Your Dog's Golden Years
While puppies are wonderful, full of energy and wonder, and mischievous best friends, they mature into gentle, loyal and faithful companions. As your dog ages, you may notice some changes in their behavior and physical appearance.
For example, their muzzle may be graying and they may not take your favorite hiking trail quite as fast as they used to. They may sometimes seem confused and tire more easily than in their younger years.
That said, with continued vigilance on your part and by working closely with your vet to monitor your dog's health, you can increase your four-legged friend's chances of remaining healthy and happy years into the future. In this post, we'll discuss changes that happen in most senior dogs, and how we can help.
When are dogs considered seniors?
The point at which your dog becomes a senior varies significantly depending on your canine companion's breed. Typically, larger dog breeds age faster. Here is a general guide:
Small breeds are considered senior dogs around 10-12 years old.
Medium breeds are considered senior dogs at around 8-9 years old.
Large and giant breeds are considered senior dogs at around 6-7 years old.
What changes can I expect to see in my senior dog as they age?
Here are common changes you may see in your dog's physical appearance, demeanor and behavior as they age:
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Cognitive issues such as anxiety and forgetfulness
- Loss of vision and hearing
- Changes in eating and appetite
- Dental health issues such as gum disease
- Reduced activity and mobility
Oral health problems such as dental disease are unfortunately fairly common in senior dogs, who have been using their teeth for a lifetime of nipping, eating and playing. If plaque is not routinely removed from the surface of the teeth, it can build up into tartar, which irritates your pup's gums and can lead to inflammation (gingivitis). Irreversible periodontal disease can then develop, causing abscesses, infection, bone loss and tooth loss.
How to Help
Brush your dog's teeth daily to keep their teeth and gums healthy, and prevent dental disease. See your veterinarian regularly for oral exams and professional dental cleanings.
Arthritis & Joint Pain
As your dog enters their golden years, you may notice they have difficult climbing stairs and jumping on to the couch or bed to cuddle. They may not get up as quickly to greet you when you come in the door at the end of the day, and just getting around may seem to become an issue. This may be due to arthritis creeping into your four-legged friend's joints.
How to Help
Ask your vet about giving your dog a joint supplement once a day may help. Gentle stretches can also help increase mobility. Plus, regular physical activity, including walks and light play, can help to manage joint issues.
Anxiousness & Forgetfulness
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) often affects senior dogs and may manifest as many symptoms, including indoor potty accidents, circling the house, staring into space or a disrupted sleep-wake cycle.
How to Help
While you may be worried at spotting these behaviors, it's important to be calm and patient with your senior pup. If they sense that you're frustrated, they may become even more confused, nervous, or depressed.
If you're concerned that your geriatric dog may have CCD, ask your veterinarian to test for the condition. This can also eliminate other potential diagnoses that can mask or overlap with CCD symptoms.
Changes in Eating & Appetite
Remember when your rambunctious puppy would beg to be fed or run to their bowl as soon as they heard you open their bag of food? If they've slowed down and seemed less eager to eat, you may not be imagining things.
How to Help
Senior dogs may lose their appetite for a variety of reasons - some age-related such as a loss of smell or taste. Their tastes and preferences may also shift as they enter their golden years.
However, changes in eating habits or loss of appetite can also point to an underlying health condition. Schedule a thorough veterinary checkup to have your vet identify and treat any health issues your senior dog may be facing. If there is a health problem, your vet may recommend a change in diet as part of a treatment plan.
Even if there are no underlying health concerns, introducing a senior diet that's easier for your dog to digest and that matches their energy levels and nutrition requirements may help.
Worsening Hearing & Vision
As your dog ages, it may be difficult to tell whether any behavior changes or confusion are due to CCD or age-related hearing and vision loss.
Eye issues such as glaucoma, dry eye, cataracts and others often affect senior dogs, as does both temporary and permanent hearing impairment. This may result in your dog taking longer to respond to your commands than you're used to.
As for vision impairment, discharge or cloud of the eyes, walking at a slower pace or bumping into things can all be clues that your dog's eyes aren't as young as they used to be.
While many hearing and vision conditions can be treated, your dog's ability to see or hear may unavoidably decrease as they enter old age.
How to Help
Your vet can perform a thorough exam to detect and diagnose any vision or hearing conditions. They may recommend making some accommodations at home, such as blocking off stairs to prevent slips and falls and teaching your dog to respond to hand signals (such as come, dinner, potty, etc.) so you can communicate.
You might also consider adding textures such as mats or rugs to flooring to help your furry companion orient themselves in your home.
Senior Pet Care at Riverside Veterinary Hospital
While health issues can certainly begin to affect your senior dog as they age, growing older doesn't have to mean illness or medical conditions are inevitable. Our Mandeville vets can provide preventive care to help detect emerging health issues early, so they can be effectively managed and treated.
Our experienced team is prepared to provide advice, guidance and veterinary care to help you and your pet face any health challenges head on, as you look to make their final years as comfortable as possible.
Contact us to book your pet's next checkup today. In addition to asking about their home life in detail, we'll perform any diagnostic tests that may be required to gain additional insight into your dog's genearl health and condition. Based on our findings, we can then recommend a treatment plan that may include activities, medications, and dietary changes that may help improve your senior pet's health, comfort and well-being.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.