The golden years

Your dog may be slowing down, but there’s no reason why its senior years should be any less fun, rewarding or happy.

Much like a human, a dog’s needs change as it gets older. It will still need exercise, just at a slower pace. It will still need to eat well, its diet may just need some adjustment to keep its joints, muscles and mind going strong.

As it gets older, your dog’s needs will depend on its breed, size and temperament. Breeds age at different rates and what may be necessary for a Labrador, may not work for a Jack Russell Terrier. Large breeds age more rapidly than smaller ones and are generally considered senior before they reach the age of 10. Smaller breeds only hit their geriatric years in their teens.

You are probably the person most familiar with your dog – its health, wellbeing, coat, temperament and all that’s in between. This means that you’re the best person to keep an eye out for early warning signs that something may be changing. Watch for a change in appetite, discomfort on rising or after exercise, weight loss or gain and confusion or disorientation.

The most important aspects to consider as your dog ages are diet, exercise and general body maintenance. Energy levels may decrease and your dog’s senses may decline, however, it’s still important to keep your beloved dog happy and healthy with exercise, a nutritious diet and some good old tender loving care.

Remember to schedule routine check-ups with your veterinarian. With regular vet visits, you may be able to detect cancers, diseases and organ deterioration early and, in turn, you may give your dog a few more years. Regular visits should include blood screens and urine tests to check for all possible conditions that dogs may develop as they age.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to treating senior dogs is finding the balance between too much and too little.

Rae Hennessy is an animal acupuncturist who frequently treats older dogs for joint problems. “Dogs are living longer and longer, which is probably to do with better healthcare and better awareness of owners in regard to their diet,” she says. “It’s really important that owners pay attention to how to treat old dogs, because we’re caring for older dogs longer than we used to.”


Senior dogs tend to sleep a lot more than younger pups. However, they still needs to stay on the move. Your dog may not be able to handle the energetic playtime of an off- leash park or the vigorous runs that it used to, but a gentle walk around the block once a day will benefit it twofold. Not only will a regular stroll keep its muscles toned, it will also stimulate its mind with new smells and sights to keep it entertained.

When dogs come to see Rae, besides devising a treatment plan, she also recommends that owners maintain their dog’s treatment by themselves. This means regular, moderate exercise to keep the weight off. However, it’s very much about finding the balance between what is good for the dog and what is overdoing it.

Rae believes that giving in to your senior dog’s urge to laze around all day and snooze isn’t ideal or healthy for your precious pooch. “I’m not a fan of excessively resting old dogs. I find that stiff, old joints tend to seize up more if you don’t use them,” she says. If your dog is struggling to get up or resisting your calls for a walk, swimming is a perfect alternative. “It’s a great way to get good exercise without putting too much pressure on their joints,” Rae advises.

However, it’s important to keep in mind your dog’s limits. Exercise routines need to be tailored to its individual requirements, without stretching your dog too far. You must walk at your dog’s pace rather than yours.

Walking and swimming aren’t the only available options however. While your senior dog may not be up for intense play like it was when it was younger, playing fetch will still stimulate its mind and muscles. You can also jog slowly with your dog or take part in canine sports, as long as these activities don’t stress your senior dog too much, and you get an all clear from your vet.


While holistically there may not be much difference between the diet of a senior dog and the diet of a younger dog, there are definite differences between the ways the body reacts.

Just like in the human world, joint pain is a common thread for older dogs and this can largely be influenced by the dog’s weight. Weight can be more of an issue for bigger breeds than smaller ones, but this is simply because a bigger breed carries more weight on its muscles and joints.

As your dog grows older, it’s generally not necessary to change its diet. However, you may need to alter its portion size. “The difference between old dogs and old people is that they don’t have control over what is in their bowl,” Rae says. A dog is not going to turn away a meal. It may take longer to eat a meal as it gets older but the food will definitely get eaten. This means it’s up to you to be firm with your senior dog and limit the size of its meal.

Rae says it’s a matter of whether the dog simply needs to lose weight or if there’s a problem with the food it’s being given. “I think, provided the dog is fit and well, and doing well on the diet that its owner has chosen for it, I’m generally happy for it to continue along those lines,” she says. However, as your dog gets older, it may develop digestive problems. This is when you should change the type of food it’s getting. “I’m more a fan of portion control and exercise than changing to anything that the dog
isn’t used to, unless I see a problem with the diet that is causing the dog issues.

Michael Frizell is the CEO of Paws for Life, an online retailer of high quality pet food, medication and accessories. He agrees that it is more a matter of limiting a dog’s food intake when it comes to weight management, especially if it’s impacting the dog’s joints. “We sometimes see the issue of overfeeding. High quality food has a lot more nutrition and a lot more protein, but owners sometimes feed their dog the same quantity of food that they used to,” Michael says. “We advise people to pull the quantities back a little bit, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and generally the dog’s weight will come off.”

