Your dog is now 7 years old (or older). So what does that mean?
With improvements to veterinary care and dietary habits, our dogs are living longer than they ever have before. But now we’re faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. Extensive research on the problems facing older pets and how to best handle their special needs.
Q: When does a pet become “old”?
A: It varies, but cats and small dogs are generally considered geriatric at the age of 7. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans and are considered geriatric when they are approximately 6 years of age. Owners tend to want to think of their pet’s age in human terms. While it is not as simple as “1 human year = X cat/dog years”, there are calculations that can help put a pet’s age in human terms:
Senior Dog Health and What it Means
- Less active
- Sleep longer and more deeply
- Less enthusiastic about going for walks or playing games
- May have reduced vision or blindness
- May have a thinner coat
- Will gray around the muzzle
- Will experience muscle loss
- May experience weakness in the back legs
Dental Hygiene/ Teeth
Dental hygiene is crucial, as your dog ages. Regular dental care, such as brushing and professional cleaning can prevent dental disease and decay, which can be very painful for dogs. If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his/her teeth brushed, consider dental treats and toys instead, in between professional cleanings..
Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well being. Take your dog on short, gentle walks and monitor his/her breathing and gait to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise as well. Stimulating toys such as food puzzles help keep your dog sharp.
Bring your dog in for a checkup at least twice a year. Just as elderly people need to be aware of health issues and visit their doctors more often, aging pets benefit from more frequent visits. Older pets may need additional blood tests, dental care and examinations. Additionally, many breeds have predispositions toward certain ailments, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer, diabetes and bladder stones. Early detection can help catch these before they become major problems.
Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you now need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For dogs with hip dysplasia or joint issues, consider a special ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or join you on the bed. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision-impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints, particularly if you live in a colder climate. Finally, non-slip surfaces will prevent falls and help your older pet maintain traction when rising.
- Joint Pain – Freedom from pain can make a huge difference and this can be done using many different methods including anti inflammatories (pain relief), joint supplements, weight loss, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and physiotherapy.
- Eating & Drinking – Fresh water should always be available. Sometimes an older dog will start to drink more than usual and in many cases this can be a symptom of kidney problems or diabetes. If you notice any of these changes you should arrange an appointment to come see a vet.
- Vaccination & Worming – We advise regular annual boosters in senior dogs. Regular worming is also advisable, both for your dog’s health as well as your own.
- Kidney Disease – Regular check- ups by your vet along with urine and blood testing can help detect the onset of kidney disease and we can help take steps to slow down the progression of the disease, allowing your dog a longer and better quality of life.
- Dental Disease – Dental problems are very common in older dogs. Warning signs are smelly breath, salivation or chewing to one side. If left, it can lead to periodontal disease and loss of their teeth. The bacteria in plaque can even spread to other parts of the body and have been linked to heart, liver and kidney disease.
- Heart Disease – Heart disease is unfortunately very common in older dogs and certain breeds are particularly at risk. If you notice any of the signs listed below you should arrange an appointment to come and see a vet.
- Less eager to run or go for longer walks
- Pants a lot
- Takes longer to recover from walks
- Restless at night and can’t relax
- Distended abdomen
- Brain Changes – Older dogs can suffer from signs of dementia and reduced brain function-cognitive dysfunction. Some of the first signs that can point towards senile changes are:
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Reduced ability to cope with stress or changes in their routine
- Frequent and sometimes loud vocalization
- Urination or defecating in inappropriate places
- Memory loss-not remembering simple commands
Early Warning Signs of Health Problems:
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Changes in appetite
- Increased thirst
- Increased urine output
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Coughing and wheezing
- Difficulty in movement
- Unusual lumps and bumps
- Behavioral changes
- Unpleasant odors
- Hair loss
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Senility with associated loss of memory
Taking care of an older dog may involve a little more work than you’re used to doing, but caring for a lifetime companion is a deeply rewarding experience. Your dog has been good to you (and for you) for years—now’s the time to return the favor!