If you’re the parent of a senior dog, you may be coming to terms with the difficult reality that you may not have much time left with your gray-muzzled best friend. While this is heartbreaking, it can also inspire you to make their golden years some of the best of their life.
Enter the senior dog bucket list.
A senior dog bucket list is just what it sounds like: a list of activities your older dog would love to do while they still have the chance. While this may conjure up images of grand adventures and cross-country road trips, it’s important not to confuse the experiences you want to give your dog with the experiences your dog wants to have with you.
With that guiding principle in mind, here are our 4 steps to creating the perfect senior dog bucket list.
Step #1: Be Creative, But Realistic
When thinking up fun activities for your older dog, keep in mind what is realistic for your pet and what they would actually enjoy in their current condition. If they suffer from arthritis and getting in and out of the car is painful for them, a road trip may not be the best plan. If they’ve developed a sensitive stomach, a steak dinner may give them a tummy ache. It’s normal to imagine grans plans and limitless possibilities for a doggie bucket list, but sometimes what an aging dog would really love is much more simple.
Step #2: List the 5 Things They Love Most
This one’s easy: make a list of the 5 things your dog loves more than anything. For example, your list may look something like this: Food. Cuddles. Food. Tennis balls. Spending time with the family. The things on this list will be your guiding principles when creating their actual bucket list.
Step #3: Make It Unique
Now, add 3 more things to that list that are unique to your dog. Think outside the box for this one. Does your dog love to have their ears blow dried? Do they find it super fun to shred paper? Are they constantly trying to hop up on the couch when you’re not looking and ruin the upholstery? Write down 3 quirky things your dog loves, which will help you make your senior dog’s bucket list as unique as they are.
Step #4: Get Specific
Now that you have your guiding principles, it’s time to get specific and write your dog’s bucket list. For example, if you have a dog who loves to sleep and lives to eat, one of the items on their bucket list could be “breakfast in bed.” Is your dog a ball freak? “Create a DIY Ball Pit” (using tennis or plastic balls and an inflatable kiddie pool) could be on theirs. Get creative and add some unique activities too. Give your dog’s ears a full blow dry treatment, let your little paper shredder shred as much paper as they possible can for 10 minutes, and let your dog up on the nice couch as much as they want – just for a day.
Whatever you choose for your list, remember to keep the activities appropriate for your pup at this stage in their life. For example, if you have a dog who loves the beach but can’t romp in the sand and swim in the water like they used to, an item on their bucket list could be “Watch the sunset over the ocean.
The purpose of the senior dog bucket list is to enrich your dog’s life and to create memories together that last. To help you get started and spark some inspiration, here are a few of our favorite doggie bucket list ideas.
Bucket List Ideas
For the Food Lover
Eat a Gourmet Meal
If your senior dog lives to eat, a gourmet meal can be just what the veterinarian ordered. Keep in mind that “gourmet” doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and it will feel even more special if you prepare it yourself with love. Try lean ground turkey meatballs with whole wheat spaghetti, or pan seared salmon with sautéed spinach. You can even serve it on a special dish, tuck a napkin into your dog’s collar, and eat on the floor with them. Talk about a perfect photo opportunity.
Have Breakfast in Bed
Nothing will make a food-loving pup happier than waking up to a home cooked meal they get to eat in bed. Again, try to think of healthy options that your dog will love: scrambled eggs with turkey bacon, or even healthy peanut butter pancakes.
Go to a Doggie Bakery
For a real special treat, you can take your pup on an outing to a doggie bakery. Or, if they’d be happier staying at the house, bring the goodies home in a doggie bag. Doggie bakeries have exploded in popularity in the last several years, and there’s likely one close to your house. If not, you can order bakery items online as well. Have fun but remember not to overdo it – you don’t want to give your pup a tummy ache. Your bucket list item could even be “A Week of Treats” where they get one special treat from the bakery over the course of 7 days.
For the Toy Lover/Ball Freak
Go on a Shopping Spree
Does your dog love nothing more than a new toy? Pick a day to go to your favorite pet store and just this once, go crazy with the toys. Let your dog pick out as many toys as they like (or as many as you’re willing to spring for), and give them to your pup all at once, or prolong the fun by introducing a new toy every day. They won’t be able to believe their luck!
Make a DIY Ball Pit
Is your dog a ball freak but can’t play fetch quite like they used to? You can create a DIY ball pit using plastic balls and an inflatable kiddie pool that your dog will love to dive into. They even make ball pits for kids you can order online that would work great for your pup as well. If tennis balls are your dog’s thing, you can also fill a small space (like your laundry room) with as many tennis balls as you can get your hands on, and watch your furry friend go nuts.
