Like humans, dogs’ bodies change as they age: Many become less active, some gain weight, and some experience an increased frequency of health problems. Advances in veterinary care have allowed dogs to live longer, healthier lives. However, with this benefit comes the responsibility of caring for our senior pets.
In this blog, we’ll review some age-related physical changes in senior dogs, and discuss how owners can best meet their care needs.
What Defines A Senior Dog?
The definition of a senior dogdepends a great deal on breed. Larger breeds—like Great Danes and Mastiffs—tend to have shorter lifespans (8 years or less), while small breeds—like Dachshunds and Yorkies—can live for extended periods (13+ years).
Generally, most mid-sized breeds are considered to enter their senior years around age 7. This doesn’t mean you’ll see any drastic health or behavior changes at this age—but it does mean that your pet’s physiology is beginning to gear down. You may notice your older dog is less active, less interested in play, or less agile. Remember that aging is a process and that its outward signs are different for every animal.
Nutrition & Weight Control
As metabolism and activity decrease with age, it’s not uncommon for a senior dog to gain weight. Though some weight gain is normal, obesity can put added stress on your dog’s cardiovascular system and joints. If your pet is experiencing another health problem, such as arthritis, any additional weight may cause discomfort, which can make your pet even less likely to exercise.
To avoid this cycle, monitor what your dog eats and note your dog’s weight at regular vet appointments (weighing your animal is standard at each visit). Limiting treats and keeping your pet on a diet high in protein and low in carbs and fillers can help control unwanted weight gain. Supplementing your dog’s diet with fatty acids like DHA and EPA can help alleviate the effects of arthritis and other joint conditions. Your vet can provide expert guidance on choosing a diet that’s most appropriate for your dog’s health and activity level.
General Health & Exercise
Exercising your pet is healthy at any age because it keeps muscles toned, boosts immunity, and is great for your pet’s mood. The amount of exercise that’s right for your pet is going to depend on your dog’s overall health (our own 11-year-old dog loves a brisk hike in the woods). For senior dogs that are otherwise healthy, regular exercise can help them stay active longer. Even dogs with limited mobility can still enjoy a stroll around the neighborhood. If you’re concerned about the amount of exercise your senior dog is getting, ask your vet to recommend an exercise program that’s appropriate to your pet’s health and age.
Senior Pet Comfort
Like their human companions, dogs can be prone to mobility issues as they age. Generally speaking, your senior pet should live in an environment where he or she can easily access a warm dry place to get comfy. A dog whose jumping days are in the past may need a dog bed with lowered sides so they can climb in and out more easily. The faithful Frisbee may need to be swapped for more sedate chew or plush toys.
Dental decay can be a problem in older dogs, and can lead to other more severe problems like oral infections, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Dog dentistry procedures are expensive and require your pet to be sedated, so you’ll want to keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy using preventive measures if possible.
You can brush your dog’s teeth with a toothbrush after meals to remove any chunks of food that lodge between the teeth. Remember that mouth tenderness or chronic bad breath can signal an underlying problem that requires a visit to your vet.
Senior Dog Special Needs
Many older dogs require special care. Incontinence, for example, is a common problem that can be treated medically and symptomatically. (Yes, there are even doggie diapers to suit every size and breed.) More severe health problems—like deafness, blindness, or diabetes—should be addressed by your vet.
Remember that each animal is different, and with proper care, many continue to have a high quality of life well into their senior years. Regular wellness visits to your vet are the best way to record any changes in your senior dog’s condition and to detect any health problems early.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.