The Golden Years: How to Keep Your Senior Dog Healthy
As dogs reach their senior years, they experience many of the same changes as humans. Their hair turns grey, they lose some of their strength and agility, their energy level drops, and their senses are weakened. Aging has its effects on your pup, but that doesn’t mean your dog can’t continue to live a happy and healthy life. As a pet owner, it’s important to understand the natural changes that occur as your dog enters their golden years, and what you can do to keep your pet healthy for years to come.
The first sign that your dog has reached his or her senior years is often a decrease in activity, combined with an increase in sleep. Larger dogs usually reach this stage first, with signs appearing before age 8, whereas smaller dogs may not show signs of aging until 12 years or later. In addition, dogs that were spayed or neutered as puppies often live longer lives. Your veterinarian will be able to judge when it is time for your pet to receive the special care of a ‘senior.’
For older dogs, regular wellness visits are more important than ever. Most veterinarians recommend that senior pets come in for a checkup every six months, as older dogs can age up to 3 human years within one calendar year. In addition to your pet’s usual physical examination, your veterinarian may suggest urine and fecal analysis and blood work, as well as ultrasound and other imaging tests to detect changes in the heart or other internal organs. It is also very important to keep your veterinarian informed of any notable changes in your dog’s physical condition or behavior, because these may be indicative of serious health concerns. For example, a dog’s reluctance to exercise may be a symptom of arthritis or a heart condition, not just a side effect of aging. Regular wellness visits will help your veterinarian catch any problem sufficiently early enough to provide effective care.
In a dog’s senior years, his or her nutritional needs often change. If you notice your pet gaining weight despite eating the same amount or less than usual, it’s probably time to alter his or her diet. As pets age, their metabolism may slow down or they may be less active than before, leading to weight gain that aggravates many medical problems, including heart, respiratory, skin, and joint issues. Other dogs may lose weight as they age, which is often the result of heart disease, gum disease, or diabetes. In either situation, consult your veterinarian for advice on providing a healthy diet for your pet’s individual needs.
No matter your pet’s diet, make sure your dog is comfortable while eating. Most owners place food and water bowls on the floor, but this can be uncomfortable for older pets, especially an overweight pet or one whose arthritis makes bending down a challenge. Consider purchasing a raised eating table in a height to suit your dog or creating one on your own at home, such as by turning over a plastic crate.
Make sure your pet’s food consists of at least 18% high-quality protein and 5% fat per serving. You may also want to increase the level of fiber in your dog’s diet, especially in pets that suffer from frequent constipation. To control your dog’s weight, don’t feed him or her snacks or table scraps between meals.
In all, here are our top 10 tips for senior dog care:
- Increase your dog’s wellness visits to at least twice a year.
- Be informed about conditions that commonly affect senior dogs, look out for symptoms, and if they arise, inform your veterinarian immediately.
- Feed your dog a healthy diet and give two small meals a day rather than one large one.
- Be careful not to overfeed. Obesity causes a plethora of health issues and may shorten your dog’s life.
- At your veterinarian’s recommendation, consider the use of dietary supplements like Glucosamine and Chondroitin to manage arthritis pain.
- Keep your dog active with regular exercise adjusted to accommodate his or her physical condition.
- Monitor your dog’s dental health with daily brushing at home and regular professional cleanings.
- Ask your veterinarian to do a risk assessment in order to determine the best vaccination protocol for your dog’s individual needs.
- Control fleas and ticks by using preventive medication and maintaining a clean environment for your dog.
- And last but not least, give your dog lots of love and attention to keep him happy, active, and comfortable in his golden years.