Just like people, older dogs have special health needs. As our pets age, they begin to slow down, their bodies start to change, and their nutritional needs shift.
Knowing what you can expect as your dog enters their senior years can help make this part of your pet’s life happy and comfortable for both of you. What’s more, by keeping an eye out for your older dog’s special needs, you can greatly improve and prolong the years that you and your companion spend together.
When Do the Senior Years Start for Dogs?
With humans, we generally expect that the senior years begin sometime in the 60s. But with dogs, this is harder to pin down. Smaller dogs have longer lives than larger dogs, so old age might not set in until later. For example, a Chihuahua might not become a senior dog till they’re 12 or 13. Great Danes, on the other hand, might approach their senior years as early as 8.
The difference, of course, is all in when the body begins to slow down. When bones, joints, organs, and other bodily systems become less efficient, the dog has become a senior. Even among dogs of the same breed, your pet’s prior health history can make a big difference as to when old age begins.
Signs of Approaching Age
There are many signals that your dog is entering their later years. Be aware that not every symptom of older age is inevitable, and that there are many things you and your vet can do to treat signs of age. Any changes should be attended to and your vet alerted. Serious problems can be held at bay, and comfort can be provided to your pet, which may bring energy levels back up.
That said, age is not a disease to be cured, and some effects of age will always make themselves known.
To start, you may notice your dog’s energy levels begin to drop. They may sleep more and play less. In response, their appetite might decrease or, should their appetitive stay the same, your dog could put on weight.
Bones and Joints:
By the time your dog enters their senior years, they’ve had a lifetime of running, jumping, and playing. This physical activity takes its toll on your dog’s joints and bones, leading to wear and tear. Your aging dog can begin to feel discomfort in the hips or knees. Your pet can develop arthritis and have trouble moving.
As time goes on, your dog’s organs slow down and lose efficiency. Bladders can weaken, leading to a more frequent need to go outside and urinate. Kidney or digestive problems might affect your pet’s elimination habits, and some potty accidents might occur in the house. Their liver can slow down too, causing buildup of toxins in the blood. Your dog’s heart may start to beat irregularly, meaning that oxygen and nutrients don’t circulate as well as they used to.
Skin and Coat:
An older dog’s skin can become more sensitive and prone to itching and flaking. As such, fleas and allergies can have a greater impact on senior dogs. Your pet’s skin may also dry more easily. His coat may require more care to keep it soft, full, and shiny.
Eyes, Ears, and Teeth:
An aging dog’s eyes, ears, and teeth have reduced ability to remain free of parasites, fight off infections, and resist the effects of allergies. A dog’s teeth and gums can become more prone to decay, while ears may fall prey to mites and inflammation. Your dog’s sight can begin to dim and your pet can develop cataracts.
Veterinary Care for Senior Dogs
Given that dogs age much more quickly than people, the effects of older age can come on more quickly, too. In a year’s time, your dog can begin to experience many bodily changes as they approach their later years.
For this reason, older dogs should see their vet on a 6 month rather than 12 month schedule. Also, your vet will likely begin testing for common problems. As such your vet may perform blood, urine, and fecal tests to check on blood cell counts, increased nitrogen levels, parasite infections, or other issues that can come up in old age.
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Sudden increase in urination or water intake
- Sudden drops in energy or mood
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of vision or hearing
- Foul mouth odor or drooling
- Excessive hair loss
- Excessive painting, coughing, or shortness of breath
Just as puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, older dogs will also require changes to their diets. Senior dogs may, for example, need less protein as their activity levels fall but more calcium to protect their bones from injury.
You may also need to adjust the amount you feed your senior dog. This is especially true should you notice your dog putting on weight. Obesity is a common problem among senior dogs and can exacerbate other ailments that come with age such as joint pain and kidney troubles.
Senior dogs may not romp and play like they used to but they should still be encouraged to get regular exercise. This will help stave off obesity and keep muscles, joints, bones, and organs stimulated and healthy. Several short walks of average pacing may work better than fewer longer walks of a brisk pace. This will keep them fit and trim and will stimulate their brain as well. An active dog is healthy in body and mind.
Dogs of all ages should get regular dental checkups at the vet as well as frequent tooth-brushings at home. Good oral health becomes even more important as your dog ages, to prevent tooth decay and infection. Dental issues often come up in later years, and some senior dogs need to have teeth pulled to avoid infection and relieve pain. Gum and toothaches can result in lethargy, disinterest in food, and other indicators that you might never guess are associated with their mouths. Ask your vet to check your dog’s dental health, if other exploratory options aren’t yielding results.
Young dogs tend to flop down and sleep just about anywhere, but your older dog may be much happier with a soft, comfortable bed that will cushion their bones and joints.
Aging dogs will usually need to relieve themselves more often than in their younger years. Be sure to schedule more frequent trips outside. If your schedule does not allow for this, consider laying out newspaper your pet can use while you’re gone. Finally, expect there might be more accidents in the house.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.