Senior Dogs & Aging
You might be familiar with the popular notion of 1 human year being 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
You're likely to notice several 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:
- Dental disease and tooth loss
- Loss of muscle tone
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Poor or worsening hearing/vision
- Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
- Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
- Mental dullness
- 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 regularly 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
Your senior dog will require specific care to help keep them happy and healthy throughout their life. Below are some tips to help give your pup the care they need and deserve.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
As with humans, keeping the body and mind active is important for 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 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.
Your dog's nutritional needs will likely change as they age. Many senior dogs tend to slow down and be less physically active, which makes them more prone to weight gain. 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. 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 food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.
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.