While it’s sad that dogs age faster than humans, it’s still a blessing to have the chance to see your pet through its golden years. Canines get weaker, less mobile, and prone to health issues as they grow older. And as pet owners, it’s our responsibility to know how to care for an elderly dog so that the pooch will have a long and fulfilling life.
Like aging humans, old dogs have changing needs. It’s important to know what to do at this point, so both you and your dog will enjoy its last years.
What is considered a senior dog?
In dogs, each breed has varying age ranges to which it will be considered a senior canine. For example, a Golden Retriever is considered a senior once it reaches the age of 8 to 10. Giant breeds like Saint Bernard, Great Dane, and Newfoundland will be old at the age of 7. Meanwhile, Chihuahuas will become seniors at 10 years old.
In general, bigger breeds age faster than smaller ones. This is because they tend to have shorter lifespans than smaller canines. But overall, most dogs will become senior canines at 8 to 10 years.
What happens to your dog as it ages?
Aging will take a physical and mental toll on your pet dog. You’ll notice your once feisty canine starting to slow down and have less energy.
As dogs get older, their internal organs also become weaker. This will make them prone to kidney and liver failures as well as heart issues, eye problems, lung problems, and more. Eventually, their organs will give in, which will be the cause of death.
Nevertheless, the effects of aging in dogs are highly dependent on their diet and lifestyle. If you raise your doggo in a nurturing household with the best diet and vet care, it will age gracefully.
In general, dogs will start experiencing these signs of aging once it turns 8 years old:
- Lower energy levels
- Poor or loss of vision
- Poor or loss of hearing
- Weight gain
- Declining mental acuity
- Weakening internal organs
- Arthritis and other orthopedic problems
- Tooth loss
- Dull and fading coat color
- Weakening skin elasticity
- Declining muscle tone
- Thinning or hair loss
These are just some of the common changes that an elderly dog will experience as it slides through its last years of life. Take note that this is often paired with a slew of health problems. This is why you need to know how to care for an elderly dog before old age starts.
How to care for an elderly dog
As your dog enters its senior years, you have to perform changes at home. It’s also crucial to assess your canine’s lifestyle so that you can help them transition to the needed changes.
Here are some tips to help you out:
✔️Start by talking to the vet
The very first thing you should do is talk to your dog’s veterinarian. The vet will conduct thorough blood work and other tests to assess the health condition of your pet. From the results of these examinations, the veterinarian can advise you of the necessary changes or treatments.
Aside from the initial vet visit, it’s crucial to schedule semi-annual check-ups for your aging canine. This will keep the dog’s health in check as senior canines can easily develop infections or diseases.
Seeing the vet more often will cost more, but it’s necessary for taking care of an elderly dog. Remember that early diagnosis will save your pet from pain and suffering.
✔️Switch to an orthopedic dog bed
Aging dogs are prone to joint and orthopedic problems. Arthritis will set in, which will cause pain in your pet.
To help ease the discomfort, you should get a premium orthopedic dog bed. This is made of memory foam that helps disperse pressure points on the dog’s body. It will help your arthritic dog sleep better while delaying the onset of other orthopedic problems.
If you live in a cold place, you should consider getting a heated bed. This will keep your pet’s joints toasty despite the inclement weather.
You should never let your elderly dog sleep on the floor. This will hurt the canine’s joints and make them more agitated at night.
Also, it’s not ideal to let an elderly dog share a bed with you. There’s a chance that you’ll hurt the pooch as you toss and turn.
✔️Opt for a senior dog diet
Dog food products are often formulated for each life stage to give optimal nutrition for your pet. Once your dog reaches senior age, you should switch it to a senior dog formula.
Such a switch must be performed gradually, especially if you have a breed like Bulldogs known for its sensitive stomach.
You can start by replacing 1/8 of your dog’s meal serving with the new food. Let your senior dog eat this portion for a week or two before increasing the replaced portion.
If your dog exhibits irritations like vomiting and diarrhea, you should stop feeding and consult the vet right away.
Above all, you should invest in a high-quality dog food product. Opt for the right balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Take note that older canines don’t need very high protein levels the same way as puppies. In fact, consuming too much protein can damage an old dog’s kidneys.
✔️Consider dog supplements
Aside from getting a senior dog formula, you can also ask your dog’s vet about the use of supplements. Take note that supplements aren’t suitable for every canine. And since it’s called ‘supplements’, it’s only meant to complement your dog’s diet, not replace it.
Most senior dogs will thrive with a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement. This helps reduce the symptoms of arthritis as it boosts the lubrication of the thinning joint cartilage.
The likes of Omega-3 fatty acids are also good options. But then again, you should always ask the vet first before giving your dog any type of supplement. A supplement product that’s not suitable for your dog will do more harm than help in the long run.
