How to Care for a Senior Dog

Whether you've adopted your dog later in his life or you've been together since his younger years, caring for a senior dog comes with a little extra consideration, but it doesn't have to be stressful. Achy joints, a slower pace, and early puppyhood-levels of sleeping all usually come with aging, as may a handful of other common, and sometimes serious, age-related issues or disorders. So, how can you make those golden years easy on both of you? Regular health care, comfort, consistency, and good old-fashioned love all go a long way in making that senior stage special.

Happy Old Dog
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What is a senior dog?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a senior dog is any dog at or over the age of seven. Some breeds, like larger varieties, tend to live shorter lives, so their senior status begins at age six in the eyes of some medical professionals. Senior dogs are known for, in most cases, their lower energy levels (when compared to puppies and young adult dogs,) a tendency to sleep more, and noticeable weight gain or weight loss — which isn't uncommon for any aging animal. Sometimes, however, the harmless signs of aging can be accompanied by other symptoms that may be symptomatic of a more serious medical issue. Keeping tabs on the health and habits of your senior canine will give your dog his best shot at making his golden years happy ones.

Common issues among senior dogs

While it's certainly not true for all dogs across the board, health issues can begin to appear later in life for some canines, some standard, others more serious. Banfield Pet Hospital lists joint pain or arthritis as one of the most common medical issues among aging dogs, which can leave your dog walking stiff and feeling uncomfortable. Supplements like glucosamine can help with joint pain, as will prescription medication if the condition is serious enough. Like people, a dog's eyes and ears can be a little less dependable later in life, with some dogs even developing conditions like cataracts or glaucoma. Some aging dogs may develop skin issues later in life as well, including small lumps or growths that form either under or on the skin. To check to see if these bumps may be a sign of cancer, which strikes some older dogs, inform your veterinarian right away and ask them about examining them for possibly harmful cells.

Close up of dogs eye with cataract
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It's also not uncommon for aging dogs to adopt new behavioral issues later in life, assures the ASPCA. A cognitive dysfunction disorder can result in a confused dog — if you've ever noticed a dog lost in his own home or one who seems to get stuck in tight places and can't get out there's a good chance this is to blame. This state can result in a dog acting out in a wide array of symptoms, including excessive licking, increased anxiety, less interest in socializing (or the total opposite: increased neediness,) irregular sleep patterns, and sometimes, incontinence inside the home.

Care tips for aging canines

When it comes to caring for a senior dog, prevention and proactivity are the name of the game. According to VCA Hospitals, the best way to keep your senior dog in shape is to take her in for regular check ups with her veterinarian. Young adult and healthy dogs can usually go a year or so between vet visits, but seniors, especially those showing signs of pain or more serious health problems, could benefit from an appointment every six months, if possible. An older dog can be vaccinated about once every three years, while blood and urine examines can be given annually, the latter of which may help detect chronic issues like thyroid disease or diabetes. Your older pet may need a hand with hygiene as well, so keeping her comfortable with regular hair brushings and nail clippings will help keep her in great shape. Like all dogs, dental care should be part of any senior dog's health regimen, which can be done with regular brushings and dental cleaning exams.

Young and Senior Veterinarian Working Together
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Finally, the day to day comfort of a senior dog are among the highest priorities to keep as a pet owner. Providing comfortable bedding, a warm, quiet, and safe place to stay inside, and easy access to food and water will make your dog's days as enjoyable as possible. Shorter or less intensive walks may be in order as your dog ages as well, especially if stiff joints or vision problems are making life a little tough, so don't force your senior dog to do anything beyond her physical limits.

Dog food intended for senior canines can also help keep an aging dog healthy into her later years as these formulas are adjusted to meet certain dietary requirements. Lower phosphorous levels in food are generally recommended for senior dogs, especially if your dog has kidney issues, according to the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. High-fiber foods are great to consider for dogs with intestinal issues, as are foods with decreased sodium. Finally, most senior dog food is created with less calories, which can help your aging dog maintain a healthy weight if she appears to be gaining pounds, which can negatively affect dogs with sore joints or arthritis.