Caring for Your Older Dog
Dogs mature at different rates. As a rule, large-breed dogs mature earlier than small dogs. But if your dog is age seven or older, he’s probably approaching, or in, his senior years. This may mean a change in lifestyle for him and for you.
Companionship and commitment to your dog have always been important, but these are even more important now. Even though your dog may be slowing down, there is no reason the older years can’t be some of the best years. With regular veterinary attention, daily care and proper nutrition, your older dog can still experience a happy and healthy life.
Recognizing Your Dog is Getting Older:
Older dogs go through physical changes in their later years, just as people do. The most practical way to tell if your dog is getting older is by observing his behavior and appearance. Simply put, how old does your dog act, look, and feel? For starters, check out the Seven Signs of Senior for some basic changes common to aging dogs. In addition, the following signs of aging may indicate more specific changes in your dog’s health. Use these signs as a guideline in determining if your dog is an older dog.
- If your dog doesn’t respond to his name or verbal commands, or suddenly barks for no reason, it could indicate hearing problems.
- Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination are often signs of kidney problems or diabetes.
- Inappropriate urination may be a sign of incontinence caused by a hormone imbalance, which is most common in spayed females, or caused by other medical conditions. Your veterinarian should be contacted if you notice incontinence in your dog.
- An older dog is more likely to develop tooth and gum disease. Because of sore gums or loose teeth, he may let food drop out of his mouth or even refuse to eat.
- Dogs are susceptible to heart disease. Coughing, difficulty in breathing and tiredness could indicate possible cardiac problems.
- A hazy, bluish cast on your aging dog’s eyes is normal and usually does not hinder the eyesight. However, the hazy, whitish growth of cataracts can lead to blindness. Your veterinarian can help you distinguish the difference.
- Like humans, a dog’s metabolism slows down as he gets older. And because older dogs may not be as active as they used to be, they have a tendency to gain weight. To tell if your dog is overweight, place your thumbs on his backbone and gently put both hands on his ribcage. If you can’t feel his ribs, he probably needs to lose a little weight. His body should also taper inward behind the ribs.
- Sudden weight loss or unplanned chronic weight loss should be reported to your veterinarian. This could be an indication of a health problem.
- For older dogs, you’ll notice that the skin thickens and becomes less pliable. It’s a good idea to check for large lumps on or under the skin. This could be a sign of a tumor, cyst or cancer.
- You will also notice changes in his hair, like gray hair around the muzzle and ears and light whiskers. A dog’s coat can thin and become dull as he ages.
- As a dog gets older, you’ll notice a decrease in energy level. He may become tired more easily and likes to nap often. He can experience stiffness in his leg, hip and shoulder joints. This could just be normal wear and tear, or it could be a result of an old injury or a sign of arthritis. Check with your veterinarian for a professional opinion and appropriate treatment.
Tips for Caring for Your Senior Dog
There are some specific things you can do to make your older dog’s life more comfortable:
Visit the Vet More Often
Because your dog is experiencing so many physical changes at this time in his life, it is more important than ever that he receive total health care from your veterinarian. In addition to annual vaccinations and checkups, talk to your veterinarian about special geriatric screenings for your dog as often as twice a year.
Give Your Dog Proper Exercise
Obesity and arthritis are two of the most common problems experienced by older dogs, and regular exercise can help stave off both. Exercising helps burn extra calories and can also help reduce arthritis pain. Exercise helps improve circulation and digestion as well. However, if your dog does have arthritis, consult your veterinarian before beginning an exercise program. Leisurely daily walks or a game of catch is good. If your dog has not exercised for a long time, start out slowly, then continue with a daily program. If you see your dog overexerting himself, stop the activity. Also, senior dogs may not have as great a tolerance for weather extremes as they once had. Always be sure he has plenty of water to drink during and after exercise.
Be Aware of Sensory Changes
Some changes in a senior dog’s senses of sight, hearing and smell are inevitable. But experience has shown that dogs who live in stimulating environments–where they are kept mentally alert and physically active through daily play or exercise–are better equipped to compensate for the gradual loss of some of their senses than those dogs who aren’t as physically and mentally stimulated.
Care for Your Dog’s Teeth
Hopefully, your dog has received dental care throughout his life. If so, keep up the practice and continue to provide crunchy foods that help reduce buildup. If your dog has obvious dental problems, however, consult your vet on the proper treatment. Leaving it untreated will only make your dog’s teeth worse and his life less pleasant.
Give Your Dog Proper Nutrition
As dogs get older, they may have special nutritional needs. Choose a dog food appropriate for your dog’s age and condition.
Senior dogs can also benefit from the omega fatty acids. Omega fatty acids are required for healthy skin and coat. Research has shown that skin changes in dogs associated with an essential fatty acid deficiency are reversed when the proper amount of energy in a dog’s diet is supplied as an omega fatty acid like linoleic acid. Omega fatty acids also help promote a healthy immune system.
Keep Your Dog’s Life Comfortable and Stable
Your pet’s bed should be kept in the same place and in a dry area, free from drafts. Avoid extreme heat and cold. A consistent daily routine is also vital to your older dog’s physical, mental and emotional health. Mealtime, naptime, walks or playtime should be done at the same time every day. Interruptions to the daily schedule can cause stress to your dog.
Care for Your Dog’s Skin and Coat
As part of your dog’s complete home health care program, you may want to schedule a special grooming session at least once a week. Brushing your dog regularly helps distribute skin oils and prevent dandruff for a healthy, pretty coat. It’s also very relaxing to your dog, even therapeutic. You might also use this time to monitor your dog’s health and body condition.
Remember Your Dog’s Emotional Needs
This is a time of many lifestyle changes for your dog. His senses may not be as sharp as they used to be. He may not be as active as he used to be. He may be unusually tired or experiencing pain because of the possible onset of disease. It is your responsibility to be sensitive to what he’s going through and understand that he is also experiencing a lot of psychological changes.
Overall, it’s important to try to do everything you can to make his life as comfortable as possible. Make an effort to provide the extra emotional support he needs by spending as much time with him as you can. With your special loving care and commitment, he can enjoy a quality life during these senior years.
Source – Yahoo Pets
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