Senior Dogs & Aging
You've probably heard that one human year is roughly equivalent to seven dog years, but it's a little more complicated than that. Breed and size influence how quickly your dog ages; for example, small-breed dogs age more slowly than large and giant-breed dogs. However, there are a few general guidelines for determining when a dog is considered senior: around 10-12 years for small breeds, around 8-9 years for medium breeds, and around 6-7 years for large and giant breeds.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
You're likely to notice a variety of changes in your pet as they age, as physical, mental, and behavioral changes are all part of the aging process. Some common signs of aging in dogs, such as white or grey hairs on their face and muzzle, do not require veterinary attention, but loving pet parents should be on the lookout for signs that a trip to the veterinarian's office is in order. These are some examples:
- 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 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 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
Your dog's nutritional requirements are likely to change as they age. Many senior dogs slow down and become less physically active, making them more susceptible to weight gain. Excess weight in your dog can lead to a variety of health problems, including joint pain and cardiovascular disease. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your dog's diet needs to be adjusted, which could mean monitoring your dog's daily calorie intake or switching to a weight-loss food.
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.
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; if you notice your dog is having difficulty with the long walks they used to enjoy, try taking your dog on more frequent shorter walks. Slowing down or appearing hesitant to go on walks or play fetch can also be a sign of joint inflammation caused by arthritis or other painful conditions, so contact your primary vet to ensure your pet receives any necessary treatment.
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 adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can do to help your aging four-legged friend live out their golden years in comfort:
- 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.