As your dog begins to get up into their golden years, their veterinary care needs will begin to change. Today our Suffolk County vets talk about how to take care of a senior dog and offer some tips and advice to help your pet stay healthy longer.
Senior Dogs & The Aging Process
While there are general ideas on how to gauge a dog's age, it's not typically as straightforward as one might think. The age of a dog is also usually greatly affected by the breed of the dog. Generally, however, there are a few guidelines for determining the age at which a dog is considered senior. We can provide a basic estimate of 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.
How to Properly Take Care of Senior Dogs
While there are a wide variety of differences you will most likely spot in your dog as they age, the most noticeable changes will come in your dog physically. 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 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. Along with regular examinations for your senior dog they should also undergo routine blood work to help monitor for any serious conditions that may develop as they age.
Checking on the white and red blood cells of your senior dog as well as testing their liver and kidney function can help ensure their ongoing health.
Complete Care For Your Senior Dog
Nutritional Needs of Your Senior Dog
It's likely that your dog's nutritional needs will 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. Your vet will be able to provide you with an idea of the best diet for you dog to follow 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 a food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.
Ensuring Adequate Exercise For Your Senior Dog
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.
How To Help Your Senior Dog Stay 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.