As your dog gets older, it's important to remember several factors for the well-being of their senior years. Our vets in Denver offer guidance on caring for your dog in their senior years.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You may be familiar with the popular idea that 1 human year is the equivalent to about 7 dog years as a way to gauge your pup's life stages and expected lifespan. However, things are a little more complicated than that. Other factors, such as breed and size, for example, affect the rate at which your dog ages.
Smaller breeds of dog tend to age more slowly than larger breeds. Speaking generally, though, there are a few helpful guidelines to think about when determining the age at which your dog is considered to be a 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.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
As your pets get older, you'll probably see changes in them. These changes can be in how they look, behave, and think. When dogs age, things like their fur turning gray are normal and don't need a vet's help. But as a pet owner, watch out for signs that your dog might need to see the vet, like those:
- 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
If you notice these signs in your older pooch, book a wellness check with your vet. By taking your senior dog for routine wellness exams, you're giving your veterinarian a chance to screen for any emerging geriatric conditions and begin treatment as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will also assess your senior dog's nutrition and mobility and make recommendations for diet or exercise adjustments that may benefit your dog.
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 a good idea to have your senior dog's blood tested to check their overall health. This simple test can detect any potential diseases by looking at their white and red blood cells, as well as their kidney and liver function.
Caring For Your Senior Dog
Your dog's dietary requirement often changes as they age. Senior dogs then to become less active over time, which can lead to weight gain. This excess weight might result in health problems like heart issues and joint discomfort.
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.
Besides the physical benefits of a good diet, proper nutrition may be able to help your dog maintain their cognitive function as they age. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's. Still, 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 better health as your dog ages. Maintaining a regular schedule of physical activity can help your canine companion keep their weight within a healthy range and exercise their joints.
Make sure your dog stays comfortable during exercise. If they struggle with long walks they used to love, opt for shorter, more frequent walks. If your dog slows down or resits walks, it might signal health issues like arthritis. Contact your vet for prompt treatment.
Senior dogs need mental exercises, too. You can teach them new tricks or give them puzzle toys with hidden treats. Find these options in pet stores or online.
Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable
Aside from ensuring they are 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.