✔️Keep the senior dog active
Even if your dog is aging, exercise remains an integral part of its lifestyle. But unlike the usual routines, you should choose low-impact exercises. This includes short walks, hydrotherapy, and swimming, among others. This will keep your old canine’s muscles in check without putting too much stress on its aching joints.
It’s best to follow your dog’s lead when it comes to the length of activity. If your senior dog starts panting, sticking its tongue out, or becomes disinterested, you should stop the activity right away.
Also, you should keep exercise short and simple. Taking breaks after a few minutes is also advisable to let your dog catch its breath and re-energize after drinking water.
✔️Play more brain games
Like aging humans, it’s important to keep your dog’s mind engaged as it grows older. This will delay the onset of cognitive decline, which is very common among old dogs.
You can give your old dog interactive toys that will keep its nose, eyes, and ears busy. Try hiding a smelly treat around the house and encourage your dog to look for it. This will keep your dog active while keeping its hunting skills in check.
Moreover, bringing your dog outdoors to explore new scents, sights, and sounds will also help. Just make sure that your dog is in good health to experience all these.
As we age, we only want a quiet home to enjoy the best things in life. This is the same for an elderly dog. They no longer want too much noise, pinchy toddlers, and other causes of stress.
You must keep your home quiet and calm for your aging dog. This way, the pooch can rest and enjoy the remaining years of its life without too many disturbances.
If you’re expecting loud fireworks and many guests, you must place an old dog inside a quiet room. You should also ask someone to accompany your dog so that it won’t suffer from separation anxiety.
Remember that old dogs get confused easily. A sudden sound or massive changes in the household can put them under intense stress.
✔️Don’t leave the dog alone.
If your dog has separation anxiety, it will be much worse once it becomes older. Senior canines are often weak and in need of care round-the-clock. If you leave them alone for hours, they will become more agitated.
It’s best to have someone accompany your dog while you’re away. You can hire a pet sitter or re-arrange your family’s schedule so someone is left at home at any given time.
✔️Pay close attention to dental care.
Many pet owners often overlook the dental health of their old dogs. This is the reason why many senior canines lose their teeth even before the age of 10.
Old dogs are at a higher risk of experiencing gum-related infections. If not addressed, such infections may pave the way for pathogens to enter the body. This will cause a flurry of health problems for your canine, which will also take its toll on your budget.
No matter how old your dog is, regular tooth brushing is still necessary. A finger toothbrush is ideal since it’s softer and less intimidating.
Aside from that, you should always check your dog’s mouth for any color changes, abnormal growth, and bleeding. If any of these are present, you must consult the veterinarian right away.
✔️Make your house ‘senior dog-friendly’
Lastly, you should also make changes in your home to accommodate an aging dog. You have to “seniorize” your household to keep your pet comfortable.
For example, you can place ramps or stairs beside the couch to let your dog climb. This way, the old pooch doesn’t have to jump and hurt its knees.
Placing baby gates on stairs is also advisable to prevent a blind dog from falling on the steps. Rugs on slippery areas will also prevent your old dog from falling or slipping.
Most of all, you should involve your family in the process. Talk to your kids and make sure they understand the limitations of your old furry friend.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should I expect from my senior dog?
A: Expect your senior dog to slow down and become less active than usual. Weakness and health problems will also arise, so you should better prepare. While your pet is still young, you should invest in pet insurance. This will save you from expensive vet bills later on.
Q: Are old dogs with dementia suffering?
A: Dogs with dementia don’t usually experience pain or physical suffering. Still, you should keep a close eye on them so they don’t get hurt or confused. Life-long care is needed if your pet has succumbed to this level of mental decline.
Q: Why do old dogs follow you everywhere?
A: Old dogs follow you everywhere because they want attention and care. Also, older canines do this because their owners give them a sense of security. It can also be a learned behavior, especially if following you always ends up in treats and playtime.
Q: Are senior dogs more clingy?
A: Many senior dogs become more clingy as mental decline and physical weakness make them more vulnerable. They always want the presence and smell of their owners for comfort. However, some older dogs will become aloof and reserved. It all boils down to your dog’s personality.
Q: When is it time to euthanize an old dog?
A: If your old dog is in a great deal of pain to the point that it can no longer enjoy life, euthanasia might be the best option. Nevertheless, the decision will be subject to an in-depth discussion with the vet as well as your personal preference.
Aging is inevitable for all creatures – even our beloved pets. Knowing how to care for an elderly dog will help your pooch ride its remaining years smoothly. Above all, it will let you provide the best quality of life for your pet toward the end of its life. After all the years of companionship, your pet deserves all the love in the world.