As your dog gets older, there are a number of things to keep in mind for your aging pet. Today our Fort Pierce vets discuss senior dogs, their needs, and how you can help your pet live out their golden years happily.
Aging in Dogs
You're probably familiar with the idea of 1 human year being equivalent to about 7 dog years, but it's a little more complicated than that. Factors like breed and size affect the rate at which your dog ages; for example, small breed dogs tend to mature faster but age more slowly than large and giant breed dogs. There are some generally accepted ranges for aging in dogs: around 10-12 years for small breeds; about 8-9 years old for medium breeds; and about 6-7 years old for large and giant breeds.
Vet Care For Senior Dogs
You'll probably notice several differences in your pet as they get older – physical, mental and behavioral changes are a natural part of getting older. Some obvious signs of aging in dogs (such as white or grey hairs on their face and muzzle) don't need special veterinary attention, but dog owners should be on the lookout for signs that require a visit to the veterinarian's office. These include:
- Weight fluctuation
- Poor or worsening hearing/vision
- Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
- Mental dullness
- Dental disease and loss of teeth
- Loss of muscle tone
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function
As dogs get older, it’s a good idea to see your veterinarian on a regular basis for checkups. 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.
Senior Dog Care
Your dog's nutritional needs will likely change as they age, just as in most humans as they age. Many senior dogs tend to slow down and be less physically active, which makes them more prone to weight gain. Excess weight can cause other health issues for your dog, including joint pain and cardiovascular conditions. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your dog's diet needs to be adjusted, which could mean watching your dog's daily calorie intake or switching to a food that is specifically formulated for weight loss.
There is also a range of prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs that are targeted to the various health conditions that senior dogs experience. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.
Aside from the physical benefits of a good diet, the appropriate diet can help your dog maintain their cognitive function as they age. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's, but it is possible that feeding your dog a food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
As with humans, keeping the body and mind active is important to maintaining good health as your pooch gets older. Keeping a regular schedule of physical activity can help your canine companion keep their weight within a healthy range and exercise their joints.
It is important to pay attention to your dog's comfort and ability, however. If you notice your dog is having difficulty with the long walks they once loved, try taking your dog for short, more frequent walks. Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks or play fetch can also be a sign of joint inflammation due to arthritis or other painful conditions, so be sure to contact your primary vet to ensure your pet gets any treatment necessary.
Along with regular physical exercise, it is important that senior dogs are also provided with mental stimulation. It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks – or introduce a puzzle game or toy that they'll enjoy solving for kibble or treats hidden inside. There are many options for your pooch in pet supply stores and online.
Keep Your Pet Comfortable
Besides making sure your dog is 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 or 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.