Thanks to preventative care, better nutrition, and advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer and enjoying a higher quality of life than ever before. Recent studies have shown that forty percent of dog owners have a dog that is age seven or older. Variables such as genetics, nutrition, and environment can all determine how the aging process will affect your pet, but typically a dog is considered to be a “dog senior” at seven years old.
As a caring owner, you play a key role in your senior dog’s health. In addition to general care, an older dog may require special attention. Knowing what to expect as your pet ages is the first step in recognizing your old friend’s needs.
Changes in behavior for your senior dog usually occur gradually. You may notice that your pet is sleeping more and playing less. Such decreases in activity levels are normal, but should be monitored closely to be certain that your dog’s care is optimal and that any symptoms you may observe are not symptoms of a medical condition.
Arthritis is a common and painful condition that affects one out of five adult dogs. It occurs when joint cartilage begins to split and fragment for your senior pet. Symptoms of arthritis or joint pain include stiffness, difficulty jumping or climbing stairs, and lagging behind on walks. New treatment options are now available to safely and effectively ease your pet’s suffering. There are many solutions to your pet’s arthritis that you can research on the web to improve your dog’s care.
Just like people, many dogs suffer some degree of hearing loss as they age. Symptoms include a change in obedience, inattentiveness, excessive barking, and a lack of response to sounds and commands. There is not much that can be done for age-related hearing loss, but a vet exam should be done to rule out other medical problems like ear infection, foreign body obstruction, or ear mites. If your dog has experienced a decrease in hearing ability, extra precautions may be necessary to protect him from traffic and other potential hazards. It may also be a good idea to train your dog to recognize basic hand signals that can be used in place of verbal commands. Dogs can learn and adapt well to signals instructing them to sit, stay, come, etc.
Tooth and Gum Disease
Senior dogs are especially susceptible to periodontal disease, the most common cause of oral infection and tooth loss in dogs. Periodontal disease occurs in two forms: gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is an inflammatory response of the gum line and the earliest phase of periodontal disease. Gums may appear red or swollen and they may bleed if pressure is applied. An estimated eighty percent of dogs three years of age or older have gingivitis.
Periodontitis is the advanced form of periodontal disease. Symptoms may include bad breath, swollen and bleeding gums, visible plaque, loss of appetite and excessive salivation. Periodontitis can cause permanent damage if not treated.
Almost any dental treatment or procedure performed on humans can be done for dogs and will improve your dog’s care. Root canals and caps can restore broken or decayed teeth. Braces can correct misalignments and bridgework can replace teeth lost from decay or gum disease. Check and clean your pet’s teeth regularly and consult your veterinarian if you see anything unusual. Evidence has shown that routine dental dog’s care can extend the life span of a dog by two to six years.
Digestion and Nutrition Concerns
Over time, your pet’s digestive system becomes less efficient in breaking down foods for absorption into the body. Older dogs tend to absorb fewer vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes through the intestinal tract, and lose more of them through the kidneys and urinary tract. As dogs become older, they typically need fewer calories from fat, but protein is still critical to their diet to ensure proper maintenance of muscle tissue. Older dogs are also more prone to develop constipation, so senior diets should be high in fiber. Some of these special nutritional needs can be accommodated by feeding your pet the proper type of dog food. Many companies now make dog food specifically formulated for senior dogs. Dietary supplements can also be a highly effective way to provide the nutrients needed to maintain good health and improve your dog’s care.
As dogs age, they become less active. Metabolic rates slow and weight gain often occurs. Conditions stemming from obesity are fast becoming the number one health problem for senior dogs. Coupled with proper nutrition, exercise can be an important part of preventative care. Vigorous exercise, like jogging, may not be appropriate for your pet, but swimming, walking, and other low impact activities are very beneficial to your dog’s health and improve your dog’s care.
Tips for Making Life Easier
Although it can be difficult to watch a cherished pet grow older, you can enhance and, in some cases, even prolong your pet’s life through diet, exercise, and preventative health care. There are also many things you can do that will make life easier for your pet. Try employing some of the tips for senior dog care below:
- Provide a soft bed in a low place.
- Use an ergonomic feeder or raise the food and water dish so your dog does not have to bend to the floor to eat and drink
- Install a ramp to make climbing easier. Portable ramps can be used to assist your pet in and out of the car
- Keep walks short. Too much walking could tire your pet out. Instead of one long walk, take three short walks
- Spend a few minutes each day massaging your dog’s legs, especially the hips. Massage will get the blood flowing and ease tension and sore muscles
- Clip toenails frequently, but gently. Nails often become more brittle with age
- Hard dog food kibbles might become too tough for your pet to chew. If necessary, water the food slightly to soften it or think about switching to a softer type of food
- Above all else, make sure your pet knows that he is still an important part of your life. Love and appreciation are ageless emotions