Caring for Your Older Dogs Skin and Coat

Chances are, if you acquired your dog as a healthy puppy, an adolescent or even as a young adult, your dog had a nice, shiny coat. But as your dog ages, changes occur to his body. Your dog’s ability to digest and process various nutrients will change. Often, the skin becomes drier and the fur becomes dry as well, sometimes even brittle. Some owners notice a musty smell as well that is often referred to as “old dog” smell.

But don’t run out and stock up on spray deoderizers just yet to cover up that doggy odor. First, many deoderizers are overpowering to the sensitive noses that dogs have and there are other things you can do to help your dog without having your dog feel like he is being assaulted through his nose.

First, if you haven’t already been regularly brushing your dog, it is time to start. Regular brushing of your dog’s coat will help stimulate the skin. Circulation beneath the skin is improved and natural oils are redistributed from the skin throughout the coat, helping to prevent “dry fur” syndrome. Ask a groomer what kind of brush or comb is most appropriate for your dog. Long-haired dogs may need combs to help remove mats and tangles. Double-coated dogs (such as collies) may benefit from a “rake” which helps remove undercoats, especially during shedding season. For short-fur dogs, consider a soft brush and a grooming mitt.

Be gentle when brushing your dog. Just as human skin tends to get thinner and drier with age, your dog’s skin also becomes thinner and drier. Brush from the nose, along the head and then use long gentle strokes for the length of the body. A pair of round-tipped scissors can be used to trim excess hair between paw pads as well as near the hindquarters. Trimming excess hair at the hindquarters can be very helpful in controlling odor for dogs having dietary challenges.

Older dogs may need more frequent bathing as well. Brush your dog before bathing to help remove dirt and dead fur. Place a non-skid mat or a soft, thick towel in the tub so your dog has some traction. While the towel might give your dog enough traction to try to get out of the tub, the point is to ensure that your dog doesn’t slip and break any bones. Like humans, the bones in a dog skeleton tend to thin with age. Be sure to select a gentle shampoo especially designed for your dog’s fur type and consider following it up with a conditioner. If your dog has sensitive skin or allergies, be sure to use a hypoallergenic or oatmeal-based shampoo which has soothing qualities.

Help prevent ear infections by putting a cotton ball in each ear before bath-time to help catch any water that might otherwise splash into the ear canal. Of course, don’t forget to remove those cotton balls after the bath. Clean your dogs ears regularly, as older dogs (especially floppy-eared types) tend to build up wax more frequently.

Keeping your dogs nails trimmed is also important; sharp nails and thinner, aging skin can lead to irritations, cuts and infections. When dogs are younger and walk more, the nails tend to be kept shorter and rounded simply because of wearing down the nail edges on the pavement during the walk. As your dog gets older and walks become shorter, you may find that you have to trim your dogs’ nails more often. Consider having the nails professionally cut or use a nail grinder to round out rough edges.

Here is a helpful summary checklist:

1. Keep nails trimmed and rounded.
2. Gently brush your dog, at least weekly, if not daily.
3. Choose a shampoo and conditioner designed for your dog.
4. Clean ears at least weekly.
5. Properly prepare to bathe your dog – cotton balls in his ears, towel or mat on tub surface.
6. Bathe your dog and be sure to rinse his fur well.