As senior dogs age, their lifestyle and veterinary care plan should evolve with them. In this post, our Los Angeles vets offer some tips on senior dog care, how to keep your old dog happy and comfortable, and more.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You may have heard of the popular concept that one human year is equivalent to about seven dog years as a way to estimate your dog's life stages and expected lifespan. However, things are somewhat more complicated than that, as other factors such as breed and size affect the pace at which your dog ages.
Smaller dog breeds tend to age more slowly than larger breeds. Generally speaking, we recommend keeping a few helpful guidelines in mind when determining the age at which your dog is considered to be a senior.
Small breed dogs typically become seniors at around 10-12 years old, while medium dogs enter their golden years at about 8-9 years old. Meanwhile, large and giant breed dogs reach their senior years at about 6-7 years old.
Veterinary Care for Senior Dogs
You'll probably start to notice some differences in your senior dog as they grow older. Mental, physical, and behavioral changes are all normal during this stage.
While some common signs of aging in dogs don't require a veterinarian's attention - such as greying of a dog's muzzle, others may need veterinary care as they can affect your dog's health and cause discomfort and potentially even pain. Some of these symptoms include:
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Dental disease and tooth loss
- Loss in muscle tone
- Mental dullness
- Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function
- Poor or worsening vision or hearing
- Sleep abnormalities (not sleeping enough or sleeping too much)
- Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
If you notice these signs in your older dog, schedule a senior pet wellness checkup with your vet, who can administer specific care according to your pooch's needs, perform physical exams, and screen for any emerging geriatric conditions. The vet can then develop an individualized treatment plan.
Your veterinarian will also check your senior dog's nutrition and mobility, and recommend adjustments to diet or exercise that may benefit your pooch. As dog's grow older, it's a good idea to visit your veterinarian regularly for exams. In addition to an annual or biannual checkup, we also recommend pet parents have annual blood work done for their senior dogs.
Diagnostic tests will reveal whether your dog's white and red blood cell count is correct, and if any kidney or liver diseases may be present. This is an easy way to have common diseases detected early.
How to Care for a Senior Dog
Your dog's nutritional needs will likely change as they grow older. Most senior dogs tend to slow down and become less physically active over time, making them more liable to gain weight. Excess weight can lead to other health issues in your dog as well, such as sore joints and cardiovascular problems.
Your veterinarian will be able to recommend any adjustments to your dog's diet that may be required. This could mean you'll need to switch to a food that's specifically formulated for weight loss, or monitor your dog's daily calorie intake.
There is also a range of prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs that are targeted to the various health conditions that senior dogs experience. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.
Besides the physical benefits of a good diet, proper nutrition may be able to help your dog maintain their cognitive function as they age. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's, but it is possible that feeding your dog a food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
As with humans, keeping the body and mind active is important to better health as your dog ages. Maintaining a regular schedule of physical activity can help your canine companion keep their weight within a healthy range and exercise their joints.
Pay close attention to your dog's comfort and abilities when it comes to exercise. If you notice that your dog is slowing down on walks, or isn't as eager to sprint through their favorite park as they used to be, try taking them for shorter and more frequent walls if you can. Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks can also be signs of health issues such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. So be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible to make sure that your pet gets the treatment they need.
Along with regular physical exercise, it is important that senior dogs also receive mental stimulation. It is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks – or introduce a puzzle game or toy that they'll enjoy solving for kibble or treats hidden inside. There are many options for your pooch in pet supply stores and online.
How to Make an Old Dog Happy & Comfortable
Aside from ensuring your senior pet is receiving adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can consider doing to help your aging four-legged friend live out their golden years comfortably, and even happily:
- Orthopedic dog bed, heated dog bed (or heating pad/mat set to low heat under a blanket in their sleeping area) for dogs with joint pain or stiffness
- More carpeting around a home with tile, laminate or wood floors can reduce slipping or tripping hazards for your older dog (some dogs also do well with dog socks that have non-slip soles).
- Pet gates (or baby gates) can be placed at the top or bottom or stairs to prevent tripping or falling hazards.
- Improve accessibility with dog ramps to help your pet go up and down the stairs, on furniture, or into cars; elevating their food and water bowls can also help with neck and back pain.
- If your dog has vision issues, seeing at night will be harder for them; some nightlights around the home will help them navigate their surroundings.
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.