As our furry friends age, we will need to start making accommodations for their changing abilities. Today our Egg Harbor Township vets share some information about what to expect with aging dogs and how to care for your senior companion.
Aging in Dogs
Determining when your dog is actually a senior can be a tough thing to do, after all, it depends on their breed and size.
Generally, we think that 1 human year is equivalent to about 7 dog years, but it's a little more complicated than that. Factors like breed and size affect the rate at which your dog ages; for example, small-breed dogs tend to age more slowly than large and giant-breed dogs. Generally, however, there are a few guidelines for determining the age at which a dog is considered 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.
Senior Dog Care
As your pet ages, you should begin to take note of a number of changes in their behavior and body. 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
When it comes to old dog care and how to make an old dog comfortable, you will need to watch for these signs and make an appointment with the vet as soon as you notice as of them. Routine wellness exams allow your vet the opportunity to monitor your dog for any serious signs and manage any potential conditions before they become serious. 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.
Caring For Your Senior Dog
One thing that you should expect as your dog ages is that their nutritional needs will change. They likely won't be as active which means that they won't need to eat as much or as many calories. If you continue to feed them like you did when they were younger it may lead to obesity which has its own set of potential complications. Excess weight can cause other health issues for your dog, including joint pain and cardiovascular conditions. 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. Your vet will be able to let you know if there is a specific diet that may work best for your dog's particular needs.
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 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)
It is important to continue to provide your dog with both mental and physical stimulation as they age. You should also ensure that physical activity continues as this will help to keep your dog's joints moving well throughout their senior years.
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.
Mental stimulation is a crucial part of care as your dog gets older. It's an easy way to make an old dog happy as well. 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
Routine care and meeting their mental, physical and nutritional needs are important but there are a number of other ways that your can help make an old dog comfortable as they age. This includes:
- 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.