As your dog ages, their bodies will change. This means that their veterinary care needs will change as well. Today our Westport vets share some advice about senior dog care and how to help your pup live through their golden years in a healthy way.
What happens as your senior dog ages?
While the common saying is that a single dog year is equal to 7 human years it isn't quite as straightforward as that. There are many different factors that affect the rate at which dogs grow including their breed and size. Generally, however, there are a few guidelines for determining the age at which a dog is considered senior: 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.
What to expect from veterinary care for senior dogs?
You're likely to notice a number of differences in your pet as they get older, as physical, mental and behavioral changes are a natural part of getting older. Some of the common signs of aging in dogs (such as white or grey hairs appearing on their face and muzzle) don't need special veterinary attention, but loving pet parents should be on the lookout for signs that a visit to the veterinarian's office might be in order. These include:
- Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
- Poor or worsening hearing/vision
- Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
- Mental dullness
- Dental disease and tooth loss
- 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.
The Key Points of Senior Dog Care
When it becomes time for you to start considering the care your pet needs as they get older, there will be a few key points to focus on including:
Geriatric Nutrition For Your Dog
It's likely that your dog's nutritional needs will change 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.
You can also look into a range of vitamins and supplements that are formulated to help your dog with ongoing health and movement. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.
Besides the physical benefits of a good diet, proper nutrition may 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 food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.
Daily Exercise For Physical & Mental Health
As your dog ages and becomes a senior, it will become increasingly important to help them exercise mentally and physically. Regular daily physical exercise can not only help your dog maintain a healthy weight but also can continue to improve their range of motion as they get older.
You should always be sure to monitor the level of comfort that your pup is experiencing. If your senior dog begins to show pain then you should consider bringing them on more frequent but shorter 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 also receive mental stimulation. It really is 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.
Keeping Your Aging Pup Comfortable
There are some things you can do with your senior dog to help them manage pain and navigate old age in a more comfortable manner including:
- Providing them with an orthopedic dog bed, or 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. You can also try offering their food dishes in a raised position to eliminate the need for them to hunch over.
- 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.