As your dog ages, you might notice certain changes in his behavior. Perhaps he’s been sleeping more, or gaining weight, or going on shorter walks. It’s important to be able the recognize the signs of dog seniority, because the more aware you are, the more prepared you can be, and thus can give your dog the proper care during this stage of his life.
What is a senior dog?
A good rule of thumb to remember is the number 7. While different breeds of dogs have different life spans, and certain breeds can even live up to their twenties, at the age of 7 years, you should be more mindful for the signs of aging in your dog.
Your dog may be considered senior, and yet still be in perfectly good health, or he may be just beginning to exhibit signs of aging. Think of it as a human being at the age of about 55-60 years.
What are the signs of aging?
There is a wide range of signs that a dog has reached his advanced years, much like in humans. Your dog may exhibit one or more of these signs, but the important factor to consider is if there’s been a change in his behavior, which may be the key to recognizing an important sign.
Sleeping more. This is one of the more common signs of aging. The expected change will be a gradual increase in the duration of sleep, not an abrupt one. If you notice an abrupt change, or any other worrisome details, it would be best to seek a professional’s advice immediately.
Eating/drinking less. This could be due to their tastes becoming more particular or picky, or it could be that their senses of smell & taste are also declining, which makes food less tasty. If you notice this particular sign, it’s important to see a veterinarian to ensure there’s no other health problem which may account for the change in eating habits (ex. infections, stomach problems). Don’t forget to take note of your dog’s water intake, which should be roughly the same as in his younger years, as senior dogs are prone to dehydration. Make sure his drinking bowl is in an easily accessible area.
Weight gain. A dog’s metabolism will slow down with age, much like a human’s would. Exercise during senior years will be just as important as during younger years. Your walks may be slower and shorter, but no less important for your dog’s physical health.
Decline in hearing or sight. Again, as in humans, older dogs will start exhibiting signs of poor sight or hearing. Your dog may stop responding when you call him, as he may not hear you, or you may notice the centers of his eyes, previously black, are turning gray or white. Again, this will be a gradual process, but you may not notice this until later. They will take comfort in familiar routines, and may need help getting outdoors or up/downstairs. Consider building a ramp in appropriate areas of your house before your dog has lost these senses, so that they can learn to use it and be comfortable with it.
Dental problems. Teeth and gum problems are common in the elderly dog, and can affect their demeanor greatly if the problem is significant. Make sure to brush your dog’s teeth 2-3x a week, and regularly check their mouth for any redness, swelling or bad breath to catch any problems early on.
Changes in peeing/pooping. As your dog ages, so does his internal organs. A decline in the amount of urine can signify kidney disease. (This is something to pay particular attention to, and, if noted, please see a veterinarian immediately.) Conversely, your dog may be peeing more frequently, and may have more peeing “accidents”. If this is the case, your dog may be losing bladder control, and you may need to increase your bathroom breaks. Less amount of poop can signify stomach/intestinal problems, or could be related to a decrease in their food intake; while a change in the color of his poop can signify liver disease. Again, the key is a change in pooping habits. If your dog used to poop regularly twice a day, and now you notice that it’s not even once a day, it would be wise to see a veterinarian at your earliest convenience.
Arthritis. This is another common problems in elderly dogs. Signs to look out for include slower walking, difficulty in changing position (ex. lying down to standing), or even difficulty staying on his feet for long periods of time. Certain types of arthritis will respond to weight loss, but other types are simply due to aging of your dog’s joints. In either case, your veterinarian will be able to give you complete advice on this. An orthopedic bed may help with joint pain relief.
Lumps. It’s a sad fact of life that dogs may get cancer too, and cancers are more frequent in older dogs. Your safest bet is to check for lumps regularly. Longer-haired dogs should be carefully checked, as lumps may not be visible because of their long hair. If noted, see your veterinarian.
How often should I bring my dog to the veterinarian?
Senior dogs will need more frequent visits to the veterinarian than adult dogs or puppies. As a rule of thumb, once your dog hits the senior age, you should be taking him to the vet at least twice a year for health screenings. This can have a significant impact on your dog’s lifespan during his advanced years.
Once you notice any of the above symptoms, or perhaps if your vet catches a problem such as heart or kidney disease, you may have to increase the frequency of visits to the vet. This can be a temporary thing, something that can be resolved, or it can be somewhat permanent. Work with your veterinarian, discuss with him/her an optimal strategy for your dog’s care.
How can I keep my pet comfortable during his senior years?
Attention. Make sure to continue the show your pet the same amount of affection, if not more, during his senior years. Knowing that he’s an important part of your family will have a great impact on his mental health.
Nutrition. Older dogs will have slower metabolism and be less active, therefore they will need somewhat less amount of food. You may need to change the type of dog food you buy to suit your elder dog’s needs.
Routine. As his hearing and sight wane, he will become more dependent on you for his daily needs and for guiding him in his surroundings. Leave his feeding bowls in the same place, but make sure there are no obstacles for him to get to them. When you take him for walks, take the familiar route to give him a sense of comfort. Establish a peeing and pooping routine while he still has his hearing and sight, and this routine can continue after the loss of these senses.
Mental health. Aging affects your dog’s brain too, he may be slow to react to your commands, or he may be confused as to who you are sometimes. He may still want to play occasionally, but some days he may just be too tired. Don’t expect too much from your elderly dog and be content to just sit with him on those days.