If your dog is 'getting up there' in years, there are a number of things to keep in mind for your aging pooch. Today our Cincinnati vets discuss senior pet care, their needs, and how to make an old dog happy and comfortable.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You may be familiar with the adage that states that one human year is roughly equivalent to seven canine years, but the situation is a little more nuanced than that. The rate at which your dog ages is influenced by things like breed and size; small breed dogs, for instance, typically age more slowly than large and giant breed dogs. However, there are some general guidelines for figuring out when a dog is considered senior: for small breeds, this is generally between 10 and 12 years; for medium breeds, this is typically between 8 and 9 years; and for large and giant breeds, this is typically between 6-7 years.
Veterinary Care For Aging Dogs
As your pet ages, you'll probably notice a variety of changes in them because physical, mental, and behavioral changes are all a normal part of growing older. Loved pet parents should be on the lookout for signs that a trip to the veterinarian's office might be necessary. Some of the typical signs of aging in dogs (like the appearance of white or grey hairs on their face and muzzle) don't require special veterinary attention. These consist of:
- 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.
How to Take Care of an Old Dog
As your dog ages, it's likely that its nutritional requirements will change. As they age, many dogs slow down and become less active, which increases their risk of weight gain. Your dog may experience cardiovascular conditions and joint pain as a result of being overweight. If your dog's diet needs to be changed, your veterinarian can let you know. This may entail changing to a food designed for weight loss or keeping an eye on your dog's daily calorie intake.
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.
Along with the physical advantages, a healthy diet may be able to keep your dog's cognitive function as they age. Dogs, like people, can develop dementia or illnesses like Alzheimer's, but it's possible that giving your dog a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and giving them the right amount of exercise will help them keep their 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 to pay attention to your dog's comfort and capabilities, though; if you notice your dog is struggling with the long walks they used to enjoy, try taking them out for shorter, more frequent walks. Contact your primary veterinarian right away to make sure your pet receives any necessary treatment. Slowing down or showing reluctance to go on walks or play fetch can also be signs of joint inflammation caused by arthritis or other painful conditions.
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.
Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable
Aside from ensuring they are receiving adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can consider doing to help your aging four-legged friend live out their golden years comfortably:
- 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 of 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.