When your dog is your best friend, you wish that he could live forever. It’s no surprise that your furry friend will be ageing alongside you. When your dog reaches his/her senior years his care requirements will change from when he was a pup. Being able to tell when your dog is considered senior really depends of the individual dog. For example, big dogs, such as Great Danes are considered to be senior by the time they hit 5-6 years old whereas a smaller breed, like your Chihuahua would only be considered senior by roughly 10-11 years old.
Breed, environment, care, genetics and nutrition all play a role in how fast your dog will age.
Being able to know the signs of ageing in your dog will give them the best chance of receiving the right care to help them along the way.
Some things to indicate your pooch is hitting his senior years, would be:
- Coats beginning to grey
- He may develop arthritis or other degenerative diseases
- Slowing down – not running as far or as fast, taking time to get upstairs
- Hearing may have changed – finding their response to you slower
- They may seem to mope a little more each day or act grumpy
He may tire more easily. He may have difficulty getting up or finding a comfortable position to sleep in.
Now that you are aware of the signs of ageing, here are a few tips to help your dog age gracefully.
Regular visits with your Vet. Make regular visits to your vet as your dog needs to be examined at least yearly if it appears healthy, as many diseases are hidden and not apparent. Remember it is much cheaper to prevent disease than it is to treat it! When your dog is older, you can’t overlook what may seem like a temporary problem. Also, it would be great to ask for a body condition evaluation during each vet visit and to ask your veterinarian to show you how to evaluate your dog’s body condition at home.
Keep your senior dog at his ideal body weight. This is one very basic healthy habit to develop for the benefit of your dog, and particularly for a senior dog. Overweight dogs have a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, skin disease, even cancer. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your dog. Senior dogs are less active and have a slower metabolism, so fewer calories are required. High-quality, easy-to-digest protein becomes more important than ever, to help maintain overall body condition.
Feed your dog a balanced diet containing high quality ingredients in amounts appropriate to maintain a good weight. You may need to consider a special diet if your older dog has heart or kidney disease. Your vet can help you find the best one to suit your dog’s particular health needs.
Taking care of your dog’s mouth. Starting with at home care, you should brush your dog’s teeth as it can help keep your dog’s mouth healthy. If you cannot brush, consider dental treats and toys that help keep the teeth clean. Routine dental care from your vet is very important, as older dogs are more prone to gum disease and tartar build-up. Your veterinarian can advise you not only about any indication for dental cleanings in the clinic, but can also point out possible problem areas and instruct you regarding appropriate at home cleaning and care.
Exercise your senior dog. Keeping up with everyday exercise, just like you would when he was a puppy, is a great way to keep your older dog lean and help maintain his joints and muscles. It’s no secret that with age, his physical activity will need to be tailored to his individual requirements. You don’t want to cause more harm than good, so take it easy with your senior dog, watch for signs of discomfort and let him take the lead. Always ask your veterinarian for pointers and advice about exercising your senior dog as he can help you design a safe exercise program and can also recommend medications, if appropriate, to allow your senior dog to exercise more comfortably.
Comfort for your older dog. Getting old comes with its aches and pains, but your old friend can’t tell you what he needs for his comfort. For instance, dogs with arthritis might benefit from soft bedding in the form of a special dog bed. He may need extra blankets to keep him warm because he moves around a lot less these days. Ramps can be used to make stairs easier to navigate if they find it painful to climb steps. Even providing carpeting or rugs over hard-surface flooring can help your arthritic dog gain his footing and make it easier for him to get around. Just the little comforts will show the old boy you truly care.
TLC and companionship. The greatest need when caring for a senior dog is patience. Try to be sensitive to what your older dog is going through and understand that a lot of psychological changes are taking place. As your dog ages, he may not see as well or hear as well. Even when your old dog doesn’t respond physically to your touch, voice or presence, he needs your companionship and attention for mental health and emotional well-being. Your loving care and commitment really helps create true quality of life during these senior years.