How To Care For a Senior Dog
For new dog owners there are many things to learn. Puppies need different
food than an adult dog, they need a different level of exercise etc. Just like puppies and dogs, senior dogs also need a level of different care. Do you know how to care for a senior dog?
Many people are under the impression that their dog’s aging will not be such a big deal. Unfortunately a dog will start to suffer from some of the same illnesses that people do when they age. They can suffer from arthritis, deafness, blindness etc.
When is a dog considered to be a senior? The answer to this question varies on what type of dog you have. Larger dogs life expectancy is less than a smaller dog. A dog is considered to be a senior when he is in the last 25% of his life expectancy. For example a Doberman’s lifespan is 12 – 15 years, so he is considered to be a senior at 9 – 11 years of age, while a Chihuahua’s lifespan is 14 – 18 years so he is considered to be a senior at 11 – 13 years of age. From these two examples we can correctly draw the conclusion that bigger dogs tend to have a shorter life than their smaller counterparts.
Signs of Aging
- Weight gain
- Slowing down
- Not responding when called – deafness?
- Trouble getting up
- Eyes are becoming cloudy
- Relieving themselves more often
- Starting to have accidents in the house
- Lumps on body
- Condition of dog’s coat starts to deteriorate
- Reaction time is slower
- Bad Breath
Addressing Signs of Aging
As our dog ages we need to adjust some things in their daily life. One thing that we need to make changes to is the food we feed them. As a puppy we fed them food that supported their growth and development into the adult stage. As they became an adult their nutritional needs change again and so we changed their food again. This time the food we give them depends on if they are large breed or small breed, what level of activity they are engaged in and what is their overall health. As they enter their senior years their food requirements change once more. Nutritional needs now should help to address changes in your dog’s health due to aging.
Many times as our dogs age their level of activity decreases and their appetites also will decrease. Feeding your dog the same amount of food as before will more than likely cause your dog to gain weight which in turn can cause other health issues. Make sure you adjust your dog’s food according to his level of activity.
Sometimes all you need to do is just decrease the amount of food you are feeding your dog. If however your dog starts to gain weight even with the decrease in the amount of food then you will need a diet that is lower in calories. Usually a senior diet for dogs includes less fat, adequate protein and an increase in fiber. The increase in fiber is especially important as some senior dogs start having issues with constipation and the fiber helps keep things moving.
If your dog is having difficulty eating you may try warming up his canned food or adding water to his kibble. This may make it easier for your dog to eat.
Other changes that happen as our dogs age is you will notice their hair going gray. The hair around the muzzle and the eyes will be the most noticeable. Their coat may also become dull and thinner. Although this can be a simple sign of aging it can also indicate your dog is lacking something in its diet. A check at the vets will help determine the problem and your dog may need supplements to help with his coat.
Another problem with a dog’s skin is the development of tumors. Some of them can be cancerous but many times they are just fatty tumors. Often these fatty lumps are left alone unless they start to interfere with the dog’s day to day living. Then the lump can be removed by the vet.
Another skin issue that an older dog may develop are calluses around the elbow area. As your dog ages and slows down they tend to lay down more. Laying on a hard surface is likely the cause of the formation of the calluses. Giving your dog a nice padded bed to lay on will help prevent the calluses.
Nails are another part of your dog that will undergo changes as he ages. They can become brittle and also due to your dog being less active his nails may need to be clipped more often.
Another common ailment we may see in our dog as he ages is arthritis. It is more common in the larger breed dogs, dogs who have had a joint injury when they were younger and dogs who can be prone to back problems like a dachshund and bassets.
Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can help your dog get the nutritional needs it needs to help support its joints. It is important that your senior dog is eating a balanced diet.
Even though your dog’s activity level has decreased it is important for you to keep up some form of an exercise routine. Just as exercise is important to us it is also important to your older dog.
Dealing With Your Senior Dog
So in conclusion as your dog ages you will start to see some subtle changes at first and then they may become more pronounced.
I think the two most important things that will help maintain your dog’s quality of life as he ages is his diet and regular exercise. Regular exercise and a good diet will help keep your dog’s weight under control. That extra weight on your dog can greatly diminish their quality of life and also their longevity.
Sometimes it is hard to resist those big sad eyes when they are looking for something to eat. If you just can’t resist giving your dog something then find something that is very low in calories.
We had a doberman who every evening needed to have some sort of snack. We were showing him at the time and the fella who was handling him told us to give him Special K. As you know they are very low in calories.
He loved those Special K’s and until the day he died at almost 12 years of age he was not overweight.
So remember diet and exercise and do not abandon your dog when he ages. He has been with you through good and bad be there for him when he needs you the most.
This is some really useful information. My dogs are getting up in age and one hasn’t been responding like she normally does. It’s strange because she’s usually very obedient and ready to please me. I never considered that she might be losing her hearing. What are some things I can do to test and care for her if she is losing her hearing?
Hi Marlinda the first thing you should do is find out for sure if your dog is going deaf due to age and not an ear infection. You can stand behind your dog and clap your hands or jingle your car keys. If your dog’s ears do not move then it is likely she cannot hear.
Dogs are very resislent so even if they are deaf you can communicate with them through hand signals. Your dog is probably already picking up on your body language to know what you want.
I would recommend a trip to the vets to make sure the deafness is caused due to old age and not an infection.
She is still ready to please you but she may be just a bit slower.
It looks like you have a picture of my dog’s twin. Great article on senior dogs. We have an 11 year old female lab. While still lively in the morning and most of the day, she still slows down in the evenings and has trouble getting up when it’s bedtime. You are spot on on food and exercise. We DO need to resist the temptation to feed too much food as well as get them out walking everyday. One thing I always find challenging is that senior dogs do not appear to get significantly older, except for the gray in the muzzle. We need to remember not to overwork them, just as we have our limits as we get older. Good info. Thanks.
Thanks for your comments Warren.Exercising your dog daily helps them stay a bit more fit than if they were just being a couch potato. I find as they age they may not want to walk as far or they are slower on the walk. I still remember the day that we took our female dobe for her last walk. She was aging quite quickly all of a sudden. I was walking the dog we have now and my husband was walking our dobe. She just stopped on the road and turned around and headed home. As i watched her and my husband head home I knew that was her last walk. that is a memory I will never forget.
It’s a shame they can’t live longer but since they are smarter than us they don’t have as much to learn.