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 Oakland 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. Speaking generally though, there are a few helpful guidelines to think about when determining the age at which your dog is considered to be a senior: 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 that you will start to notice some differences in your pet as they grow older. Physical, mental and behavioral changes are all par for the course when it comes to your dog growing older. Some of the most common signs of aging in dogs don't need veterinary attention - such as greying of their muzzle - but pet parents should keep a lookout for signs that a visit to their vet's office 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
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.
Caring For Your Senior 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 good diet, proper nutrition may be able to help your dog maintain their cognitive function as they age. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's, but it is possible that feeding your dog a food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may 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 that you pay attention to your dog's comfort and abilities when it comes to exercise. If you notice that your dog is having issues with the 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. Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks can also be signs of health issues such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. So be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible to make sure that your pet gets the treatment they need.
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 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.