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 Riverside County vets explain senior dogs, their needs and what you can do to help your canine companion stay healthy and happy throughout their golden years.
How Old Dogs Age
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 tend to age more slowly. Speaking generally, there are a few guidelines to consider when finding out the age at which your dog is considered to be a senior. This age is around 10-12 years for small breeds, about 8-9 years old for medium breeds, and about 6-7 years old for large and giant breeds.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
It's likely you will start to notice some differences in your dog as they grow older. Physical, mental and behavioral changes are all normal as your dog growing older. Some of the most common signs of aging in dogs don't need veterinary attention—such as their muzzle turning grey—but dog parents should keep a lookout for signs that a visit to their veterinarian's may be needed. Some of these 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 dog 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.
How to Care for a Senior Dog
The following are some suggestions on caring for an older dog
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.
Besides the physical benefits of a healthy diet, proper nutrition might be able to help your dog maintain cognitive function as they age. Dogs, like people, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's disease. But it's possible that feeding your dog foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and providing them with proper exercise, might help them maintain mental alertness.
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.
It's important you pay close attention to your dog's comfort and abilities when it comes to exercise. If you notice your dog having issues with long walks or runs in the park that they used to love, try to take them for shorter and more frequent walks if you can. However, slowing down or being reluctant to go on walks can also be signs of health issues like arthritis or hip dysplasia. Be sure to contact your veterinarian to make sure that your dog gets the treatment they need if this is indeed the case.
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 dog supply stores and online.
How to Make an Old Dog Happy & Comfortable
Aside from ensuring they receive adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can do to help your older, four-legged friend live out their golden years in comfort. These include:
- 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)
- dog 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 dog 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.