As your dog ages, there are a number of things to keep in mind when it comes to the health and well-being of a senior dog. Our Meadow Vista vets explain senior dogs, their needs, and how you can help your canine companion stay healthy and happy throughout their golden years.
Senior Dogs & Aging
Human years don't directly translate to 7 dog years. Dog aging varies based on factors like breed and size. For instance, smaller breeds age slower than bigger ones.
Generally, small breeds are considered senior at 10-12 years, medium breeds at 8-9 years, and large breeds at 6-7 years.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
As your dog ages, you'll likely see changes in their appearance and behavior. While some signs, like a greying muzzle, are normal and don't require a vet visit, it's important for pet owners to watch out for indications that a check-up might be necessary.
Some of 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
Book a wellness check with your vet if you notice these signs in your older pup. 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 check-ups. 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
As your dog ages, their nutritional needs change. Older dogs often become less active, increasing their risk of gaining weight, which can lead to health problems like heart issues and joint pain. If you are concerned about your dog's weight, consult your vet. They may suggest monitoring calorie intake or switching to weight loss-specific food.
There are also special diets and supplements for aging dogs that address their unique health challenges. Ask your vet for recommendations.
A good diet can do more than just keep your dog physically fit; it can also support their mental health. Like humans, dogs can face cognitive decline. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, paired with regular exercise, might help keep your dog mentally sharp.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
Just like people, dogs need both physical and mental activity for good health, especially as they age. Regular exercise helps dogs maintain a healthy weight and keeps their joints active.
It's important that you pay attention to your dog's comfort and abilities when it comes to exercise. If you notice that your dog is having issues with the long walks or runs in the park that they used to love, try to take them for shorter and more frequent walks if you can. Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks can also be signs of health issues such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. So be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible to make sure that your pet gets the treatment they need.
Also, mental exercises are key for older dogs. Try teaching them new tricks or giving them puzzle toys filled with treats. You'll find plenty of options in pet stores or online.
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.