Although it’s hard to watch, our puppies will someday become senior dogs, and it’s important to know how to care for them as they age. While our older dogs may not be puppies anymore, they can still be our best friends, and they’ll appreciate the extra things we do to keep them happy and healthy in their golden years.
Caring for senior dogs can be a lot like caring for puppies. They both require extra attention and supervision. Our senior dogs may also need extra tools, supplements, and/or medications to keep them healthy and thriving for as long as possible. In this article, we’ll provide pet parents with good advice on helping our faithful older pups enjoy a happy retirement. We’ll also discuss the most common health issues to look out for with senior dogs and provide tips for managing these conditions if they come up.
How old is a senior dog?
Dogs transition from “middle-aged” to “senior dogs” at different ages depending on their size and breed. Most of us know that smaller dogs live longer, so Terriers or Chihuahuas may not reach old dog status until ten or twelve years of age. Giant breeds like Great Danes or our Mastiff friends typically enter their golden years at around five or six. The average Labrador is usually considered a senior dog at around seven or eight years old. However, with appropriate medical treatment and preventative care, your older dog can still live an active and healthy life with you.
Senior dog dental care
Doggie dental hygiene is important for pups of all ages, but it’s especially critical for older dogs. Dental disease is painful for your dog and expensive to treat, and it’s more common with senior dogs. Providing your pet with regular dental care will greatly improve his quality of life. Whether you use traditional doggie toothpaste or a longer-lasting brush-free oral gel, is entirely your decision. Pairing either of the above with an edible dental care treat is an excellent option for a lot of dogs. No matter how you decide to go about it, caring for your older dog’s teeth should be a priority throughout his life.
Our older dogs often have dietary issues. Some of these include obesity, problems chewing their food, digestive issues, and loss of appetite. Your vet can advise you on the best diet plan for your senior dog. You may need to add more fiber to his diet by changing to a high-fiber dog food. This can often help with common digestive issues.
You may also need to decrease his carbohydrates in order to keep him at a healthy weight. Adding fish oils and foods rich in glucosamine can help alleviate joint pain in arthritic dogs. Lower calorie senior dog foods may also help keep your dog’s weight under control. Please remember that not all senior diets are created equal, so ask your vet or a certified canine nutritionist about the best choice for your dog’s needs. For dogs who aren’t as excited about food like they once were, you can try adding low-sodium chicken broth to their regular kibble, switching to a canned diet, or even warming up their food in the microwave for about ten seconds.
Like older humans, our dogs still need regular exercise. It just might look different than it did during their younger years. Most dogs can still go on walks but keep an eye on their gait and breathing to ensure they’re not over-doing things. Keep walks shorter during warm weather and consider providing a snug coat or sweater during the winter months, especially if your dog has a shorter coat. Let your dog take breaks if he needs them. Mental stimulation is also important for older dogs. Consider investing in some fun puzzle toys in order to entertain your dog and keep his brain working.
Vet visits for senior dogs
Typically, our dogs need to visit the vet every year in order to get a checkup and keep vaccinations current. However, our senior dogs may require more frequent vet visits. Many veterinarians recommend bringing them in every six months, so they can detect and treat any health issues before they get out of hand. Since health problems are more common with older dogs, more frequent veterinary checkups can make a huge difference.
Common health problems for Senior Dogs
Early detection is the best way to prevent a minor health problem from escalating into something more serious. Here are the most common health issues in senior dogs that we need to look out for. If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, be sure to contact your vet right away.
Hearing or vision loss
As your dog ages, his hearing and/or vision may begin to deteriorate. Senior dogs may be prone to developing cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding of your dog’s eye that, if left untreated, can eventually cause blindness. Cataracts in dogs are the same as those in humans. They vary in size from a tiny dot to covering the whole lens in your dog’s eye. When they first appear, cataracts won’t cause your dog any major visual problems, maybe just a little blurring or fogginess. However, once the cataract is completely covering the lens, your pet’s eyesight will be much poorer, rather like looking through several sheets of wax paper.
Hearing loss typically occurs as a result of the aging process, so there isn’t a lot that us humans can do to slow its progress. Keeping our dog’s ears clean and watching for signs of an ear infection may be somewhat helpful, and certainly can’t cause any harm.
Osteoarthritis in Senior Dogs
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain in senior dogs. This chronic condition generally starts affecting the leg joints before eventually migrating to the spine. Arthritis is incredibly debilitating and painful for our dogs if left untreated. Giving your dog a high quality joint supplement can often be helpful for many dogs. There are also muscle relief gels that can be massaged into your dog’s sore spots in order to provide short-term pain relief. Your veterinarian can also prescribe various anti-inflammatory medications as the condition progresses. Keeping your older dog at a healthy weight will also go a long way to keeping him comfortable.
Just like people, senior dogs can lose their cognitive function as they age. Canine dementia can cause confusion, disorientation, insomnia, and restlessness. Some dogs with dementia pace endlessly, unable to settle or sleep. Incontinence can also be a symptom of this condition. These behavioral changes can be incredibly distressing for both dogs and pet parents. If you begin noticing unusual behavioral changes in your dog, contact your veterinarian for support, as there are some medications available that can help.
As your dog gets older, you may notice him developing some lumps and bumps on his body. Fortunately, many of these are harmless fatty lumps called lipomas. However, age does increase the risk of cancer in dogs, so if you notice any lumps that weren’t there before, or changes in existing ones, bring your dog in for a veterinary checkup.
Urinary incontinence in Senior Dogs
Urinary incontinence in dogs can range in severity from just a few drips to a full-scale emptying of the bladder. This condition frequently occurs in older dogs because the bladder and sphincter muscles can become weaker with age. Incontinence often happens while your dog is asleep, so keep an eye out for damp spots on his bedding. You may also notice your dog frequently licking himself, redden skin, or inflammation around the urethra area. While incontinence affects dogs of both sexes, it tends to show up most commonly in spayed females. Some medications can help with this condition, so chat with your vet if you think your older dog might be dealing with incontinence.
Obesity in Senior dogs
Keeping your dog’s weight under control is always important, but this is even more true with senior dogs. Canine obesity can result in diabetes, heart disease, various joint problems, and can even be a risk factor for some kinds of cancer. Be sure to feed your dog correctly in order to prevent his becoming overweight. As discussed above, older dogs often don’t need as many calories as they did during their younger days, so feel free to either reduce the food ration or change to a senior food containing fewer calories. If you have any concerns about your dog’s weight, feel free to discuss it with your vet. They won’t mind, trust us!
Keeping our dogs comfortable and happy as they age may seem like a daunting process, but your dog will definitely appreciate the extra effort. Keep an eye out for any health issues you think he might be having, and don’t be afraid to use your vet as a resource! Have any questions about senior dog care? Please feel free to let us know!