It is an unfortunate and inevitable truth: we all get old. Just because they pass into their senior years before we do (and don’t even get discounts in appreciation), that doesn’t mean their Road Trip Warrior days end with a greying muzzle. While travelling with a senior dog does come with some additional considerations, there’s no need to stop bringing your older dog on road trips too soon.
I know he doesn’t look it, but in his youth Jack was an insanely athletic and agile dog. He would hike for hours in the hills around home and often led the way as we walked along the mountain trails we explored. He was like a canine divining rod and once brought me to a beautiful mountain stream in the Catskill Mountains on our first major road trip (catch up on that adventure by clicking here). To this day, I still have a hard time keeping him out of the water. Slowly over the years, his face got greyer, his pace slowed down, and his eyesight dwindled. All of a sudden, my energetic and agile Bug (Boston Terrier/Pug) was an old man. But you better believe that he is still the first to the door if the car is being packed up for a trip.
It isn’t even up for debate whether Jack comes for road trips when I see how happy Jack gets when he knows the car is being loaded up for a road trip. Long drives with a senior dog brings with it a few challenges that you have to keep in mind. Ultimately it is up to you to make sure that your senior dog travels in comfort.
So what can you do to help prolong your dog’s road trip days for as long as possible? As is true of so many things in life, the best time is to start is long before you hit the road.
Keep your Dog Fit
Keeping your dog fit and well-exercised is important for a couple of reasons: it helps to keep them healthy enough to travel but also helps you to know where their physical limit is. Many dogs will push themselves well past their capabilities so if you’re in tune with the subtle signals of exhaustion, you can read their behaviour better. They’ll be more honest at home without the excitement of being somewhere new. Some of the signs you want to watch for are obvious: your dog may start panting or panting heavier than is appropriate for the weather. Others may not be quite so apparent: they may start lagging behind or take more time sniffing at every tree as a stall tactic to delay walking.
The Weather Matters
The weather affects your dog more as they age and you will have to be even more aware of its effect on your senior dog. This may alter your packing list to include a dog sweater or coat in cooler weather. In the heat of the summer, a cooling dip is usually appreciated. Even if your older dog doesn’t like to swim, larger bodies of water often have a cooling breeze and trees for a shady place to sit.
There are plenty of supplements that may ease the aches and pains your dog feels as he or she ages. You want to start with any supplements long before you begin your drive to give you a chance to gauge how effective the supplements are and recognize side effects. Needless to say, any supplements have to be portable and legal where you are travelling. For example, while CBD oil is legal in Canada, it is not allowed in the United States and trying to bring it across the border may get you banned from crossing.
Regular visits with your veterinarian will help you stay on top of health issues as they develop. Much like us, every dog ages in their own way and there is no “one size fits all” approach to manage your dog’s health as they grow older. For example, Jack is quite healthy with the exception of his eyes and teeth. He is almost completely blind and has a condition known as dry eyes which is common in dogs with bulging eyes. He has also had several teeth removed. He has had a couple of acupuncture sessions for a sore neck that manifests as a sore shoulder. He LOVES when he gets to be a pincushion and spends the entire appointment bludgeoning my ribs with his wagging tail.
Take Frequent Walk Breaks
Once you are on the road, your dog may need more frequent breaks to get out of the car and stretch. Not only will it give them a chance to get out and walk around but it also helps to prevent stiffness from setting in. With that, your dog may need your help to get in and out of your vehicle as the number of rest stops increase. With my low Corolla, Jack has no problem climbing in as he heaves himself onto the floor of the backseat and then onto the seat. When it’s time to get out, I lift him down to the ground to save him the force of jumping out.
Pad the Way
Your old pup will likely push themselves harder than they would at home and would appreciate some extra padding. Also, older dogs tend to have less body fat which means they feel the ground more than their younger pack mates. A soft place to rest and sleep is nice no matter what their age but becomes even more important with an older dog that may be feeling some twinges from arthritis. A thick layer of insulation for your senior keeps the chill from the ground from seeping into old bones. I keep a couple of thick closed foam pads for the floor of the tent and top that with some soft microfibre blankets. I have also started bringing an outdoor blanket for our campsite. I toss a blanket or two on top of that and let the dogs get comfortable. The outdoor blanket helps to keep the tent blankets clean and as an added advantage, it contains the mess from sloppy eaters and makes it easier for clean up.
Be Their Eyes and Ears
If your dog is starting to experience hearing or vision loss, hiking in difficult terrain could potentially be dangerous. They may not see changes in footing and could walk into a hole or off a steep ledge. Your dog may not be ignoring you when you call them but they may actually not hear you. While that is frustrating at home, on the road it could be lethal if they wander off and into a dangerous situation, like a steep cliff. As Jack has gotten older he spends less time off leash, even at home. When I do let him run in a wide open field, he often loses sight of me when he stops to sniff something. Then when I try to call him, he has a hard time figuring out where I am. The poor guy looks so confused and worried that it’s just easier to keep him on leash and slow our walk.
Camping with Multiple Dogs
Camping with multiple dogs can be a challenge at the best of times but when you add a senior dog into the mix, it can get a bit more complicated. It can be easy to push a senior dog past their abilities when you’re exercising a younger one. Since King cannot be walked off-leash, I’ve resorted to bringing a longline so that he can run and play with Leo while Jack and I will sit and watch their antics. I used to have one tie-out that I ran through the handles of their leashes but once King got comfortable with camping, he wanted to play. As a result, I started to put him on a separate tie-out so that Jack didn’t get dragged around.
If you’re really looking forward to a strenuous hike or multi-day camping trip, take a hard and objective look at your dog. Are they actually able to do what you’re asking of them? If there is any doubt whatsoever, it’s up to you to make a decision: do you want to alter your plans to better suit your dog or leave your dog behind? It’s a tough call to make but one that is really in the best interest of your dog.
If your dog loved to travel in their youth, they’re still going to love to travel as they grow older. While it can be a little bit of extra work for you, keeping your dog with you for each new adventure makes it all worthwhile.