Articles, Dog Health, Dogs, Pet Behaviour, Pet Care
Caring for older dogs means your care requirements are different than those of a younger dog. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, but how do you know when your dog is considered to be older or senior?
It really depends on the individual dog. In general, giant breed dogs age faster than smaller breed dogs. A Great Dane is considered to be senior by roughly 5-6 years old whereas a Chihuahua would likely only be middle-aged then, and probably not considered a senior until 10-11 years. Large breed dogs fall somewhere in between. A Golden Retriever might be considered senior by 8-10 years of age. Genetics, nutrition, environment; all of these play a role in how fast your dog ages.
Caring for older dogs and what to look for…
The most practical way to tell if your dog is growing old is to observe his or her behaviour and appearance. Simply put, how old does your dog act, look, and feel?
- Energy levels start decreasing.
- Experiencing apparent stiffness in the joints and difficulty getting up after lying down, or after a long walk.
- Thicker, less pliable skin. Rougher and thinner coat, with bald patches or white hairs.
- Deafness, revealed by a failure to respond to commands or calling their name.
- Tooth and gum conditions – look out for food being dropped or excessive salivation and pawing at the mouth. Swellings below the eye may be signs of tooth root abscesses and need vet attention.
- Warts, fatty lumps and even tumours may appear. Check these out with your vet, as early detection may save your dog’s life.
- Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination.
- Confusion or failure to recognise their surroundings.
- Decreased appetite.
- Depression, disobedience and occasionally destructive behaviour.
- A hazy, bluish cast on the eyes, which is normal and usually does not hinder the eyesight. However, the hazy, whitish growth of cataracts can lead to blindness. Your vet can help you distinguish the difference.
- A tendency to sleep more during the day but sleep less at night. Some dogs may prowl around the house at night because of sore joints, senility or even loneliness.
- Weight gain – a particular problem with senior dogs.
The day will come when you’ll start spotting the signs of old age, but that doesn’t mean you have to wrap your dog in cotton wool and start to worry. You just need to adjust your routine and take a few precautions.
Your dog may develop arthritis or other degenerative diseases that cause his movement to become restrictive or slow down. He may not be able to walk as far or play as long. He may get tired more easily. He may have difficulty getting up or finding a comfortable position to sleep in. He may become reluctant to go up and down stairs or have difficulty getting into and out of the car.
Some tips when caring for older dogs
Schedule regular visits with your veterinarian
Your dog needs to be examined at least yearly, even if it appears healthy, as many diseases are hidden and not apparent. Make sure you keep up to date with their vaccination programs, as older dogs may not be able to recover as quickly from any illness and it is much easier and cheaper to prevent disease or illness than it is to treat it!
Ask for a body condition evaluation during each vet visit
Body condition is crucial to determining whether your senior dog is overweight, underweight, or at an ideal body weight. In fact, you should also ask your veterinarian to show you how to evaluate your dog’s body condition at home.
Caring for older dogs requires a high quality diet
Use food to keep your senior dog at his ideal body weight as overweight dogs have a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, skin disease, even cancer. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your dog, especially since overweight dogs must be fed carefully to ensure that all nutrient needs are met while still allowing for weight loss.
Look for softer treats that can be tolerated by older, worn teeth. Maybe even give a little canned food occasionally. Dry food can be moistened with water to make for easier chewing.
Consider a special diet if your older dog has heart or kidney disease
For example, diets lower in sodium (salt) are sometimes advocated for dogs with heart disease, while diets which help control phosphorus, calcium and other electrolyte levels are given to dogs with kidney disease. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best food for your dog based on your dog’s individual situation.
Dental care for older dogs
Without proper care, dental disease can pose a problem, particularly for older pets. You may be surprised to learn that veterinarians find evidence of dental disease in many pets as early as 2-3 years of age. If nothing is done to care for your dog’s mouth, by the time your dog is a senior, he may even have lost some teeth. Dental disease can be painful, causing your dog to avoid or have difficulty eating his meals. This may result in weight loss and a deteriorating coat.
Brushing your dog’s teeth may seem like a silly idea but it can help keep your dog’s mouth healthy. If you cannot brush, consider dental treats and toys that help keep the teeth clean.
Exercise helps in caring for older dogs
A consistent daily routine is important to your older dog’s physical, mental and emotional health, providing comfort and a reassuring framework. Exercise can help with this routine, keeping your older dog lean and maintain healthy joints and muscles. However, tailor your dog’s exercise needs to his individual requirements. For a large breed dog, walking around the block is probably just getting started but for a tiny Chihuahua, a brisk walk around the block may be a long trek. If your senior is not used to exercise, start slow and gradually increase the intensity.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
Keep your dog stimulated. Dogs can learn new things at any age, just like people can. Your task will be much less challenging if your dog was encouraged to learn as a puppy. To keep your aging pet mentally alert, try engaging him in stimulating activities. One example is “targeting”. Pick an object that is the desired “target”, it could be a stick, your finger, or any other object you choose. The idea is for your dog to successfully target the object (touch it with his nose) for a food reward. Another activity that will keep your dog mentally active is to hide his food in different places. It not only keeps your dog mentally stimulated, it’s also physically beneficial.
Reassure them by giving your dog lots of hugs and touching and this will allow you to keep an eye their well-being. It means you can check their ears, skin and coat for irregularities. Be sure to keep everything flea-free and avoid harsh chemicals. If your dog is disinterested in his old toys, try something new – softer, smaller, squishier.
Make them comfy with the right dog bed
A comfy pet bed is essential when caring for older dogs and make sure it is not too high so as to make it difficult to step into. Dogs with arthritis might benefit from soft bedding in the form of a special dog bed or towels/blankets on which to sleep. Ramps can be used to make stairs easier to navigate if they cannot be avoided. Even providing carpeting or rugs over hard-surface flooring can help your arthritic dog gain his footing and make it easier for him to get around.
Do you care for an older dog?
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More reading in caring for older dogs
DOGS Life – Caring for older dogs
petMD – Tips for caring for senior dogs
Cesar’s Way – Caring for older dogs if they are going blind or deaf
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