Caring for your older dog

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Health and Nutrition

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 dog.

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 medical conditions.

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 eat.

Breathing Problems

Coughing, difficulty in breathing and tiredness could indicate possible cardiac problems.

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.

Warning Signs
Diabetes or Kidney Problems Drinks excessively. Urinates excessively. Weight loss.
Hormone Imbalance Incontinence (uncontrolled urination). Especially present in spayed females.
Arthritis Stiffness and lameness, especially after napping.
Heart or Lung Conditions Frequent coughing. Trouble breathing. Tires easily.
Cataracts Hazy, whitish appearance to the eyes. Can impair vision.
Gum Conditions 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.

Proper Nutrition

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. Learn more about our dog food ingredients and AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles.

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.

Proper Exercise

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.

Daily Routine

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.

Emotional Needs

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.