial to take note that regularly stimulating your older pooch's mind isn't going to automatically prevent his brain from aging or becoming prone to degeneration. What it mainly does is curb the aging process to a minimal level.
This means that your old dog won't be as vulnerable to neurological disorders and similar issues compared to his counterparts who don't have regular mental stimulation. As a bonus, he's going to have a lot of fun in the process, too.
Your older dog's behavior won't suddenly become aggressive.
It's really a big misconception that an old dog instantly turns grumpy during his senior years. Just like humans, our canine companions also require meaningful pastimes and activities on a regular basis to stay happy.
You won't see your aging pooch acting differently if this crucial part of his routine is met.
You can even teach your old dog new tricks!
Did you know that your dog's brain is still active and receptive in its golden years? Sure he may be experiencing some physiological changes due to his age, but you can sure teach an old dog a new trick!
Combining short training sessions with food rewards is one surefire strategy you can use to achieve this.
How Long Should You Mentally Stimulate An Aging Dog Daily?
What's really great about mental stimulation in older dogs is that you can simultaneously give it to your pet during physical exercise. Let's say you're engaging your senior pooch in a short around the block. You can combine the physical stimulation with a bit of brain exercise along the way.
We recommend playing games like searching for "treasure" such as flowers and fire hydrants as well as letting your canine best friend choose the best route to take while you're at it. And just like the usual workout time recommended for aging dogs, at least thirty (30) minutes of stimulating your pooch mentally will already get the job done.
Moreover, it is also important to take note of the body language of your dog as you go along. His preferences won't stay the same every day and you may need to tweak your activities here and there. It's completely normal that your dog will be into puzzle toys one day and move to nose work or some other activity the next.
Mental Stimulation for Older Labrador Retrievers Done Right
So we've finished covering the importance of mental stimulation when a dog ages. Now let's go over some simple and practical pointers on how to pull the whole thing off. We're sure you and your senior pooch will have a blast.
But before we do so, always keep in mind that you may need to customize these tips depending on your pet's overall wellness and take into consideration any underlying health condition—like diabetes, hypertension, and similar issues—that he may be suffering from.
With that said, let's begin!
#1. Set up an indoor obstacle and agility course.
One simple strategy you can use for mental stimulation is to keep your senior dog moving in a controlled environment. A straightforward example is by setting up an agility or obstacle course in your living room or backyard.
You can use household stuff like pillows, laundry hampers, and dog toys as "obstacles" while leading your older pooch in the direction he has to go with his favorite treats and snacks. We recommend taking intermittent breaks since your pet can get easily fired up with this activity.
#2. Get your hands on puzzle toys that are hiding treats.
Does your senior pet like puzzle toys and treats? One hassle-free solution you can go for is to get your hands on toys that have compartments for dry food and similar canine edibles. These toys are usually designed to encourage your dog to manipulate them in a certain way to release the tasty stuff they hold within.
A word of caution, though. Choose toys that are durable and do not have sharp edges. In the same line, go for treats and snacks that are suitable for your senior dog. We recommend high-protein varieties made with real beef stock because dogs seem to find them irresistible.
#3. Engage your senior dog in nose games.
Nose games or "nose work" are activities that basically involve letting older dogs smell a certain thing and then hide the same so they will find it. You can think of it as a modified game of hide-and-seek. Engaging your pet in a nose game isn't that complicated, too.
To do this, you can simply stuff a shirt or handkerchief sprayed with a bit of perfume between the throw pillows of your sofa or perhaps put it behind the drapes. Alternatively, avoid placing it near appliances and similar items that are prone to breakage.
Just remember to put the object of your nose game in a location where your aging pooch can easily reach and you're good to go.
#4. Go for age-appropriate low impact exercises for your older dog.
As we've emphasized earlier, mental stimulation and physical movement usually go together. Low-impact workouts like swimming, short walks, and games of fetch are some of the more common examples that you may be already engaging your senior pooch with.
When engaging older dogs in low-impact exercises, though, it is crucial to remember that they may already have trouble regulating their body temperature and you'll need to have intermittent breaks here and there.
#5. Visit places both you and your senior pooch haven't been to yet.
Apart from encouraging older dogs to use their smarts, mental stimulation also involves making your aging pet experience positive feelings through new experiences. This could be through exposure to new sights, smells, sensations, and environments.
Perhaps the most straightforward way to do this is by visiting a place you and your senior dog haven't been in before. It could be a new dog-friendly café, a hiking trail you just found out about, or that part of the beach that you still haven't explored.
You can practically go anywhere so long as it is safe and sensible for you and your dog.
#6. Organize a get-together for your dog.
Senior dogs love to socialize! Organizing a neighborhood pet party—regardless of the age, sex, and breed of the participants—is one way to mentally stimulate your aging pooch. You see, regular socialization has two (2) key effects with respect to your older dog's mental health.
First, it helps promote the production of a hormone called oxytocin, which is associated with positive feelings like happiness, contentment, and affection. Second, it helps get rid of negative emotions that your pooch may be experiencing at the same time. How cool is that?
#7. Always be ready for emergencies.
If we're being honest, senior dogs are quite prone to emergency situations. This could involve anything from simple nicks and cuts to more serious ones like sudden bouts of arthritis, diarrhea, and vomiting. It is smart to always have a go-to pet emergency kit at your disposal to deal with these problems as soon as they get in the picture.
A Natural Approach When Dealing with Emergencies Concerning Senior Dogs
Zumalka's EMERGENCY KIT is formulated to provide the right care and attention when senior dogs find themselves in a wellness pinch. Apart from helping maintain ideal gastrointestinal health, our natural kit is also designed to take care of injuries like contusions and trauma.
Having EMERGENCY KIT in your home pet care checklist is not just about protecting your senior dog from health issues that he may inadvertently find himself in. It's also about getting the peace of mind you've always wanted.
HOMEOPATH & CO-FOUNDER OF ZUMALKA
Suzie Cyrenne is a certified Homeopath with over ten years of experience creating natural products for cats and dogs. She co-founded eCommerce brand, Zumalka in 2013 with her husband Matt and is on a mission to help thousands of animals naturally improve their quality of life and shares her experience on their popular YouTube show. Hence, she created a line of high-performance natural pet supplements to target the root cause of common health issues.
Suzie was influenced by her mother-in-law, who practiced homeopathy and made natural remedies from home. After being on prescriptions for many years for a skin issue without resolution, she wanted to try something new. Her problems were cleared up within a few months of dedication to a better diet supplemented by homeopathic remedies. That's when she knew that homeopathy worked! During this process, she wondered why there weren't better options for pets and soon created a popular line of natural remedies that have helped thousands of pets across the USA.
When she’s not traveling or reading the next personal development book, you can find Suzie snowboarding, working out, or enjoying a daily hike.
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