Older dogs and older people have a number of things in common. As we age, our metabolism, energy levels, nutritional needs, and general health conditions undergo changes.
As part of the aging process, dogs and humans slow down a bit and develop more aches and pains that can limit activity. In many respects, these factors may be most apparent in more active people and the same is true with active sporting dogs.
Keeping an older hunting dog healthy and active is a challenge, but the rewards are numerous. Unfortunately, a sporting dog usually starts to feel the effects of aging just when he or she is well trained, calmed downed, easy to handle and has the business of hunting and retrieving down to a science — in other words, in their prime.
A healthy, well-maintained older hunting retriever can still show ’em how it’s done.
Problems In The Field
Problems such as being overweight and arthritis pain, combined with a lower level of physical fitness, can contribute to endurance and ability problems in the field. These conditions may creep into your dog’s life gradually, and perhaps go unnoticed until the age of 7 or 8 years old. That’s when all of a sudden you realize that your once athletic hunting companion is less than enthusiastic about field work and may even start limping.
However, just because a dog displays these symptoms does not mean that he should be taken out of the loop. A number of things can be done to continue his active sporting life.
Start by taking your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and make sure to tell the vet that you use the dog for hunting and want to continue to do so. Then follow the vet’s instructions.
One of the most important things you can do to maintain the health of a dog is to keep its’ weight under control and at an acceptably low level. Your vet is the best source of advice here. Your dog should be weighed at each visit, so be sure to ask what the weight is so you can monitor it.
Watching Their Weight
Using a weight control formula dog food is a good move for an older dog in the off season. If necessary, you can switch to a regular or high-protein mix during the hunting season and at other times when energy demands are high. Keeping a dog’s weight under control is a key factor in managing the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
For people and dogs, arthritis is a “pain in the neck.” It also can cause pain in the back and hips. If your dog limps, arthritic pain may be the cause and a veterinary evaluation should be done. After, or instead of a major procedure and heavier medication, the dietary supplement Cosequin may be prescribed for maintaining joint health. The preparation contains glucosamine hydrochloride, sodium chondroitin sulfate, ascorbate and manganese, and seems to aid in the maintenance of cartilage and synovial fluid for joint health.
My Labrador retriever, Moira, had to go on the stuff a little over 1 year ago and it has been a big help. She started limping badly last fall after a moderately strenuous, water retrieving training session and missed a good part of the season. Fortunately, Cosequin, continued weight control, and a year-round exercise program has kept her in the field and out of the operating room.
As time goes on, we also have had good results with the prescription drug EtoGesic (etodolac) for preventing and or relieving arthritis pain. Under a veterinarian’s direction this medication can be given on a regular or as needed basis.
Exercise Is Key
Continued exercise during the off-season plays an important part in maintaining the health of an older field dog.
Joint problems often occur when a dog that has been inactive all year is made to train hard, all at once, just prior to the hunting season. Frequent walks, swimming, and retrieving sessions limited to four or six round trips will maintain muscle tone and contribute to joint health and endurance throughout the year. Thus the transition to pre-season training and actual hunting will be less severe for the dog that keeps a minimum level of fitness at all times.
Older hunting dogs can suffer from a number of painful, frustrating problems, but knowledge and understanding on the part of the owner coupled with lots of T.L.C. can pay big dividends and help keep them in the field as long as possible.
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