Caring for Older Dogs

The life expectancy of dogs has expanded. Most dogs in the 1970s lived 7 or 8 years; today dogs can live 10 to 15 years. Dogs have different needs as they age. Understanding the changes your dog experiences will help you provide the best care for your best friend.

Senior Dog?

Like humans, dogs age differently. Breed, weight, nutrition and vet care affect a dog’s life. In general, small dogs under 20 pounds may not show any signs of aging until they’re 12; 50 pound dogs won’t seem old until they’re 10, and large dogs reach old age at 8 or 9.

Signs of Aging

Most older dogs will experience these changes:

• Slowing down. You may notice your dog takes longer to stand up and walks up stairs slowly. Many dogs experience arthritis pain as they age. You vet can advise you on ways to eliminate your dog’s discomfort and help his mobility.

Graying hair and drying skin. Changes in the coat and skin are a natural part of aging. You may notice that your dog’s muzzle looks gray or that he has a dull coat. Brushing frequently and massaging your dog will keep the circulation flowing and improve the condition of the coat. Larger breed dogs may develop callouses on their elbows because they lay down more often.

• Brittle nails and thick foot pads. Since older dogs may not be wearing their nails down through exercise, you should clip them more often.

• Hearing and vision loss. You may not notice that your dog has hearing loss until it’s advanced. Dogs may stop following vocal commands or appear aggressive because they’re startled when they don’t hear people approaching them. If your dog has a cloudy eye, he probably has sclerosis. Many people confuse this condition with cataracts but dogs with sclerosis can typically see well.

• Sensitivity to temperature changes. As dogs age, they don’t regulate their body temperature as well. A dog that tolerated hear or cold well when younger, may have comfort issues now.

Behavioral Changes in Older Dogs

Stress will make these changes worse:

• Separation anxiety. Your dog may whine, bark, become destructive or potty inside when you’re out.

• Sensitivity to noise. Sounds such as thunder that never bothered your dog before now make him scared.

• Vocalizing. Your dog may whine, howl or bark due to hearing loss or separation anxiety.

• Aggression. Older dogs don’t like change and may have a reaction to new people. Aggression can also be caused when your dog is in pain or experiencing a drug reaction.

• Confusion, roaming in circles, disorientation, withdrawing. Your dog may have cognitive dysfunction syndrome which affects the brain and nervous system.

Signs of Disease

As dogs age, their likelihood for developing a disease increases. Their immune system is not as strong as it was, making dogs more susceptible to illness.

• Obesity. Older dogs need approximately 20 percent fewer calories; they also tend to exercise 10 to 20 percent less. Since obesity is the number one health problem in older dogs, consider food that’s high in fiber and low in fat.

Increased thirst and urination; increased appetite without weight gain. Signs of diabetes; take your dog to the vet for testing.

• Tiring more quickly. If you dog is out of breath with minimal exercise, he may have cardio-pulmonary problems and should be checked by your vet.

• Coughing and excessive panting. Signs of heart disease; take your dog to the vet.

• Bleeding gums, loss of teeth, bad breath. Periodontal disease affects many older dogs; check with your vet for treatment.

Help Your Older Dog

We all age, and while it may be difficult seeing your dog move more slowly, there are things you can do to make him more comfortable.

Take your older dog to the vet at least once a year.

• Walk your dog. If your dog has stiff joints, try taking two shorter walks rather than one long one.

• Provide your dog with a bed or two. He’ll appreciate having a soft surface for naps.

• Groom your dog more often. He will love the attention and brushing will stimulate the skin.

• Reduce calories. It may be hard to say no when your dog begs for food but your dog’s obesity can cause serious health problems.

Legal Disclaimer

This post is for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for a vet’s professional diagnosis and treatment.

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