Throw a Toy Party
If you want to do something really special for your senior dog’s bucket list, try throwing them a toy party. Have friends and family meet at your house or at the local park, each with a new toy for your pet in tow. As an added bonus, you can ask people to pick out toys that actually exercise your senior dog’s aging brain (such as puzzle games and food dispending toys) to help them stay sharp. This is a great way for your toy lover to feel spoiled without you breaking the bank, and for both you and your dog to spend quality time with some of your favorite people.
For the Outdoor Adventurer
Go on a Picnic
For dogs who love to romp in the great outdoors, aging can be challenging. It’s hard to watch your pet’s enthusiastic run slow to a walk. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still enjoy all nature has to offer, and planning a picnic is one of the best ways to do it. So pack a special lunch for both of you and enjoy a peaceful afternoon by the lake or in the park.
Take Them for a Ride
Is your senior dog too frail to enjoy the long walks or trail runs you two used to enjoy together? Grab your kid’s little red wagon or stroller (or even rent a golf cart!) and take your pup for a ride along your favorite route. They’ll love being able to see the old sights again, and the novelty of their new mode of transportation will be an excitement in and of itself.
Enjoy a Dip in the Ocean
Has your pup ever seen the ocean? If not, this can be the perfect bucket list experience – just make sure that if you’re far from the coast, the trip isn’t too ambitious for your senior pet. Even if they can’t exactly run and play in the waves like they would have when they were younger, feeling the sand under their feet and dipping a paw in the salty water will be thrilling for a senior dog who loves the great outdoors.
For the Cuddle Monster
Get a Doggie Massage
For pups that love physical affection like cuddling and petting, a professional doggie massage would be absolute heaven. Book an appointment at your local pet spa, or you can even perform a doggie massage yourself. Not only will it feel great for your dog, canine massage has also been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, increase circulation, decrease pain, and strengthen immunity. For any dog who loves a good rubdown, and especially older animals suffering from joint diseases like arthritis, doggie massage is the perfect thing to check off the bucket list.
Take a Nap Together
At first glance, this may not sound exactly bucket-list worthy. But think about it: when is the last time you napped with your dog? Maybe you cuddle them here and there for a few minutes or they sleep at the foot of your bed, but we’re talking about a proper nap. Your elderly dog probably loves to rest and relax, and a simple nap will be made special if they get to catch some zzz’s with their favorite person cuddling up beside them. So snuggle up and get cozy.
Make a Cuddle Commitment
Make a pact to pet, hug, kiss, and cuddle your pup every day. You can even get the whole family in on it so your best friend gets as much love as possible in their senior years.
For the Social Butterfly
Throw a Birthday Party
Has your dog ever had a birthday party? Even if you don’t know the exact date your dog was born, pick a day and celebrate! Invite your favorite people as well as your dog’s favorite canine pals, and make it as simple or elaborate as you like. This could be just a few friends meeting in the local park, or a whole to-do with wrapped presents, doggie cupcakes, and fun games. Ask yourself what your senior dog would love most for his special day, and run with it.
Dine on the Patio of a Dog-Friendly Restaurant
If your social butterfly loves to be out and about but doesn’t have the energy they used to, taking them for a long lunch at a dog-friendly restaurant can be the perfect bucket list activity. They’ll enjoy getting to lounge on the patio while still being able to watch the hustle and bustle of people coming and going (and probably giving them plenty of pets along the way). If your dog is also a food lover, you can sneak them some table scraps to make the experience that much better.
For All Dogs
Plan a Family Photo Shoot
Pick one of your favorite outdoor spots and snap some shots of your dog and everyone who loves them. Roll in the grass, throw your arms around each other, and have fun with it. Print them out to frame or even make a calendar or photo book so you can look at them often for years to come.
Make a Sniff List
Dogs experience the world through their nose, and their sense of smell is beyond anything we can imagine. Just because your dog is getting up there in age doesn’t mean they’ve seen (or smelled) it all. Getting to experience new scents can be a fun and mentally stimulating activity for your pup, and perfect for a senior dog as it doesn’t require a lot of energy. Try introducing them to some essential oils such as lemon, chamomile, or floral scents (just be sure to not use too much as these oils can be concentrated and your dog’s sniffer is sensitive – try putting a tiny bit on your finger and letting your dog smell it as they please). You can also plant a “scentsory” garden for your dog to explore with lovely-smelling flowers and herbs like lavender, honeysuckle, basil, or cilantro.
Just Be Together
You know your dog best, and if you think your elderly dog isn’t quite up to doing any of the above activities, that’s okay too. At the end of the day, we’re willing to bet there’s nothing your dog wants more than to spend some quality time with their favorite person: you.