If your dog is entering their twilight years, then there are a number of things to keep in mind for your aging companion. Today our Clarksville vets discuss senior dogs, their needs, and what you can do to help your pet live out the rest of their life happily.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You may have heard the concept that 1 human year is equal to 7 dog years, but the aging process in dogs is actually more nuanced. Various factors, such as breed and size, play a role in how quickly a dog ages. For instance, smaller breeds tend to age at a slower rate compared to larger and giant breeds.
While there is no one-size-fits-all rule, there are general guidelines to determine when a dog is considered a senior. Typically, small breeds are considered senior around 10-12 years of age, medium breeds at about 8-9 years, and large and giant breeds at approximately 6-7 years.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
You're likely to notice a number of differences in your pet as they get older, as physical, mental and behavioral changes are a natural part of getting older. Some of the common signs of aging in dogs (such as white or grey hairs appearing on their face and muzzle) don't need special veterinary attention, but loving pet parents should be on the lookout for signs that a visit to the veterinarian's office might be in order. 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 observe these signs in your older dog, it's a good idea to schedule a wellness check with your vet. Regular wellness exams for senior dogs allow the veterinarian to screen for potential geriatric conditions and initiate treatment promptly.
During the exam, your vet will also evaluate your dog's nutrition and mobility, providing recommendations for diet and exercise adjustments that can benefit your dog's well-being.
As dogs age, it is advisable to maintain regular veterinary checkups. Along with the annual or biannual exam, it is recommended to consider yearly blood work for senior dogs. Blood work helps assess the health of your senior dog by examining their white and red blood cells, as well as kidney and liver function. This simple procedure aids in the early detection of any potential diseases.
Caring For Your Senior Dog
As dogs age, their nutritional requirements often change. Many senior dogs become less active, making them more prone to weight gain. Excessive weight can lead to various health issues, such as joint pain and cardiovascular problems.
Your veterinarian can determine if adjustments to your dog's diet are necessary, which may involve monitoring their calorie intake or transitioning to a weight loss formula specifically designed for senior dogs.
There are also specialized prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs, targeting specific health conditions commonly experienced in their later years. Consult with your vet to see if they recommend a particular diet or supplement for your dog's needs.
In addition to the physical benefits, a well-balanced diet can potentially support your dog's cognitive function as they age. Like humans, dogs can experience cognitive decline or conditions similar to Alzheimer's disease. Including omega-3 fatty acids in your dog's diet, along with providing regular exercise, may help maintain 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 is important to pay attention to your dog's comfort and ability, however – if you notice your dog is having difficulty with the long walks they once loved, try taking your dog for more frequent walks that are shorter in duration.
Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks or play fetch can also be a sign of joint inflammation due to arthritis or other painful conditions, so be sure to contact your primary vet to ensure your pet gets any treatment necessary.
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.