As your dog ages, there are a number of things to keep in mind when it comes to the health and well-being of a senior pooch. Here, our Sharpsburg vets explain senior dogs, their needs and what you can do to help your canine companion stay healthy and happy throughout their golden years.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You may be familiar with the popular idea that 1 human year is the equivalent to about 7 dog years as a way to gauge your pup's life stages and expected lifespan. However, things are a little more complicated than that. Other factors, such as breed and size, for example, affect the rate at which your dog ages.
Smaller breeds of dog tend to age more slowly than larger breeds. There are, however, a few helpful guidelines to consider when determining the age at which your dog is considered to be a senior: 10 to 12 years for small breeds, 8 to 9 years for medium breeds, and 6 to 7 years for large and giant breeds.
How to Take Care of an Old Dog
There is a good chance that as your pet ages, you will begin to observe some changes. Changes in your dog's physical, mental, and behavioral states are a natural consequence of his aging. Some of the most common signs of aging in dogs, such as a graying muzzle, do not require veterinary care, but pet parents should be on the lookout for indications that a trip to the veterinarian may be necessary. Some examples include:
- Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
- Poor or worsening hearing/vision
- Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
- Mental dullness
- Dental disease and tooth loss
- Loss of muscle tone
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function
If you notice these signs in your older pooch, book a wellness check with your vet. By taking your senior dog for routine wellness exams, you're giving your veterinarian the chance to screen for any emerging geriatric conditions and begin treatment as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will also assess your senior dog's nutrition and mobility and make recommendations for diet or exercise adjustments that may benefit your dog.
As dogs get older, it’s a good idea to see your veterinarian on a regular basis for checkups. Besides an annual or biannual exam, it is suggested that pet parents get yearly blood work done for their senior dogs.
It's recommended that you do blood work to check your senior dog's white and red blood cells and their kidney and liver function to make sure that they're healthy. This is an easy way of being able to detect any kind of disease.
Geriatric Dog Care
It's pretty likely that your dog's nutritional needs will change as they grow older. Most senior dogs start to slow down and be less physically active over time, making them more prone to gaining weight. Excess weight can cause other health issues in your dog too such as cardiovascular conditions and sore joints.
Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your dog's diet needs to be adjusted, which could mean watching your dog's daily calorie intake or switching to a food that is specifically formulated for weight loss.
There is also a range of prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs that are targeted to the various health conditions that senior dogs experience. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.
In addition to its physical benefits, proper nutrition may also help your dog maintain cognitive function as they age. Dogs, like humans, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's disease, but it is possible that feeding your dog a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and providing them with adequate exercise will help them maintain mental acuity.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
As with humans, keeping the body and mind active is important to better health as your dog ages. Maintaining a regular schedule of physical activity can help your canine companion keep their weight within a healthy range and exercise their joints.
Regarding exercise, it is vital that you consider your dog's comfort and capabilities. If you notice that your dog no longer enjoys the long walks or jogs in the park that they once did, try taking them on shorter, more frequent walks if possible. Slowing down or exhibiting reluctance to go for walks may also be indicators of health problems such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. Ensure that your pet receives the necessary treatment by contacting your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Along with regular physical exercise, it is important that senior dogs also receive mental stimulation. It really is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks – or introduce a puzzle game or toy that they'll enjoy solving for kibble or treats hidden inside. There are many options for your pooch in pet supply stores and online.
How to Make an Old Dog Hapy & Comfortable
In addition to ensuring that they receive adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few other things you can do to help your aging four-legged companion live out their golden years in comfort:
- Orthopedic dog bed, heated dog bed (or heating pad/mat set to low heat under a blanket in their sleeping area) for dogs with joint pain or stiffness
- More carpeting around a home with tile, laminate or wood floors can reduce slipping or tripping hazards for your older dog (some dogs also do well with dog socks that have non-slip soles)
- Pet gates (or baby gates) can be placed at the top or bottom or stairs to prevent tripping or falling hazards
- Improve accessibility with dog ramps to help your pet go up and down the stairs, on furniture, or into cars; elevating their food and water bowls can also help with neck and back pain
- If your dog has vision issues, seeing at night will be harder for them; some nightlights around the home will help them navigate
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.