Modern Natural Rearing:
The Senior Dog

Image: "Kilroy" Born: 1/83 Died: 4/97
Am/Can Ch. Van Tayl's Vivacious Voyager CD
Bred, owned, raised & shown by the author
This page is maintained by Donna Stekli, last updated 02/22/2005
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A senior dog might be a retired show dog, an obedience dog, an agility dog, or any dog that is in his "golden" years. When covering this part, it will be assumed that the senior dog is a companion animal. It makes no difference whether the senior is a dog or bitch, because it will be assumed the dog has been spayed or neutered, as all dogs should be upon reaching old age. The senior will be referred to as "old dog", "senior", or "dog" or "he" even though it may be a "she". As with the rest of the series, interjected are my beliefs, others may differ. The routine, care an feeding are what has worked for me. Others may have different results and routines.

As a general note, the suggestions contained may not work for every dog. There are individual cases that may be sensitive to herbs and additives mentioned. If your dog reacts negatively to any treatment or additive, discontinue it. Consult your veterinarian or other experienced people if you are not sure.

Importance of Spay, Neuter

Before reaching old age, if you have not had your dog spayed or neutered, you should. Dogs that are intact beyond 7 years of age have a much higher risk of cancers.

When does a dog get old?

The age of an old Kees comes somewhere between 7 and 11 years. Some don't start getting old dog problems until later and some develop problems earlier. "Kilroy", who was fourteen when he died, I classified as "old" when at age ten when he started having problems with a weakening rear. I have a twelve year old female that still acts like and has the body of a four year old and has not been classified as "old" yet.

Kees live to be an average of thirteen years old. Some make it longer and I have heard of Kees as old as nineteen before their time came to go.

What is special about an old dog?

Old dogs are special and everyone should have the experience of having one. I don't know how to explain them to do them justice, but they have the wisdom and the memories locked up in their brains of the special times shared with you. You can look them in the eyes at any time and know they love you and trust you completely. They have a lifetime of memories and the only ones they remember are the good ones, I am sure. They should be treated special and be given the time and love they need to complete their life cycle.

Attitude & Involvement

The main things to be concerned with in a Senior are diet, care and attitude. Involve the Senior dog in dog activities and/or with the family. Old dogs need to be included and add to the enjoyment of your other pets. Because they are aging, they need to feel part of things. They also need some one on one time. Don't forget them even if that cute puppy you just got takes up most of your time. The oldster should enjoy the puppy and be a part of everyday activities.

I find that my old dog enjoys playing and romping. He has helped me raise puppies and has some patience. He also teaches little ones how far they can go and what they can get away with. Sharp puppy teeth hurt and my old dog helps teach the youngsters that. Old dogs get a certain vitality from mingling with younger dogs. They seem to enjoy spurts of energy and short chase games as much as the younger dogs do. This is all part of the attitude of the old dog. Keep him involved and let him have all the exercise he will take comfortably. Don't let him rest on the hearth all of the time. Outings in the car to go to the bank or visit friends will help keep him feeling a part of things. This is important. If it is an obedience trained dog, or a retired show dog, enter him in a veteran class so he can have that old thrill again. They get that old sparkle back in their eyes as the audience claps and the owner gets teary eyed.


The Senior dog should be kept current on vaccines, but as they age, it may be best to not give certain ones. There is controversy on this subject. As dogs age, their immune systems change. They become more sensitive and vaccines can sometimes be life threatening. The other side to be considered is if an old dog does get a disease, chances are they won't be strong enough to fight it. It is up to you and your veterinarian to decide when you should stop giving rabies, parvo, DHLP, etc, to the aging Kees. I tend to stop giving any vaccines to the oldsters around age 12.

