Dogs are delightful companions and part of the family. They're loyal, affectionate, and they love unconditionally. Unfortunately, dogs don't live forever. Pets age faster than humans, and as they get older, they develop age-related problems caused by major changes in their bodies. Because of this, dogs have difficulty going through their daily activities, such as eating and moving around.
When are dogs considered senior?
The widespread belief that a dog year is equivalent to seven human years doesn't apply for all dogs. Factors including environment, genetics, nutrition, and weight play a significant role in how fast they age. Large to giant dogs may be considered seniors at five years old, while small to medium dogs are only teenagers at this time.
What to Expect
A lot of major changes in behavior and health may happen as your dog ages, and it's important to address these concerns before they turn into life-threatening diseases. Confusion, anxiety or aggression, a shift in sleep patterns, and other behavioral changes are also common among senior dogs.
- Senility and slowing down - The aging symptoms of pets are pretty much the same as in humans. Cognitive dysfunction or senility may cause older dogs to get lost or forget how to greet family members. Meanwhile, avoiding activities like playing and running may be red flags for arthritis or muscle atrophy. Joint pains and mild loss of muscle mass are common reasons why older dogs can no longer move as quickly as before.
- Loss of sight or hearing - Aging dogs may lose their sense of hearing, making them unresponsive when called. And just like humans, dogs can also slowly lose their sight and develop eye conditions like cataracts. If your dog has vision loss, avoid rearranging your furniture so he can move around the house according to how his body remembers it.
- Weight changes - With ailments taking over his body little by little, your dog may start eating less and drinking more, resulting in sudden weight loss. On the other hand, as the dog becomes less active, he uses less energy, paving the way for increased fat deposit. The resulting weight gain may increase the risk of arthritis and heart disease.
- Restlessness or anxiety - As dogs become more restless, they develop a weaker immune system that prevents their bodies from fighting infections. Increased anxiety may also result from changing sleep cycles.
Caring for Older Dogs
With help from their humans, senior dogs can lead a happy and active life despite the many changes in their health. Follow these tips to reduce the effects of old age:
- Regular vet visits - Symptoms of age-related diseases are easily overlooked, especially if you have no idea what to look out for. Check-ups and preventive healthcare exams are crucial during this period in your dog's life. Most health issues of senior dogs can be treated if caught early so it's recommended to visit the vet every six months.
- Vaccinations - To improve your dog's quality of life, have him vaccinated once every three years. Senior dogs need regular boosters, and flea and de-worming treatments.
- Mental stimulation - Keep your pet on his toes by engaging him in interactive play. Food puzzles that prevent dogs from getting food until they're solved help stimulate your pet's brain activity.
- Age-appropriate diet - Older dogs require a lower calorie intake as their metabolism slows down. Fresh vegetables and smaller food portions are great, but take care not to give him anything toxic like grapes and raisins. Ask your vet about the right diet for your dog based on his age, lifestyle, and specific needs.
- Watch the weight - Limit his calorie intake if your pet is not very active. The more overweight your dog, the more stressed his body becomes. Ask your veterinarian for a diet and exercise plan that your dog needs.
- Exercise - It's very important for pets to keep moving. Regular exercise not only maintains healthy joints and muscles, it also helps your dog feel young and keep fit. Start by taking him on short walks, and then gradually increase the distance. Just remember that what's normal for a big dog may be too long and tiring for a small pooch. Know when it's time to stop and rest for water. Don't stay out too long if it's hot or humid outside.
- Dental care - Dental diseases not only cause difficulty in eating, they may also damage your dog's organs if bacteria get into the bloodstream. Senior dogs need proper dental care from vets or regular brushing. You can also keep your pet's teeth and gums healthy through toys and dental treats that keep their teeth clean.
- Keep them warm and dry - Unlike the young ones, older dogs may not have the ability to regulate their body temperature. Make sure that your dog is warm and dry if it's cold, and that he's cool and has access to plenty of water if it's hot.
- Lots and lots of TLC - Dogs want the simplest things, and often a good belly rub makes them happy. For them, physical contact means mighty love. As dogs get older, they will start needing therapeutic massages too, especially when joint pains begin affecting their lifestyle.
Safety and security are crucial for senior dogs that are at risk of developing health problems, blindness, and deafness.
- Keep the floor clutter-free - Remove obstacles that may endanger your dog while he walks around the house. Keeping your home free from clutter helps reduce his anxiety, especially if he's starting to lose his vision. Make litter boxes accessible so your dog won't have to travel far to relieve himself.
- Ramps and stairs - For dogs with arthritis or other joint problems, it is hard to walk, or even just lay down to rest. Make it easier for the senior dog to navigate by equipping your home with ramps. Carpets and rugs on hard surfaces will help him feel more comfortable getting around the house.
- Orthopedic beds - To help your pet have a great sleep all the time, provide him with soft blankets and an orthopedic pet bed. He'll be more comfortable sleeping and getting up won't be as difficult.
Dogs in their twilight years need proper care and attention. Follow these safety and care guidelines to make the life of your best friend so much better.
Jennifer Lutz is a loving pet owner and the home décor expert at www.christmastreemarket.com. For advice on how to keep your pets safe during the busy holidays, check out her thoughts here.