In terms of helping your old dog’s joints, Michael suggests glucosamine as a supplement. “Glucosamine is very good for the joints,” he advises. “You can get chewable tablets for dogs, which they quite like, and they can be added to the dog’s food. There are also glucosamine supplements that you can sprinkle over your dog’s food and they tend to be quite happy eating that.”

Michael also says that you can even be preventative with helping your dog adjust to ageing. Feed it high quality food, modifying the quantity according to recommendations, and start taking glucosamine before it gets too old. This means the onset of the arthritis may not be so sudden or so frightening for your dog.

If you see your dog struggling to eat its food, it may have developed a digestive condition. Similar to humans, dogs can develop digestive problems as they get older. You do see sensitivities in senior dogs, however, this is generally on a case-by-case basis rather than a blanket condition.

A dog’s happiness is largely about what goes on inside. As your dog gets older, its diet becomes even more crucial to it leading a long and healthy life.

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Fleas and ticks

With flea and tick season just around the corner, it’s crucial to understand how these critters operate and how to keep them at bay. 

It’s exceptionally easy for your dog to your dog comes into physical contact with get fleas, and it can be exceptionally another animal or environment that has difficult to get rid of them, especially fleas, it can get fleas too.

Fleas love the Australian climate and thrive during the summer months. Even the healthiest dog living in a flea-free environment can become infested if it comes into contact with a flea-infested environment. Fleas can also be brought into your home on your clothing, or on your dog after it has played outside.

While not contagious, fleas are transmittable. A flea’s strong hind legs enable it to jump from host to host, so if your dog comes into physical contact with another animal or environment that has fleas, it can get fleas too.

A common place to contact fleas is the great outdoors. Fleas lay their eggs in tall grass and when these eggs merge into adulthood, they can easily jump to their new home – your dog. Flea eggs can also get into your dog’s fur if it rolls around on the ground. While a flea that merely jumps onto your dog is easy to kill with preventative care, the problem really starts when the flea hatching process occurs on your dog’s body.

Once an adult flea has found its new home, it continues to feed on the blood of your dog and lay eggs. These eggs then hatch and larvae emerge, feeding on your dog as well. These larvae cocoon themselves, eventually hatching into adult fleas. The cycle repeats itself but this time with many more adult fleas.

Some eggs will fall off the dog and into the environment. This means that not only will your dog become infected, but its bed, kennel and any resting area will become contaminated as well. Only five per cent of fleas end up living on your dog making it just as important to de-flea your home.

When you have two or more dogs, the cycle can be very burdensome as, when one dog has fleas, your other dogs are bound to get them too. “It’s really important to treat all of the animals in the household,” Dr Heather Shortridge, veterinarian at the Armidale Veterinary Hospital says and, in a country area, this means your farm dogs too. “Sometimes people won’t treat their farm dogs, but they’ll treat their house dogs, so they’re always going to have fleas in the environment.”

Ticks can be found anywhere, but are most common along the Australian coastline, particularly in spring and early summer. Each year, thousands of dogs are infected with diseases transmitted by ticks.

Ticks in Australia include the brown dog tick and the bush tick, however, the most common, and dangerous, is the paralysis tick. Known as the Icodes holocyclus, the paralysis tick lies waiting in vegetation and when an animal passes, it attaches, sucks the blood and injects a neurotoxin called Holocyclotoxin, which is what causes the paralysis in the dog. A good way to distinguish which tick is on your dog is by looking at its leg. “If the legs in the middle are different colours to the front and back legs, then that’s a paralysis tick,” Heather explains. “But I think with ticks, if in doubt, have it checked out.”

Paralysis ticks can cause a loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, weak limbs and a change to the bark. Eventually, if not treated, paralysis ticks can lead to a coma, respiratory problems and even death.


You will usually know whether your dog has fleas by its excessive scratching. If your dog is allergic to fleas or ticks, it may start to bite its skin and it may lose fur.

If not treated properly, fleabites can turn into something more harmful to your dog. “A lot of animals will be hypersensitive to fleas so just one flea bite is enough

to set them off. They’ll get really itchy around the base of the tail. The problem then is that they start traumatising themselves because they’ll scratch and scratch and scratch and they’ll create a lot of the damage. They’ll get really horrible hotspots where they’ll get moist, red infected areas and they’ll be really uncomfortable,” Heather says.

There are different ways to treat fleas and ticks depending on the problem that presents itself. “Sometimes we’ll have to use different types of anti-inflammatories, sometimes we’ll use antibiotics and sometimes we use topical creams,” Heather says.

With ticks, Dr Tammy Acciari, veterinarian from the Central Coast Veterinary Centre at North Wyong says that the priority should always be removing the tick from the dog’s body rather than killing it. To do this, you can use a pair of tweezers or a specific tick twister.

She then recommends seeing a veterinarian immediately. “Once you have removed the tick, visit the vet to see if there are any signs of paralysis. Do not delay this check, because that is the best time to institute treatment if it is required. It is a good idea to take the removed tick with you in a plastic sleeve to the vet, so they can check if it was a paralysis tick or a bush tick.”

The Central Coast Veterinary Centre at North Wyong sees cases of tick paralysis all year and has two ventilators on hand. In the case of a paralysis tick, breathing can be paralysed. The ventilator breathes for the dog to allow the animal to recover.

The best form of treatment, however, is prevention.

Avoid fleas and ticks

The use of flea and tick prevention products is generally a good starting point. However, it is imperative you use the products according to what it says on the packaging and, if unsure, always check with your veterinarian. It is also important to continue to use flea and tick control products all year round, not just in the warmer months. “Once you are in the routine of regular flea and tick control, it will just become another routine part of looking after your dog. The most common mistake is, once it is controlled, to slacken off instead of keeping the program going to prevent another infestation,” Tammy says.

Prevention methods for fleas include treatments such as spot-on products, flea shampoos and spray on treatments. For ticks, you can fit your dog with a tick collar and there are products on the market that can be used topically. However, tick collars must be changed regularly and require care when fitted. “They are not suitable for puppies and must be placed on correctly so they do not slip off and get eaten,” Tammy says. Oral products tend to have an advantage because you don’t miss any area of your dog when administering it.

For multiple dogs, you must treat all of them, even if only one dog displays symptoms. “You must treat all in-contact pets with an appropriate product otherwise your flea control strategy is doomed to fail,” Tammy says. Heather recommends purchasing products in bulk to save some money and ensuring that all dogs are checked and treated at the same time saves time.

Tammy also recommends getting a tick reminder for the fridge that beeps when prevention control is due again. Another useful tip when it comes to saving cost with multiple pets is taking out pet insurance. This covers or lowers the cost of some treatments, which is especially important when it comes to a pricey concern like tick paralysis.

With ticks, it is also important for you to check your dog daily. Until they feed, ticks are quite difficult to see. However, if you can find a tick before it has been there too long, chances are the effect won’t be that bad. A veterinarian should still check your dog, as there may be some residual poison left by the tick.

Spot-on treatments, tablets and sprays will help to alleviate the chances of your dog getting fleas or ticks. However, it is not completely preventable. “It’s one of those things that is not 100 per cent avoidable because there are fleas everywhere but, by having really good flea control, owners can do a huge amount to reduce what their pets have to go through,” Heather says.

Treating the environment is just as important in ensuring your pet doesn’t fall victim to fleas or ticks. “Remember, the fleas you see on the pet may only be up to five per cent of the burden. The rest of the flea cycle is in your carpets and the environment,” Tammy says. This means making sure the grass is mowed, removing excess leaves and blocking off access to under the house. It also means regular vacuuming indoors and frequent washing of blankets and toys.

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Budding artist

TootiDecember seems to be the month to get married, according to my friends that is.

A very close childhood friend is getting married in less than a month and to celebrate her upcoming nuptials, we threw her a kitchen tea, spoiling her with the fun, quirky accessories you would never buy yourself. Things like glass labels, funky tea towels, heart-shaped frying pans … all the things that make a young couple’s home.

I put my hand up to make a couple of signs to make the bride-to-be feel special. One said ’27 days to go’ (minor freak out anyone?) and one that was strung above the kitchen saying ‘From Miss to Mrs’.

For a minute, I thought about buying the signs off Etsy. And then I remembered that I’d actually studied art until my late high school years. Why buy when you can create?

So off I went to the arts and crafts store.

As I was painting away in my pseudo-studio, I realised how therapeutic the activity really was. A lot of issues have been thrown my way over the past year and despite the thousands of thoughts running through my mind, at that present moment, everything seemed to melt away and all I could think about were the brush strokes and making sure the letters were perfect.

It actually made me consider taking up painting as a hobby. When people are stressed, some turn to exercise (I wish! I’d be stick thin by now), some turn to eating, some turn to friends … and some turn to art.

Has a song or piece of music made you feel happy or sad when you hear it? How about when you stare at a photograph or artwork and something in you changes, just that little bit?

Using art as therapy shouldn’t be too surprising considering the reaction many people feel when faced with something beautiful. In fact, many of history’s great works were created under stress or depression – think Picasso’s Blue Period or any Van Gogh for that matter.

Want a challenge? Next time you’re feeling stressed or down, pick up a paintbrush and throw your feelings on the canvas. You may even end up with a fantastic work of art.