Coat, Skin, and Feeding

Feeding the coat from the inside with a good quality food is important. If that is not enough, additional oils may be given orally, such as sunflower oil and oil of evening primrose or flax seed oils. As with dogs of other ages, the senior will need more moisture in the coat when the house heat is on as it tends to dry out the coat. Older dogs seem to develop more sensitivities to fleas and the environment. As they age, they may not be able to produce the natural coat oils like they use to and may need some help. A light coat spray may be used. There are many good ones on the market that have natural ingredients. PurePet Pure Soft, Mela Miracle Pet Lusterizer and women's hair care products like Freeman Botanical Instant Infusion with sunflower, gardenia and pennyroyal oils. Pure Pet Pure O'Flee is a good coat powder that will not dry the coat out. It contains citrus and eucalyptus oils in a cornstarch base. Even though it is primarily for flea control, it is good for skin allergies too.

Many old dogs develop skin and coat problems that veterinarians treat with antibiotics and cortisone. Both of these debilitate a dog. This is especially critical in an old dog whose system is deteriorating from age. If you can discuss alternative treatments with your vet, do so and try to find a more natural way to deal with the problem. If your dog cannot be treated any other way, finish the antibiotic and follow up with the Vitamin, C, E, multi-vitamin, herbal formula and yogurt supplements suggested elsewhere in this page. This will build the dog's system back up. In the case of cortisone, unless the malady is life threatening, find another course of treatment.

As a dog ages, the muscle tone, muscle control and digestive juices all slow down. It may be best to feed two meals a day. The food you feed should be as natural as possible. Foods preserved with Vitamins A, E and C are good because they help slow down the aging process. If your old dog has no problems with kidneys, liver or arthritis, keep him on his same diet. Reducing protein for age is not indicated if the old dog is in good health and is not overweight. Reducing the amount of red meat fed would help if the dog has kidney problems. The most common problem in the care of old dogs is letting them get fat and flabby, feeding them food made for old dogs if their health level does not indicate it and not letting them get involved with the rest of the dogs in their pack, in the case of multiple dog situations. If the old dog is feeble or stands a good chance of getting injured by the tough play of younger dogs, you must monitor the situations and use your best judgement.

When trying to determine the best diet for your senior, you really need to know what ailments they have. If they are healthy, then don't switch to a lower fat and protein diet just because they have it their golden years. If they have any health problems, consult with your vet before changing diets. If you do change the diet, do it gradually. If you add vitamins and herbal formulas, do it a bit at a time. Give some waiting periods so you can determine if the new additive is helpful. Then add the next additive. Again, consultation with a good holistic veterinarian is called for. Senior dogs are sensitive to change. If you find your old dog does have kidney or liver problems, Dr. Pitcairn has a great book with recipes you can make yourself that will help your dog.


Giving a multi-vitamin supplement may help an old dog. Other good additives for seniors are bee pollen, echinacea and oil of evening primrose. If you want to give additional A & E, the water soluble formulas are safe and cannot be overdosed, unlike the fat soluble types. 400 IUs Vitamin E, 1500 mgs Vitamin C. Lecithin is good for blood clots and heart problems. Yogurt is good for the digestive system. A low salt diet is good for those with arthritic problems. There are recipes you can make yourself too. [ For recipes, click here!]

Unnecessary procedures

If your Senior has to undergo surgery, a higher protein diet will be necessary for them to heal properly. After surgery, plenty of fresh water and Vitamin C will help get their systems flushed of the anesthetic. I would caution having any unnecessary vet work done on an old dog that involves them being put under anesthetic as it is too risky. If their teeth are getting coated with plaque, get a scraper and do it yourself rather than risking them being put under just for that. However, if they must be operated on for a serious ailment, teeth cleaning can be done at the same time.

An older dog should be kept in a warm, but not hot, place during the cold winter times and a cool place during hot times. As their bodies age, they cannot maintain their body temperature in extremes without suffering. Provide a soft bed up off the ground and away from drafts. There are special orthopedic dog beds you can buy or you can make a dog bed using a special type of foam rubber that is supposed to take the strain off the joints.


A thorough grooming session is called for every month or so. This helps you keep in touch with the changes going on in the old dog's coat, skin and body. If you find any lumps, moles, skin ailments or other abnormalities, you will be able to catch them early. Toe nails need to be trimmed as the dog ages, so he can walk in comfort without having his nails pushing back on his pasterns possibly adding to an already painful situation if arthritis is present. Besides, grooming time is bonding time and old dogs need attention too. My old male loves to be called to the grooming room. Afterwards, he gets a treat and barks and carries on just like in his younger days!

