We love our dogs, starting from puppyhood and into their senior years. But with each stage of life, things become different, and we need to adjust the kind of care that we provide.
Most dogs are considered seniors by the time they hit the age of 10, which is also when you’ll start to notice a few changes.
In this article, we delve into the ways that you’ll need to modify your usual routines and what you can expect when your dog enters their twilight years.
The size of the dog makes a tremendous difference in their projected lifespan. Small dogs take longer to mature and tend to live longer than large breeds.
For example, one of the smallest dogs, the Chihuahua, has an expected lifespan of roughly 14 to 16 years, which means they might not enter seniorhood until they are 11.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Great Dane has a life expectancy of about 7 to 10 years and is considered a senior by around 5 years of age.
This is why you should speak to your veterinarian regarding your dog’s aging in order to determine when it’s time to treat your dog like a senior.
Becoming a senior usually requires a change in diet due to new nutritional needs. This is partly to help with any of the health conditions that tend to affect older pets.
Dog foods aimed at seniors tend to include chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine as supplements for joint and mobility support, which can aid dogs with arthritis.
Some older pets suffer from kidney or liver disease, which will require a specific prescription diet. Otherwise, they might need a diet that’s high in calories to help them put on weight or one that’s low in calories if they are overweight.
Dog food is never a one-size-fits-all, so consulting with your vet regarding your 10-year-old dog’s diet is vital.
Physical Exercise Needs
It’s perfectly natural for dogs to slow down as they grow older. Speak to your vet so they can offer advice about the best ways to safely keep your dog active.
A senior dog’s energy level has started to wane, and they won’t be able to run as often or go for long walks the way that they used to. They’ll also likely want to rest more, so your routine will probably change to walking your dog more frequently for shorter periods.
You should continue playing with your dog as they get older. Consider taking them swimming, as this can help if your dog has joint issues. It can also help prevent obesity and keep your senior healthy and happy.
Your dog will likely start sleeping more as a senior, and they might be more difficult to rouse or even respond to commands.
It’s essential for you to know the difference between a dog that’s naturally slowing down and one that has a health condition.
When you take your dog for regular vet visits, the vet should be able to keep on top of your dog’s health.
Some dogs become more aggressive as they age, but this can be an indication of a health problem, possibly even a form of dementia. Some senior dogs might be more impatient with young children and become reactive to loud noises and unpredictability. This can be partly due to failing hearing and vision and can lead to your dog being startled more easily, which might lead to aggression.
Your dog might also become more stressed and form separation anxiety when you leave, or they might get more anxious than usual around loud noises like fireworks. Things might also become more challenging if you have other pets, and the hierarchy starts to change.
If your dog starts acting differently from how they usually are, you should consult with your vet. It might be an underlying health condition, or they might be in pain.
Caring for a senior dog means dealing with certain health issues. You’ll need to take your dog to see the vet twice a year in order to keep on top of any medical issues that crop up.
If your dog already has health issues, they might need to be seen more often. At home, you should monitor your dog frequently and bring them to the clinic if you notice any of the following signs:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Increased vocalization
- Changes in appetite or water intake
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Stiffness or limping
- Aggression or other behavioral changes
Common health conditions that senior dogs are prone to include:
- Cognitive disorders
- Dental disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hearing problems
- Intestinal problems
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Prostate disease
- Vision issues
The 8 Tips to Make Your Senior Dog More Comfortable
There are several steps that you can take to make your dog’s advancing years easier on you both.
1. Wellness Exams
You’ll need to take your dog in for wellness exams at least every 6 months. The vet will examine your dog for any tumors or signs of arthritis and check their hearing, vision, and dental health.
2. Pain Monitoring
Keep an eye on your dog and take note of any changes. This is vital, particularly if your dog shows any signs of discomfort or pain. If they suddenly start limping, struggle to stand up, or even lie down while drinking or eating, all of this needs a vet’s attention.
This requires your vet’s guidance, so discuss with them what supplements might benefit your dog. These can be things like fish oil, probiotics, and glucosamine, all of which might make a difference in your dog’s health.
4. Mental Exercise
Physical exercise is essential, but don’t forget that your senior dog also needs mental exercise. Get them puzzle toys, try scavenger hunts, and do hide-and-seek using nosework. The bonus is that you’ll be spending extra quality time with your pup.
Older dogs may have more trouble grooming themselves, and since they tend to lie down most of the day, they might be more prone to matting. This gives you the opportunity to check your dog for any lumps or problem areas.
Your dog might need more frequent baths due to incontinence and more frequent nail trims because they aren’t walking as frequently
Finally, brush their teeth regularly (daily is best), and check their teeth and gums while doing this. Senior dogs tend to have dental issues, so be diligent when it comes to their dental care.
6. Accessibility in the Home
There are several things that you should do and invest in that will make life easier. To start, getting an orthopedic dog bed will give your dog comfortable support, which is particularly helpful if they have joint issues.
You might also want to consider getting dog steps if you notice your dog struggling to get on and off the bed or couch. There are also ramps for short sets of stairs and the car.
If you have slippery floors, put down non-slip mats and carpets to prevent your dog from slipping and falling. If your dog has issues with their vision, you should be careful about moving around furniture and other objects. This can confuse your dog, and they are more likely to bump into things.
Ensure that your dog’s food, water, and favorite toys and bed are easily accessible and that there’s no competition for these things from other pets.
7. Dog Clothes
Senior dogs are more apt to feel cold inside but particularly while on outdoor walks. Consider picking up a dog coat for colder days and maybe even a sweater for indoors.
8. Quality Time
Anytime is a good time to spend quality time with your dog, but it’s crucial as they age. Your senior dog might become anxious when you’re not around, so be sure to spend as much time as possible with them. Play with them, go on walks, give them treats, and cuddle with them. This should provide comfort for you both.
Dogs change as they age, and you’ll notice them slowing down and health conditions cropping up. Try to keep things around your dog as calm as you can manage, which can help keep their stress levels low.
Ensure that you have regular visits with your veterinarian, and discuss how you can make your dog’s quality of life the best that you can, thus ensuring that they continue to be healthy and happy for the rest of their years.
Featured Image Credit: Svetlana Valoueva, Shutterstock