Senior Dog Health

Senior Dog Health 

It’s amazing how different dog breeds can be, and not just in appearance or behaviour, but in the way they age as well. Just like people, older dogs change as they age. Your veterinarian and dog depend on you to look for and recognize the signs that indicate your dog has entered his senior years. By giving your dog a little extra care and attention, you can help him stay healthy during these years.

Generally speaking, most small or medium sized dogs enter their senior years by the time they are 8 years old, and 5 years old for larger dogs. However, it really depends on the individual dog. Just like humans, our four-legged friends need a little extra TLC as they start to get older. A nutritious diet, gentle exercise regime and regular vet visits will help keep your pet happy and healthy during its twilight years.

We all slow down as we get older, so it is important that you are sensitive to what your senior pet is experiencing as it matures. Taking care of an older pet may require a little extra patience, but that is what makes the experience so rewarding. Above all else, it is your devotion, commitment and a big dose of TLC that will make your pet's retirement years the very best!

How to Recognize Age

Following is a list of the common signs of dog aging. Many of the symptoms are similar to those that people experience as they age, and just like people, the way each dog ages is unique. Your dog may experience some of the following symptoms, and there are others he won’t experience.

Coat: As with people, older dogs may start to show grey hair. In dogs this usually appears first on their muzzle and around their eyes. Their hair may also become thinner and duller – however it’s important to see your veterinarian to ensure the thinness and dullness isn’t a sign of a nutritional deficiency. Getting older is no reason to quit the beauty regime. Regular grooming will help keep your pet’s coat healthy, matt-free and looking its best. Grooming sessions are also a great way to spend quality time bonding with your furry family member.

Skin: The skin of an older dog may become thinner and more subject to injury. Dry skin can also be a problem for older dogs.

Incontinence: Older dogs sometimes have a problem controlling urination – even if they’ve been house-trained for years. If your dog starts urinating in inappropriate places it could be due to a health problem, and you should consult your vet.

Less activity: Arthritis may develop in your dog’s joints, which may make him less active if he finds it painful to move. You should still exercise your dog to keep his joints moving, but make sure you don’t overdo it. When your pet becomes a senior citizen, it certainly does not mean the fun days are over and your pet will become a couch potato. Senior pets are still full of life and enjoy taking part in daily activities. Daily physical and mental stimulation are essential in keeping your senior pet happy and healthy.

Physical activity is particularly important, as it can help address two common health problems in senior pets; arthritis and obesity. Gentle exercise is a great way to keep your senior pet in shape. However, it is important that your pet avoids any jarring movements, as this can cause joint problems.

Arthritis affects cats and dogs in the same way that it affects humans, causing pain and discomfort in the joints. If you notice your pet is having difficulty sitting, standing, or making other movements, is reluctant to climb or use stairs, or seems disinterested in play and physical activity, these could be warning signs that your pet is developing arthritis. If you suspect your pet may have arthritis, you should consult your vet, who will be able to investigate further and help develop a health and exercise plan tailored to your pet’s specific needs.

Weight gain: Some dogs gain weight as they grow older. A weight gain may be the result of not getting as much exercise. Or, your dog may be getting too many calories in his diet. Senior dogs often need less calories, and your vet can best determine if this is the case.

A well-balanced diet is essential at any stage of an animal’s life, and it becomes even more important as your pet begins to age. Older animals often have specific nutritional requirements and may benefit from specially formulated food. Senior pets are also generally less active than their younger counterparts and have a slower metabolism rate, so high-nutrient foods are very important.

Coughing: This is more common among smaller breeds. Their aging lungs may be producing too much mucous, which can block their smaller airways. Consult your veterinarian if you notice your dog coughing a lot – he or she can prescribe medication to help this condition and make your dog more comfortable.

Senses deteriorate: Your dog’s senses – hearing, sight, smell, and sense of direction – may dull as he ages. If your dog is no longer obeying you, for example, it may be that he can’t hear you. Your senior dog may also develop eye problems.

Nails: They may become brittle as your dog ages. As well, since your senior dog’s activity has likely decreased his nails may require more regular trimming since they’re not getting the same amount of exercise that walks on asphalt and other "natural nail trimmers" may have provided.

Behavioural changes: For example, your dog may back away when you pet him, or may show aggression. This may be a result of pain and discomfort.

Bad breath: This is often due to gum disease. To keep those pearly whites shining regular dental care, including brushing your dog’s teeth and providing him with dental check-ups, and possibly a professional cleaning, can help. Older animals have a higher risk of gum disease and tartar build-up, so regular dental check-ups are a must. You can keep your pet’s teeth and gums in good shape with regular at-home brushing, safe chew toys, dental treats and high-quality food. It may also be worth considering professional dental cleaning if your pet’s teeth and gums are not looking their healthiest.

What can you do to make the aging process easier?

Keep an upbeat attitude. Regular vet check-ups are vital to keep your senior pet looking and feeling its best. As well as keeping on top of annual vaccinations, it is a good idea to talk to your vet about special examinations your pet may need. If you have any questions or concerns about the health of your pet, be sure to raise these with your vet.

It’s important to realize that your veterinarian can help your senior dog’s health and comfort if he has any of the above symptoms. None of the symptoms should be accepted as "things that just happen with age" and left untreated. By consulting your veterinarian about the best treatment for your dog you can ensure that you are helping your canine companion live a happier, healthier life – and isn’t that what we all want for our dogs?