When your dog grows older, it's essential to remember certain things to ensure their health and well-being. Our Seattle veterinarians discuss senior dogs and their requirements, as well as ways to keep your furry companion healthy and content during their golden years.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You may have heard of the common belief that one human year equals seven dog years, which is often used to determine a dog's life stages and projected lifespan. However, it's not quite that simple. A dog's breed and size are among other factors that influence how quickly they age.
Smaller breeds of dogs tend to age more slowly than larger breeds. Speaking generally, though, there are a few helpful guidelines to think about when determining the age at which your dog is considered to be a 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.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
As your pet grows older, you may observe certain changes in their physical, mental, and behavioral patterns. These changes are a natural part of the aging process in dogs. While some signs of aging, such as grey hair on their muzzle, are harmless, there are other symptoms that may require veterinary attention. As a responsible pet parent, staying aware of these signs and taking appropriate action is important. Some of the indications that your dog may need to visit the vet 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 allowing your veterinarian 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.
To ensure the good health of your senior dog, it is recommended that you have their blood work done. This will help to check their white and red blood cells, as well as their kidney and liver function. By doing so, you can easily detect any potential diseases or health issues.
Caring For Your Senior Dog
As dogs age, their nutritional needs can change. Senior dogs tend to become less active and slower, making them more susceptible to gaining weight. This can lead to other health issues, such as cardiovascular problems and joint pain.
It is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine if adjustments are necessary in your dog's diet, such as monitoring their calorie intake or switching to a weight loss-specific food.
There are also prescription diets and supplements available to address the health conditions that senior dogs commonly experience. Your vet can recommend a suitable diet or supplement for your furry friend.
Proper nutrition can also aid in maintaining your dog's cognitive function as they age. Dogs can experience dementia or Alzheimer's-like conditions, but providing them with a food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and exercise may help maintain their mental alertness.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
As with humans, keeping the body and mind active is important to better health as your dog ages. Maintaining a regular physical activity schedule can help your canine companion keep their weight within a healthy range and exercise their joints.
When it comes to exercising your dog, it's crucial to consider their comfort and capabilities. If you observe that your furry friend is struggling with long walks or runs in the park that they previously enjoyed, consider taking them for shorter and more frequent walks. If your dog appears to be slowing down or hesitant to go on walks, it could be due to health problems such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. It's advisable to consult your veterinarian immediately to ensure that your pet receives the 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 pup in pet supply stores and online.
Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable
To help your aging furry companion live comfortably during their golden years, it's important to ensure they receive proper veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise. Additionally, there are a few other things you can do to assist them.
- 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.