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  • Claire Bannister

A Distinguished Older Gentleman | Tales of a Senior Dog

By Claire Bannister MSc Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Well, I have to face it. The love of my life, Rufus, is becoming a distinguished older gentleman, turning 12 earlier this year.

Although he is a fit, healthy and active dog, I have had to take my head out of the sand and start dealing with the realities of an ageing dog.

Many of us have been there before and sadly many more will, so I thought it might be useful to start sharing some of mine and Ru’s journey through his senior years.

Don’t worry, he’s fine, but apart from a minor back problem that I will discuss another time, Rufus has the early stages of glaucoma, an eye condition common in humans and animals.

I’m the type of person that has to know the why’s and how’s of things so I decided to do some further research on glaucoma, its effects and prognosis and found that glaucoma doesn’t just lead to blindness but is also likely to cause migraine-type headaches (yes, dogs can get headaches for many reasons, just like us) and pain around the eyes. In extreme cases, it can lead to the removal of the eye or euthanasia.

This condition is caused by inadequate natural draining of the fluid between the lens and cornea. This liquid keeps the eye at a normal pressure and the build-up of fluid increases the pressure, leading to swelling and stretching of the eye to accommodate the extra fluid. The pressure can be very painful for dogs to live with so I wanted to find out how I can help him and share what I learn.

My inclination is toward natural therapies, although a vet must always be consulted in the first instance, so I started to search for natural alternatives to medication and have found several herbs and foods that can be easily added to Rufus’s diet, some that I know he already likes. I have decided to try carrots and dandelion leaves, with possibly some spinach and fennel thrown in.

I chose these because they are all easily available to me, affordable and add a range of natural benefits that will all help in their own way. Carrot is easy. Rufus loves carrot and often gets it as a treat but I’m going to make sure he gets some every day now to increase his intake of carotenoids, an anti-oxidant that helps to slow down further degeneration.

Dandelion leaves abound near my house and are all organic in that they have not been sprayed with any toxic chemicals, just picked straight from my garden. Surprisingly the whole of the dandelion plant is edible but if you’ve ever licked your finger after picking one you wouldn’t necessarily believe it! For my purpose I need leaves and younger leaves are less bitter and more palatable. They can be rinsed, blanched for 2 minutes and frozen for future use or dried in the sun, oven or a dehydrator and stored in an airtight jar so I think I will try drying them first. Adding dandelion leaves to his food will provide both magnesium, which improves blood flow to the blood vessels of the eye, and vitamin C another anti-oxidant that slows the pace of deterioration.

Spinach also contains carotenoids so can be used to add variety. Spinach will also make a good alternative to dandelion leaves in the winter. Always use organic produce otherwise you are just adding toxic chemicals into your dogs’ diet.

Fennel seeds can be used to make a soothing eyewash which is said to treat glaucoma by reducing the pressure in the eye. This will give me an option to alleviate the symptoms whilst also treating the condition. Rufus loves to have his eyes gently wiped so it will also be a nice bonding experience for us to share.

To Make:

  1. Pour boiling water into a cup containing 2 tsp of fennel seeds.

  2. Allow to cool and strain.

  3. Keep in a dark bottle and use within a few days

Apply to the eye by soaking a cotton ball with it and gently wiping the area.

Keeping it cool in the fridge will also help with swelling. You can also add the liquid to food or water as part of their diet. Fennel is great for digestive problems.


Glaucoma usually occurs in older dogs but can develop at any time. Some dogs can be born with it (primary) but here we are discussing its development later in life (secondary). Early signs are redness around the whites of the eyes, increased eye watering, pawing at the eye(s) and rubbing their head on a surface, which is a sign of trying to alleviate a headache. Other signs include blinking a lot and squinting. As the condition worsens, a cloudy layer can be seen across the centre of the eye (see pic above) The sooner you recognise these symptoms the better results you will have with any treatments you undertake. Although the remedies I am using won’t do Rufus any harm and will benefit him in other ways too, please see your vet for diagnosis and advice if you are worried about your dog.


Simply give 1tsp of any of the above per 5kg of dog daily.


Rufus will happily eat raw carrots but if your dog doesn’t usually like them you can mash, grate or finely chop and add them to their food, mix in with a high-quality meat. Or mix in with some other tasty treat such as coconut oil or peanut butter. To add mental stimulation, you can place this into a kong and let pupster lick it out. You can add spinach and lettuce to meat, peanut butter or coconut oil too to disguise the flavour.

Lightly boiling or steaming carrots can also make them more palatable and may increase the amount of vitamins and minerals absorbed.

Adding these to any dogs’ diet will help to prevent and treat glaucoma as well as providing many other health benefits.

Let us know if you have any questions.

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