Senior Dog Care – Tips To Keep Them Healthy!

When it comes to taking care of senior dogs, you should take your dog for health checkups and also keep a check on any changes in his behavior.

Food is so critical for senior dogs as they cannot digest every kind of dog food. For good health in his later years, keep the senior dog active with outdoor walks and mild games.

Aging is usually a normal part of life, and at some point, dogs become seniors. One of the important things you should know is that aging dogs have different care and attention requirements than younger dogs.

As most dog’s age, they usually become less mobile, they become more prone to a variety of diseases, and their sight and hearing are not as good as they used to be. However, aging is not a death sentence, and many dogs can spend most of their golden years happy and healthy.

Just like older human beings, senior dogs not only start losing some of their youthful spunk and energy as they grow old, but they are also at risk for developing some age-related health complications.

Therefore, a visit to your vet is recommended at least twice a year for aging dogs. If you are looking to make your senior dog’s life comfortable in its golden years, read on for some things and tips you should know as an aging dog parent.

Defining Senior Age in Dogs

According to AAHA, the term “senior” describes an aging pet, but the actual number of years a dog is considered as “senior” varies. Identifiers such as breed, nutrition, weight, environment, and the current state of a pet’s organs can also assist in determining if your dog has reached old age.

Pets age pretty faster than humans. A dog’s life span largely depends on its breed or size. In general, the bigger the size or breed of the puppy, the shorter the life span. According to a recent study on lifespans, only 13% of large breed dogs lived to be more than ten years old.

On the other hand, 38% of small breeds live to be more than ten years of age. In general, dogs are considered to be senior in the last 25 percent of their lifetime. Aging dogs have different care and attention requirements than those of a young dog.

What are the challenges of owning a senior dog?

If you are lucky, your canine friend is aging pretty gracefully; you hardly realize it is happening. Unavoidably, though, the dog will get to a point when it becomes painfully obvious to you that it’s beginning to slow down.

Therefore you know how to distinguish between normal aging behavior versus any other behavior that’s cause for concern. If you are not sure, you should consult your vet. It is crucial to diagnose health issues early to increase the possibilities of positive results through medical intervention.

You can make a list of the changing behaviors in your dog to discuss with your veterinarian during your regular visits to ensure you are not missing anything. Some of the changes you will see include:

1) Changes in your dog’s skin and coat

The common sign of aging in most dogs is a grayish muzzle together with gray all around the eyes. The coat of your dog might thin and turn coarse and dry; however, supplements might help. In fact, the dog fur tells a lot about the dog and it is so important that I covered dog fur in a separate article on this website only.

More regular grooming might help your dog stay fresh and also feel loved as well. Skin tumors are also common in aging dogs but should be checked by the veterinarian.

2) Changes in behavior

Changes in behavior as your dog age are pretty normal. However, you should watch out for behaviors that may signal a problem, like unusual aggression, startling easily, fearfulness, and accidents in your house. These may be signs of sickness or another issue that can be solved by medical attention.

Some aging dogs, especially large breeds, might also develop some neurological issues such as dementia. If your dog appears to be forgetting some commands, looks confused about its surroundings or is beginning to wander around, you should consult your veterinarian, who can prescribe some medications to help.

However, it becomes important to point that there could be other reasons also for a dog forgetting his commands as discussed in another article at can a dog forget his training.

3) Age-related changes in the movement and stamina of your dog

Just like human beings, the joints of a dog suffer lots of wear and tear during their lifetime, which often leads to arthritis. To prevent your aging dog from becoming debilitated, your veterinarian might prescribe supplements and medication.

Also, specific accommodations in your house might help as well, such as a ramp to help with steps and an orthopedic dog bed.

Dogs if not active can attract diabetes which is getting so common and worry-some. As people find less time to keep their dogs active, it cannot be ignored. So head over to the article on how to avoid diabetes in your dogs.

4) Sensitivity to fluctuations in temperature

Your senior dog is more sensitive to temperature changes than it used to be, because of changes in its metabolism. The body of your dog cannot self-regulate or adapt to changes in temperature the way it used to.

That means you should be vigilant about ensuring that it stays warm during winter months and cool during summer.

5) Hearing and eyesight changes

You might notice your senior dog is not responding to your commands as readily as it once did, which might be a sign that its hearing is deteriorating. It might also startle whenever you touch it because it didn’t hear you coming.

In the same way, it might show symptoms of vision problems. All these are common signs for an aging dog, especially one that is more than 12 years of age. Make some accommodations in your home and its routine to ensure it doesn’t hurt itself, and be patient with your dog.

6) Changes in appetite

You might also notice that your senior dog is eating less food than before, but it’s normal. Its metabolism is gradually slowing down as is its need for calories. However, if its appetite remains unchanged, you should reduce its portions to keep it lean.

Remember that obesity is a pretty common issue in aging dogs and must be avoided since it only hastens their demise. Your veterinarian can provide you with guidance about how to assist your dog in avoiding old-age weight gain.

7) Digestive disorders

Even though dogs of all ages may suffer from some digestive issues, they are more common and can quickly escalate in aging dogs. Gas, bad breath, belching, and constipation are normal, but other conditions are not.

Apart from the obvious symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, symptoms such as lethargy, extreme restlessness, and bloating can signal the likelihood of a serious problem, meaning you should visit your vet.

8) Changes in sleeping habits

An elderly dog will not only sleep more than it did when it was young, but it is also more challenging to arouse it from slumber. Your senior dog might seem confused when it wakes up at first but it should look normal within a couple of moments.

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Moreover, your elder dog might snore when it sleeps. Snoring might result from your senior dog being overweight, congested, or sleeping on its back. A veterinarian can prescribe some medication to clear the congestion.

If it’s sleeping position is an issue, replace its bed with a compact one which prevents sprawling out on its back, and encourages curling up.

9) Dental problems

If your elderly dog attempts to eat and cannot, then that’s a red flag. In general dental issues are common in senior dogs, which might prevent them from chewing their food. Unfortunately, your dog’s teeth deteriorate together with everything else.

While your veterinarian should be able to assist, prevention is paramount. It is important to take care of the teeth of your dog throughout its life so that dental issues don’t sideline it in old age.

challenges of owning a senior dog

How to take good care of your senior dog

1) Pimp out the bed your senior dog

Provide soft towels and blankets for your aging dog’s bed. That will help it to rest more easily and also sleep better. Again, there are also special orthopedic beds designed specifically for aging dogs.

Apart from having a denser foam to assist in cushioning the aging joints of your senior dogs, you can buy orthopedic beds that are outfitted with a vibration or heat source, which reduces stiffness and increases circulation which is perfect for senior dogs with arthritis.

2) Don’t forget your dog’s health checkups

Ensure that your senior dog has regular checkups with your vet. Most vets recommend that aging dogs should be checked twice a year, or even more if your dog has severe health problems.

A thorough physical assessment by your vet might reveal health problems that can impact the comfort level and life of your pet, such as arthritis, heart disease, dental disease, and kidney disease, among others.

3) Note any changes in behavior in your senior dog

Observe your aging dog’s behavior. That is crucial for all pets but even more for aging dogs. Changes in the behavior of your dog might be a sign of illness. More importantly, watch out for changes in the water consumption and appetite of your dog.

Watch for any changes in bowel and urinary habits as well as alterations in sleep habits. If your dog becomes irritable suddenly for no reason, it might be in pain, having difficulties hearing properly, or having a hard time seeing.

Any changes in the behaviors or routines of your senior pet should prompt an immediate consultation with your vet.

4) Make it pretty easier for your senior dog to get around

You should know that your elderly dog might have pain often caused by arthritis disease or other health complications that make it hard for it to get around easily as it did when it was younger. You should consider providing stairs or ramps to allow your aging dog to access beds or furniture.

Carpeting on all slippery floors and ramps on your stairs might make it pretty easier for your dog to go up and down the stairs, and might help your canine friend gain his footing. Remember that your aging dog might also need some help getting in and out of your vehicle as well.

5) Select an appropriate diet for your aging dog

Dietary requirements might change as the dog ages. It is important that you offer your aging dog pet food that’s age-appropriate. Some senior pets often tend to gain a lot of weight and might require a diet for less active dogs.

Some might have difficulties holding their weight and might require a diet with better palatability and greater calorie content. Senior pets might also have diseases that can get manipulated and controlled partly through diet.

Your vet can assist you in choosing a good diet for your aging dog based on the unique nutritional requirements of your dog.

I cannot give a generalized diet plan here because at the senior age, every dog is so different and they have different health conditions. So extra care has to be taken for every single dog. One food item given to a dog may be dangerous for other senior dogs.

6) Keep your aging dogs active

Although your aging dog has slowed down and maybe likes to sleep a lot, it does not mean they should not exercise at all.

Without regular exercise, your dog’s muscles will become weak, allowing it to do less and less. Exercising your senior dog not only keeps its body healthy but also its mind as well. Other benefits of exercise include:

  1. Promotes tissue healing and regeneration
  2. The joints will stay limber and loose
  3. Reduces inflammation and pain
  4. Encourages toxins in the body to flush out cells
  5. Assists in maintaining a healthy weight
  6. Helps in bowel function and digestion
  7. Stimulates the mind
  8. Reduces the chances of developing diabetes

To start an exercise routine with your senior dog begin with light walks for around ten to fifteen minutes a day. Always stick to flat and even paths when walking your dog. Areas that are hilly or rocky might be difficult for your aging dog and might lead to injuries.

Swimming is an ideal kind of activity for dogs of all ages. Take regular breaks if necessary. If you notice that your elderly dog is reluctant when it comes to exercising, the pain might be the main culprit.

senior dog active

Do’s and Don’ts when taking care of a senior dog

Do’s

  1. For a senior dog, a new toy is not just exciting and fun, but it can also provide your dog with mental stimulation as well as encourage more interaction.
  2. If your dog does not have any signs of anxiety and aggression, the opportunity to interact with some other dogs will assist in keeping your canine friend socially active.
  3. Whether it is taking your aging dog to a dog park a new place to play, or even walking a new route, the experience of a different setting can assist in providing your dog with some mental stimulation.
  4. There’s an old saying that you cannot teach your old dog new tricks. Teaching your dog a new command will help test its brain against a pretty new challenge.
  5. Your dog requires just as much attention and care as it did as a young puppy. When you offer the care and time, your dog deserves, then you can both enjoy the golden years you will have together.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t allow your aging dog to become overweight. You can eliminate grains, and avoid feeding table scraps as well.
  2. Don’t allow your pet to be sedentary, and don’t overdo exercises if your dog has joint issues.
  3. Don’t keep your aging dog outside when there are environmental issues or in extreme weather or when there are pollutants that might lead to poor health or allergies.
  4. Don’t leave your senior dog’s nutrition to chance. As your pet ages, it needs to be dialed in on diet and supplements.
  5. Don’t ignore your dog as they age. They require regular checkups, attention, and care, as well as activity and stimulation.

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Conclusion

All dogs do not age the same, but what‘s certain is that they all become old at some point in their life. Aging is a natural process of different things, and every pet owner must prepare for it.

As your dog ages, they’ll have less energy, some trouble walking, and might develop hearing loss or cataracts, among many other things. That might sound pretty scary, but these things will not occur overnight, and you and your dog will have enough time to adapt to the new circumstances.

Senior dogs might have some special needs that require to be met, and you’ll have to learn how to care for an aging dog. With proper senior dog attention and care, your dog will easily maintain their overall health and continue leading a happy life for several years to come.

References

  1. https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/download/33218/PDF
  2. https://journals.rcni.com/doi/pdfplus/10.7748/nop2008.10.20.8.31.c6808

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