Compared to humans dogs move into their elderly years at an alarming pace. Seven can be old for a large breed, while smaller breads reach their senior years at around 12. Fortunately, there is reason to embrace, rather than dread, this time, for these can be your most rewarding years shared.
Dogs may show some obvious signs of aging by their slower gait and white grizzled whiskers, but many changes are more subtle. This is the time for you, faithful caregiver, to pay close attention, since small changes may signal serious conditions. Early intervention can make the difference between a cure or irreversible damage.
For example, if your dog is coughing don’t assume it is just a case of kennel cough. It could be something more serious such as heart disease. Dog arthritis (osteoarthritis) impares movement in animals, but so does hypothyroidism, tumors, and hip and knee dysplasia. Excessive thirst can be the result of an extremely hot day or be a symptom of something serious such as diabetes, kidney disease, or a bladder infection.
Diet dog food is a major consideration for aging dogs . If an animal is overweight, their joints are under stress, and moving around becomes even more uncomfortable. On the other paw, rapid weight loss is a sign of ill health and the animal should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Beware of foods labeled “senior” dog food. Often, the most abundant ingredient in these foods are grains. If a farmer feeds grain to their livestock to fatten them for slaughter, is this the food your want for your household dogs? A resounding “No” is the answer. Older dogs need a healthy dog food that contains an adequate protein source, but less fat and calories in their diet. Look for foods that have a whole protein source as the first ingredient. For example, a food containing “beef”, “chicken” or “bison” provides a whole nutritious source of protein.
Other ways to keep your older dogs comfortable is to provide plenty of cushion and warmth to their beds. Consider having a bed in each of the rooms where you and your dogs spend most of your time.
As animals age it becomes more difficult to keep themselves properly groomed. Gently brushing helps long-haired dogs keep mats under control and helps short-haired dogs with shedding and keeping their skin moist and healthy. Regular bathes with shampoo and conditioner formulated for dogs keeps their coat and skin healthy, as well. Dogs may need their nails clipped more frequently, since they wear them down less with walking. Long nails can interfere with walking and make maneuvering on slippery wood, tile, or vinyl floors more challenging.
Take notice if your dog is losing vision or hearing. Being unable to see obstacles or hear warning sounds puts him at risk for accidents. Some conditions can be helped by your veterinarian.
At last there is “gold” in the golden years. All the walks and times of play, pay off in the bond of friendship that has been nurtured over the years between caregiver and companion. Your dog has given you unconditional love and now you can honor that love by looking after their health in their last days.