The Real Deal on Aging Dogs: Highs, lows, and everything in between

Fact: There is nothing better than an old dog.

My little old dog

Another fact: Aging can be tough, no matter the species.

My heart is bursting with the joy and gratitude and love I have for seeing Emmett into these Golden Years. Considering all we’ve been through with him–and the fact that we lost his brother at the unfair age of 9–I watch him frolic around in his 13th year and just burst. I plan to watch him frolic and enjoy many more years, so it’s up to me to make sure he stays safe, healthy, and happy.

That said, I’ve been tallying up the questions I’ve been getting as I’ve been writing about Emmett over the years, and as he’s gotten older I’ve gotten tons along the lines of “what do you use for…” or “how do you guys handle…” {{insert age-related illness or condition here}}. So, I thought I’d tackle as much as I could think of in one mondo blog post!

Here is everything you need to know about taking care of a geriatric dog! Well, everything I can think of today, anyway. If I miss something or leave a question unanswered, please leave it in the comments so I can be sure to address!

Two disclaimers before we get started:

  1. Some of these links are affiliate links. What that means is that if you click the link to make a purchase, this site gets a tiny commission. It doesn’t cost you anything and in many instances will save you some money with coupon codes and whatnot. However, please know that I’d never recommend something we don’t actually purchase and use for ourselves!
  2. Please know that I’m not a vet. I’m not a vet tech. I’m not a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, an anything even remotely useful… I’m a dog-obsessed journalist, so research and interviews are the name of my game. Take all this with a grain of salt and always, always, always consult a veterinarian. Everything I’m sharing is what’s worked for us.

I’ve broken this post into three sections: mobility, food and supplements, and treats! Yes, treats get their own section because, well, Emmett demands it. 🙂 Our starting line: Emmett is a 13-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier/hound mix. He had his first bout of cancer at age 9, with a nerve sheath tumor, and is now fighting his second cancer battle with hemangiosarcoma. He’s beaten all the odds for survival three-fold. He’s on Thyrosyn to treat hypothyroidism and Denamarin to support his liver. Most recently he’s been struggling with mobility and skin issues, and dental problems. Basically, he has everything that any old dog would ever get. All at once. But he’s so very happy! So, here’s what we’re doing to support those various problems:

Mobility Problems in Aging Dogs

Emmett gets acupuncture

Last week Emmett started acupuncture. He has arthritis in his spine, and he’s dealing with some muscle atrophy in his back legs. He’s on a course of pain medication, and we’ve added in an anti-inflammatory, along with prescribed exercise routines and the acupuncture. It’s too early to tell how it’s going to go–he’s only had one treatment so far–but it didn’t bother him in the least, and he was totally relaxed.

The big problem is that his back legs slip out from underneath of him. Enter: ToeGrips! Holy moly, these were a game-changer. I did a ton of online research and ultimately decided these were the solution. I ordered a couple packs from the website, and day 1, victory! I mean, he could get up easily, he slipped less, he balanced better. The only thing is that they kept flying off his toes! But Emmett gets these spurts of energy and dashes around, plays with Coop, etc., which sent them flying. As luck would have it, I was thrilled to meet Dr. Buzby in person at BlogPaws. She gave me a couple more packs and–drumroll–super glue! It totally worked, and now we have to reapply them far less frequently. I can’t recommend them enough. Truly, if we could only do one thing to help him maintain stability, ToeGrips would be it.

We also have him on a joint supplement called DGP. He was on another brand for years that worked well, but he needed the stronger stuff starting about a year ago. Lucas started on DGP before his amputation, so we knew it worked… and worked well! So, we stopped the other that Emmett was on and shifted him to DGP. Haven’t looked back! (BTW, I order it from Only Natural Pet because we set up auto delivery for every eight weeks of all the supplements for all the herd because you get 10% off each item plus free shipping… With Em’s stuff, Coop’s supplements, and Newt’s vitamins, it’s a HUGE savings for us.)

Next up: We were lucky enough to chat with the folks from GingerLead at BlogPaws. Oh, how I wish I had known about this for Lukey. Anyway, it’s our next step with mobility and once we’ve tried it, I’ll come back and share the results (with YIPPEE and giveaway!).

Food and Supplements for Senior Dogs

I think over the years, the question I’ve been asked the very most is: What do you feed your dog? Emmett has always eaten kibble. I’m a firm believe in a rotation diet, and he gets a variety of options from Wellness (honestly, they’re all good), Petcurean, and Merrick. The one we feed the very most is Wellness, but I like to alternate just to hit all the bases.

For the first time in his life, Emmett is a smidge on the skinny side. That plus his extremely dry skin (super common in aging dogs) means huge heaps of coconut oil! He loves it, and since he takes so many pills, it helps gloop them all together atop his kibble so he gets ’em all down in one go. Cooper and Newt get coconut oil, too, and Newtie won’t eat the kind that actually tastes like coconut oil (sigh). Instead of having her spit it out all over the kitchen floor, I just buy the organic refined coconut oil at Target.

In addition to the DGP mentioned above, Emmett also gets a senior supplement with breakfast and dinner. It’s a powder from Only Natural Pet designed for seniors. It’s called Senior Ultimate Daily Vitamins, and it’s hugely on sale for a summer clearance thing right now. I order it with our recurring shipment, and he goes through a little more than one jar in a month so not too bad. Also, thanks to the reminder from our friend Forest Poodles, Emmett is also on a daily probiotic, which we also order from Only Natural Pet in our recurring shipment to get the discount (this is a LOT of pills…). He and Cooper share one jar that lasts about a month.

We also get him wet food on occasion as a special topper/treat, but his teeth are getting super worn the older he gets–and he lost one recently!!!–so I’m trialing different canned foods with the thought that some day he might be eating a mostly-wet diet. That remains to be seen, but you know me… I like to be prepared.

We DO keep him on both monthly heartworm and flea/tick preventative. We’re in the woods a lot. Emmett loves to get outside and hike (we found ADA accessible trails that are smooth and slow, perfect for him), and the risks of an additional illness on top of his cancer and ongoing chemo maintenance program just isn’t worth it to us. That said, I’ve been told by many, many people that they would never give their dog preventatives, and that’s just fine. Work with your vet to figure out what’s best for you, which is what we did and continue to do.


By “treats” I don’t just mean of the food variety, but that’s a big part of it. Emmett gets to enjoy lots of special things he loves. Obviously it depends on your dog’s personality to figure out what those treats are. Emmett loves nothing more than meeting people. The more the merrier, and bonus points if they’re children! So, he runs errands with us. We do all our home shopping at Lowe’s because they’re SUPER dog friendly. He loves it there. We also take him to the two pet stores we shop at, PetSmart and Pet People. Sometimes he shoplifts, but whaddya gonna do? (I always pay for whatever he grabs!)

We also take him through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and get him a pup cup. He loves the treat, but it’s less of a fun adventure, though, since there’s not really outside seating to meet new friends.

Emmett loves Dunkin' Donuts


If the weather’s nice, we take him to Starbucks to sit out on the patio. He enjoys a puppy latte while greeting the adoring fans that inevitably flock to him!

Even though it’s always a teense more effort taking him with us on errands, it’s totally worth it. Honestly, at 13, Emmett gets to do what Emmett wants! I want him to have the happiest days every day! It’s easy with him, though, because he thinks going to the vet is fun… but still!

OK, if you got to the end of this post, YOU deserve a treat. I truly hope I’ve been able to adequately address all the questions that have come in about keeping a senior dog happy and healthy. If I missed anything or if you want me to dig deeper into any topics, please let me know in the comments!

For those of you with seniors, what adjustments have you made? How do you maintain a daily routine? Any special steps or accommodations? Would LOVE to learn more!