As your pup enters their golden years you may begin to see the signs of aging. They may be slowing down a little and even getting a little grey in the face. Today our Bedford vets talk about senior dog care and what you can do to help your pup live comfortably as they get older
As Our Senior Dogs' Age
While the old saying is that 1 dog year is equal to 7 human years, it doesn't quite balance out that evenly and their rate of aging can depend on a number of factors. Aging in dogs can be affected by their breed and size; for example, small-breed dogs tend to age more slowly than large and giant-breed dogs.
Generally, there are a few breed-specific guidelines to help determine the rate at which a certain dog may become a senior such as: 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.
What are the signs of aging in senior dogs?
You will likely notice a number of signs of aging in your dog as they enter their geriatric stage. Some of the common signs of aging in dogs don't need special veterinary attention, such as grey fur on their face, but it is ideal to always be aware of signs that a visit to the veterinarian's office for an examination of your geriatric dog 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 your aging dog is experiencing any of these symptoms then you should book a wellness visit with your vet. When you bring your senior dog in for an examination you are providing your vet with an opportunity to spot any potential concerns before they become a larger issue. 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, our Bedford vets also recommend annual diagnostics such as blood work to help monitor their health. This blood work will check your senior dog's white and red blood cells as well as 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.
How To Help Care For Your Senior Dog
Providing Adequate Nutrition
Your dog's nutritional requirements will change as they go through each stage of their life and this is no different once they reach their senior years. 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. Your vet will be able to speak with you and make recommendations for both their diet and nutrition to help them continue to manage their weight and stay healthy as they get older.
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.
Ensuring Mental & Physical Exercise
One of the important aspects of keeping your dog healthy will be continued physical and mental exercise. 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. Be sure to contact your vet to schedule an examination if you begin to see these signs.
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.
Consider Accessibility & Comfort
Aside from ensuring they are receiving adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are some other ways that you can help make everyday life more comfortable for your four-legged companion such as:
- 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
- Improved accessibility using 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.