When & how to say "goodbye"

The hardest part about having an old dog is knowing when to say goodbye. We cannot be so fortunate to have our old dog die in his sleep for that doesn't happen very often. If your old dog develops a medical condition in which his quality of life is so poor or the prognosis of an operation is so bleak, you must be strong to make the decision and halt his suffering. It is hard and it may be the most hurtful thing you think you are doing, but you must remember your old dog trusts you completely and will rely on you not to make him suffer any more. When that time comes, you will do the right thing. The final gesture you can do to show him you are doing your best is to be with him when he goes. We had to do this in April of 1997. Our "Kilroy" had been suffering sporatic seizures and then they started to accelerate. The day we made the decision, he had suffered at least six seizures during the night. I made the decision to put him down because they left his brain mushy. He no longer knew me, he didn't know where he was and he could not walk without stumbling. His quality of life would have been having him relegated to a safe crate or exercise pen where he could not hurt himself. He didn't know me anymore. To euthanize is one of the toughest decisions to make. We were there with him at the vets for his final injection. It was very peaceful and I would do it all over again for him. He was my best friend through many stifes & struggles and he deserved to be at peace, so it was.

Herbs to use

NOTE: Remember when using herbs and vitamins, some can have disastrous side effects when used in excess or in the wrong applications. They can cause illness or even death. When in doubt, read further and consult someone more knowledgeable. Don't use something you aren't sure of.

The herbs and related I mix in the Senior Dog Herbal Formula are:

nettle, oil of evening primrose, echinacea, bee pollen, garlic, slippery elm bark, peppermint, dandelion, parsley, alfalfa, rosemary leaves, sea vegetables, spirulina, red clover and sage.

Benefits of the above:

nettle - rich in iron to help with the circulatory system. It is rich in Vit A, C, D and calcium & protein.

Oil of evening primrose - helps alleviate toxins related to an unhealthy diet. Helps stop growth of many kinds of cancer. Stimulates stomach action to help liver & spleen conditions. Very high in gamma linolenic acid (GLA) [an essential fatty acid] which aids in manufacturing prostaglandin. Studies are showing this to stimulate the hormone system which may be blocked in some cases. [not to be used in epileptics]

echinacea - stimulates the immune system, is an antibacterial & antiviral

bee pollen - one of nature's most perfect foods. Contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids. Improves stamina, endurance, increased energy.

garlic - natural antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal. It rejuvenates all parts of the body. Great for circulatory system. It also is a natural flea fighter and digestive calmer.

slippery elm bark - for gastric distress [colitis], draws out impurities, heals all parts of the body

peppermint - for digestion, poor appetite & gas

dandelion - fresh, chopped. Rich in iron, copper & potassium great for the heart.

parsley - cleanses the liver, tones the body, builds resistance, strengthens digestion, source of Vit C, iron, manganese, calcium, phosphorus.

alfalfa - helps in weight gain, stimulates appetite, good for muscle/joint pains, contains calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, magnesium, enzymes, choline, sodium, silicon, Vits A B, D, K & P

rosemary leaves - good tonic for reproductive organs. Relieves depression. One of the most powerful herbs to stimulate the nervous system. Rich in Vit A & C, calcium. Good for the circulatory system.

sea vegetables - rich in vitamins, minerals and thyroid gland stimulant. Helps with any joint problems.

spirulina - provides nutrients to the body when it is not getting enough in regular diet. Good during or after battle with a chronic disease. It helps with vitality, purifies and builds the blood. Easy to digest. Rich in protein, chlorophyll and essential fatty acids.

red clover - an anticoagulant, helpful with heart problems. Just being realized in cancer treatments with success. Also for skin complaints & arthritis.

sage - rich in Vit A, C & B complex, a lot of calcium & potassium. Good for the brain, to improve memory, for mental exhaustion & improve the ability to concentrate.

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This page is maintained by Donna Stekli. Last updated 02/22/2005

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