15 year old Ace, right photo.
For the senior dog, grooming is more than just a beauty routine-it's an essential part of keeping her healthy. In fact, grooming can correct many health issues people believe come with aging, such as dull coat, sensitive skin, dirty teeth, bad breath, and runny eyes. It can also alert you to developing problems that are best treated by a veterinarian.
Seniors require slightly different grooming methods. Dogs with poor vision or hearing must be approached gently and slowly; touch them with your hand before applying any grooming tools. Be aware of conditions that may cause pain: Skin rashes, arthritis, and orthopedic problems can make brushing excruciating. Arthritis can also make nail clipping uncomfortable. Ear infections can make dogs sensitive to hair trimming, and dental problems and gum disease can make teeth cleaning unbearable. But don't let your dog's discomfort discourage you from grooming; let grooming help inform you of your dog's health, so you and your vet can deal promptly with any problems.
As dogs age, their skin produces less natural oil and their coats can grow dry and dull. Diet can also affect coat quality when older dogs don't eat as much or as well as before. And old dogs can go gray, which may cause coats to look less vibrant. But your old dog can enjoy a shiny coat and healthy skin. First, consider supplementing her diet with omega-3 fatty acids. Add just a squirt of flaxseed or salmon oil to her daily food, or use a supplement designed to support healthy skin and coat.
Next, give your dog an allover massage before brushing, rubbing her skin from nose to tail with your fingertips. Not only will this handson treatment relax her (and alert you to any lumps and bumps that may be developing), but a good massage will loosen dead hair and stimulate circulation and oil production in her skin. Brushing afterwards will distribute coat oils more effectively, so the coat gets shinier.
Finally, rather than brushing your dog less, brush her more. A daily massage and brushing will stimulate natural oil production. Consider using a coat conditioner to add moisture and oil to the coat when your dog's skin isn't providing quite enough. Her coat will look much better.
When senior dogs become more sensitive and resistant to being touched, it's easy to put off grooming eyes and ears. But when ears get dirty or yeasty, and eyes get runny and sticky, your senior will be even more uncomfortable. At least weekly (preferably always on the same day at about the same time) wash your dog's face with a soft washcloth or moist cotton balls, paying special attention to any gunk collecting around the eyes. Clean the under-eye area with a tearstain remover if necessary, and consider using moisturizing eye drops if her eyes seem dry and sticky Check with your vet if you notice signs of cloudiness, which could indicate cataracts, or eyeball swelling, which might indicate glaucoma.
As for ears, whether floppy or perky, use a canine ear wash weekly. Squirt the wash into your dog's ears, let her shake her head a little, then gently clean out the visible part of the ear canal using a cotton ball. Dry the ear with another cotton ball, and your dog will feel much better, even if she doesn't enjoy the process at first. Remember, the more regularly you do any grooming chore, the less your dog will mind it.
If your dog's inner ears have a lot of hair, consider plucking or trimming, or ask a professional groomer to do it for you. If her ears look red, rashy, or inflamed, or if your dog frequently shakes her head, paws her ears, or doesn't let you touch them, call your vet. Ear infections should be treated with medication your vet can prescribe.
18-year old Bennie: