Special Concerns for Older Dogs
We bring fuzzy little fur balls into our lives, often as puppies. We work through getting them trained, past the chewing phase, into loving adult dogs who are an integral part of our families. They have become the dog we want them to be and we rejoice in having them as part of our routine.
But we often forget that our dogs continue to age throughout their adult lives into their twilight years as they become seniors. The exact age a dog becomes a senior varies based on the size of the dog, the breed, and the individual. Some larger dogs may be classified as senior dogs as young as five, while some toy breed dogs may not be considered seniors until they're in their teens. Your vet can help you determine when your dog is approaching his golden years, but a good rule of thumb is around seven years old.
Dogs can suffer from many of the same types of ailments that often besiege humans as they age: arthritis, blindness, cancer, dementia, diabetes, gum disease, incontinence, loss of hearing, obesity...the list goes on. And most dogs slow down some in general as they age.
As your dog begins to show signs of aging, you'll want to work with your vet closely and follow any instructions specific to your dog. But there are some things you can do in general to help your old friend.
Taking Care of an Aging Pet
Your dog will still enjoy and need exercise, but you need to remember he may not have the energy he once had. Dogs also lose some of their ability to regulate their body heat as they age. So instead of going to the dog park in the heat of the day and letting your dog run with the youngsters, a nice early morning or evening walk on a leash with just you might suit him better. If you used to take him for a run every day, consider either jogging with him or just taking a brisk walk. A fifteen or twenty-minute walk two or three times a day might be easier for him to handle than a five-mile hike.
Stairs can become problematic for your older dog. If you see she has problems navigating the steps to get into the house, consider either picking her up and carrying her up the steps or putting up a ramp. If your house has stairs, have her bed, food and water bowls on the main floor. If that either isn't practical or if she insists on sleeping in your room on the second floor, put a second bed and another water bowl for her upstairs so she can make fewer trips downstairs.
Ask any older person and they'll tell you how hard it can be stand up after sitting or kneeling on the floor for a period of time. Imagine trying to push yourself up onto four legs on a slippery floor. If you have hardwood, laminate, or tile floors, put down some area rugs where your dog likes to sleep so he can get up more easily. An orthopedic bed can also help with pain your pet feels when laying down.
You may need to adjust your dog's diet as they age. He's likely not as active as he was when he was young, and it will be easier for him to put on weight. In addition, many dogs have problems with their digestive tracts as they age. Work with your vet to find a food that will have the right balance of protein, fat, and supplements to keep your senior dog trim and healthy while at the same time not upsetting his stomach.
Be Attentive to Your Dog
- As you groom her or just pet her, are there any lumps, bumps, or other growths?
- Is she a pickier eater than she used to be? Does it seem to be hard for her to eat her kibble?
- Is she eating or drinking more or less than she used to?
- Does she limp or favor a paw or leg after a long walk or when she first gets up in the morning?
- Is she showing signs of incontinence: wetting her bed or having accidents in the house more often?
- Does she seem to ignore you when you call her or give her other commands? Is it hard to wake her when she's sleeping?
- Is she bumping into the furniture or walls?
- Does she seem disoriented or confused?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, discuss those issues with your vet. Be sure to discuss ALL of the items you answered "yes" to: as with humans, these things taken alone may not be particularly significant; but in combination, could be an indication of a more serious problem. There are many treatment options available now for most of the problems your dog may be facing, but your vet can't treat the problem if he's unaware there is one.
Even if your dog shows no indication of slowing down, you may want to ask your vet about doing wellness exams every six months instead of once a year. A lot can happen in six months and early detection can be very important in treating ailments.
Your dog has been a faithful friend to you even when you were grumpy, sad, couldn't be bothered to pet him, late home from work, late to feed him, and under every other circumstance. He still loves you and wants to please you. Making just a few adjustments to your care will help both you and your furry companion make the most of his final years.
About the Author
Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently, she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.
Want more information about senior dogs? Check out these blogs.