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 keeping your dog's life in their senior stages just as good.
READ MORE: How Your Dog's Behavior Changes With Age
What is a senior dog?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a senior dog is any dog at or over the seven years of age. 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 a dog's body that's 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. Your dog still needs some kind of regular exercise and mental stimulation, to stave off obesity and keep their moving. Talk to your vet to provide an exercise plan that works for your dog.
READ MORE: Top 10 Foods For Large Breed Dogs
Common issues among senior pets
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.
When older pets can't move around as well, obesity can creep up. 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.
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. Arthritic pain can mean your dog doesn't want to move around as much, which can also mean missing meals or inappropriate potty spots.
READ MORE: Introducing Older Dogs to Younger Dogs
Veterinary care for older dogs
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 receive vaccinations 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.
Senior dog care usually involves providing a hand with hygiene as well, so keeping her comfortable with regular hair brushings and nail clippings will help keep her in great shape. Dental disease is a greater concern as a dog gets older, so cleaning your dog's teeth should be part of any senior dog's health regimen.
Finally, the day to day well-being 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.
READ MORE: Pet Care Tips for Senior Dogs in Summer
Your dog's diet may need a revamp, to be sure they are getting the nutrition they need over their lifespan. Dog food intended for a dog's senior years can also help keep an aging dog in good health, 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 potential for kidney disease, according to the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. High-fiber foods are great to consider for an old dog 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 quality of life, especially if joint pain or other issues are happening as well.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.