Changes in medicine and technology are making it possible for our dogs to live longer, healthier lives. This is good news in that many pet owners will have their beloved companions with them well into their dogs’ golden years. As your dog ages, his needs will also change. You will want to keep a close eye on your dog as he enters his senior years to monitor him for various changes in behavior and activity. Basic changes in your dog’s exercise, diet, environment, and routines will also become necessary to give your senior dog the most comfortable and happy life with you.
Senior dogs require extra attention. Changes in behavior, appetite, or routines may signal a possible health issue that you will want to discuss with your veterinarian. Below are common health issues that can develop in your senior dog. Arthritis or other degenerative diseases may cause your dog to slow down and have difficulty with mobility. You may notice your pooch cannot walk as far as he used to, or he cannot play as long as he did in the past.
- He may have difficulty getting into and out of the car.
- He may have difficulty getting up or finding a comfortable position.
- Sight and hearing might not be as sharp as it was when your dog was younger.
- Your dog may get tired more easily.
- Reluctance or difficulty going up and down stairs may become more apparent.
- Dental disease may become a problem. You may notice your dog having trouble chewing hard, dry food, or he may lose teeth.
- Obesity may become a problem at any age, but particularly in older dogs who slow down and continue to consume the same amount of calories.
You can prevent some potential issues by following some common-sense steps to keep your pooch in good shape.
- Schedule regular visits with your veterinarian. Your dog needs to be examined at least yearly if he or she is healthy.
- Feed your older dog a high-quality diet. Talk to your veterinarian about what type of food is nutritionally appropriate for your dog’s age and lifestyle.
- Regular exercise is essential to maintain your dog's health. Keeping older pets active through exercise keeps them healthier. It helps keep them from putting on extra weight, which is a positive way to help maintain mobility.
Remember to start slowly and build your dog's stamina. Begin with regular walks and light jogs if your dog can jog. Gradually increase the length of walks or jogs as he can tolerate them. Talk to your vet about an appropriate exercise regimen for your dog.
- Maintain oral health. If you don't brush or wash your dog's teeth regularly, give him dental treats.
- Preventative parasite protection - no matter your pooch's age, year-round flea, tick, and heartworm prevention, should remain part of his healthcare routine.
- Vaccinations - this is something to discuss with your veterinarian. Senior dogs generally don't require the same number or frequency of vaccinations as younger dogs do.
- Provide environmental accommodations. If your dog has difficulty jumping up on to his favorite places, such as the bed or into the car, you may need to provide ramps.
You may also put carpets and rugs on slippery floors to help him get his footing. Place soft padding on hard surfaces and dog beds. It is a good idea to set up sleeping areas for your pooch that don’t require him to take the stairs.
- Provide mental stimulation. You can help maintain your dog’s mental acuity through continued interaction with your pet. Keeping your dog’s brain active can stave off signs of senility.
- Monitor your dog between regular vet visits. In addition to yearly baseline screening tests, it is your job to keep an eye on your pet between vet visits and take note of any changes in his normal behavior, routine, appearance, or activity.
In senior dogs, any of the following symptoms could indicate an underlying condition that needs to be addressed:
- Incontinence or frequently asking to go out to urinate
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Changes in appetite, water intake, or urination
- Unexplained increase or decrease in your dog’s weight
- Sudden behavioral changes such as unusual aggression
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
If you notice any changes in your dog, have him seen by your veterinarian between regular visits. Early diagnosis of any illness will provide the best chance for treatment. Having an active dog insurance policy can help with this.