Caring for your Older Dog
Even though your dog may be slowing down, there is no reason the older years can't
be some of the best years. With regular veterinary attention, daily care and proper
nutrition, your older dog can still experience a happy and healthy life.
Recognizing Your Dog Is Getting Older
The most practical way to tell if your dog is getting older is by observing his
behavior and appearance. Simply put, how old does your dog act, look, and feel?
The following are some common signs of aging and what they may indicate about a
dog's health. Use these signs as a guideline in determining if your dog is an older
Changes in Hearing
You can tell if you dog's hearing isn't as sharp as it used to be if he doesn't
respond to his name or verbal commands, or suddenly barks for no reason.
Changes in Urination and Housetraining Habits
Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination are often signs of kidney
problems or diabetes. Inappropriate urination may be a sign of incontinence caused
by a hormone imbalance, which is most common in spayed females, or caused by other
Changes in Eating Habits
An older dog is more likely to develop tooth and gum conditions. And because of
sore gums or loose teeth, he may let food drop out of his mouth or even refuse to
Coughing, difficulty in breathing and tiredness could indicate possible cardiac
Changes in Vision
A hazy, bluish cast on your aging dog's eyes is normal and usually does not hinder
the eyesight. However, the hazy, whitish growth of cataracts can lead to blindness.
Your veterinarian can help you distinguish the difference.
Weight Gain or Loss
Like humans, a dog's metabolism slows down as he gets older. And because older dogs
may not be as active as they used to be, they have a tendency to gain weight. Performing
a rib check can help determine if he's overweight. Sudden weight loss or unplanned
chronic weight loss should be reported to your veterinarian. This could be a sign
of an internal problem.
Skin and Coat
For older dogs, you'll notice that the skin thickens and becomes less pliable. It's
a good idea to check for large lumps on or under the skin. This could be a sign
of a tumor, cyst or cancer.
Tiredness and Lameness
As a dog gets older, you'll notice a decrease in energy level. He becomes tired
more easily and likes to nap often. He can experience stiffness in his leg, hip
and shoulder joints. This could just be normal wear and tear, or it could be a result
of an old injury or a sign of arthritis.
How Old is Your Dog?
Generally, larger dogs begin aging earlier than smaller breeds. For example, if
your dog is a Saint Bernard, he could be considered a geriatric dog as early as
six years. But medium-sized dogs don't usually show signs of aging until nine to
eleven years. And small breeds like toy poodles probably won't show signs until
they're at least eleven. In addition to a dog's breed, specific lifestyle factors
affect a dog's longevity.
Proper Medical Care
Regular checkups are a must for older dogs. In addition to annual vaccinations and
checkups, talk to your veterinarian about special geriatric screenings for your
dog. You should be aware of some of the problems seen in the senior dog. It is important
to keep a record of any of these warning signs and report them to your veterinarian.
Diabetes or Kidney Problems
Drinks excessively. Urinates excessively. Weight loss.
Incontinence (uncontrolled urination). Especially present in spayed females.
Stiffness and lameness, especially after napping.
Heart or Lung Conditions
Frequent coughing. Trouble breathing. Tires easily.
Hazy, whitish appearance to the eyes. Can impair vision.
Bad breath. Trouble eating hard foods because of sore gums and loose teeth.
Tumors or Cysts
Large lumps on or under dog's skin.
Keeping Weight in Check
Heart conditions, joint pain, and diabetes can all be influenced by obesity. Discuss
your dog's feeding program with your veterinarian to be sure he is getting the proper
nutrition for his age and activity level.
Aside from regular veterinary care, proper nutrition is one of the most important
things you can do to help your dog maintain a long, happy and healthy life. Transitioning
your dog to a senior life stage food will help him maintain his weight and give
him the extra nutrition he needs.
When Your Dog Has Special Dietary Needs
If your dog is experiencing medical problems, check with your veterinarian to see
if he could benefit from a special diet formulated to help meet the special nutritional
needs of dogs who suffer from certain heart conditions, gastrointestinal conditions,
kidney problems and obesity.
Because obesity and arthritis are two of the most common problems experienced by
older dogs, regular exercise is very important. However, if your dog does have arthritis,
consult your veterinarian before beginning an exercise program.
Being consistent with a daily routine is also important to your older dog's physical,
mental and emotional health.
Maintaining a Healthy Skin and Coat
As part of your dog's complete home health care program, you may want to schedule
a special grooming session at least once a week. Bathing your older dog regularly
is also very important. This is another great opportunity to give your dog that
loving attention he needs.
Maintaining Healthy Teeth and Gums
Routine dental care by your veterinarian is very important since older dogs are
more prone to gum disease and tartar buildup on their teeth. In addition to regular
visits with a professional, it's always a good idea for you to check your dog's
teeth and gums regularly.
It is your responsibility to be sensitive to what your older dog is going through
and understand that he's also experiencing a lot of psychological changes. Daily
care of your older dog requires a little more patience on your part.
With your special loving care and commitment, he can enjoy a quality life during
these senior years.