How to Help Our Senior Dogs Age Gracefully
9 March, 2015
As our dogs get older, we notice the various changes in their looks and actions. Some of our pups move slower, start to show a little gray hair and/or lose some hearing. It is also perfectly normal for an older dog to sleep more than he used to and to tire more quickly when playing. Therefore, as our dogs age, so do their needs and/or care for them. There are many ways to keep your dogs in good shape and happy as they transition into their senior years.
Most dogs enter their golden years between seven and ten years of age, with large breeds becoming seniors earlier than small breeds. Many breeds experience a graying of their coat as they age, particularly around the muzzle—but there are other, more subtle signs that your dog is aging. And you, as a dog owner, will notice some of these changes.
Below are some recommendations to help your dog’s age gracefully:
Make sure to keep up with your regular visits with your veterinarian
Your dog should see the vet about twice a year. Remember, the earlier you address any possible issues, the better. Neglecting to get your dog examined regularly, along with blood tests and dental exams could potentially take years off of his life. Dental hygiene continues to be crucial as dental disease can lead to other diseases and that concern becomes more prevalent as your pet ages.
Make sure your dog gets daily exercise
Even at your dog gets older, he or she needs regular exercise to build and maintain strong bones and muscles. Many senior dogs deal with arthritis and exercise helps keep senior pets agile which lessens the pain associated with it. Of course, take care not to over-exercise your dog. Talk to your vet to come up with an exercise regime that fits your pet’s needs.
As our dogs get older, their dietary needs change
As always, continue feeding your dog a high quality diet but it’s important to adjust his caloric intake. Even dogs that consume less calories may have more fat on their bodies as they enter their senior years. That’s why exercise is crucial. High protein is still necessary to help build strong muscles. You can reduce calories yet still keep protein high. Antioxidants such as carotene and vitamins are important too as they help combat free radicals and slow the aging process.
Some vets feel that aging dogs benefit from the addition of dietary supplements including glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as vitamin E and -carotene and extra vitamin C and vitamin E. Speak with your vet about whether your dog needs additional supplements for specific health issues.
Keep your dog stimulated even if he wants to sleep all day
Your dog may be slowing down both physically and mentally but that’s all the more reason to interact with him. Just as physical exercise keeps his bones and muscles strong, mental stimulation keeps him sharp and interested in life. A dog who lacks stimulation will become depressed, distressed and more susceptible to illnesses associate with aging. Play fetch, continue to teach him tricks, give him toys that entice him to problem solve. The goal is to stimulate all of your dogs’ senses.
Be patient and shower your dog with love
Aging can be stressful with humans and dogs alike. Slowing down, dealing with arthritis, uncontrollable bladders and other illnesses are tough on our dogs. Shower your pup with love when he makes mistakes and accidents as this is typical of our senior dogs.
Below are some recommended adjustments to your home the help our senior dogs:
- Older dogs are unable to regulate body temperature as effectively as young dogs, and should be kept warm, dry and indoors when not outside for exercise. Likewise, senior dogs are extra sensitive to heat and humidity. Please take precautions to protect them from conditions that could cause heatstroke.
- An arthritic pet may appreciate ramps in the home, extra blankets and an orthopedic bed. Some owners put ramps up to their bed for their special pups.
- If your dog is losing his sight or hearing, remove any obstacles and reduce his anxiety by keeping your floors free of clutter.
As always, if you notice anything unusual or different about your dog, don’t wait for your regularly scheduled checkup to see your vet. Call right away. Symptoms to watch out for are incontinence, lumps, constipation or diarrhea, shortness of breath, coughing, weakness, unusual discharges, changes in weight, appetite, urination or water intake, stiffness or limping, increased vocalization and uncharacteristic aggression or significant behavior change.
If you watch your dogs’ diet, keep them stimulated, both mentally and physically, and maintain your regular vet visits, your dog should age gracefully and peacefully.