When is a dog old? To an extent, it will depend on their size and breed. In general, the larger they are, the more quickly we are likely to see the effects of aging.
For example, we’d consider a Great Dane to be senior by around 5-6 years old. On the other hand, we’d think of a Chihuahua as only being middle-aged by then.
We have created a handy calculator you can play with to have a better picture:
Whatever their breed, senior dogs need extra care and attention. Read on to find out how you can support your pet when they reach their golden years.
Issues to Watch Out For
Genetics, nutrition and environment will play a part in how fast your dog ages. Older dogs can develop arthritis or other kinds of degenerative diseases that slow them down. Most elderly dogs won’t walk as far or play for as long as they used to.
They might have trouble getting up or finding a comfortable position to sleep in. They may also avoid going up and down stairs or have problems getting in and out of the car.
Before a dog ever reaches old age, there’s plenty you can do that’s going to help your dog in later years. Feeding them a high-quality diet and making sure they get regular check-ups at the vet will help.
Dental care is also particularly important. If gum and dental diseases don’t get treated, they can cause a dog to avoid eating as well as considerable pain. This could result in weight loss and an unkempt coat.
Senior dogs can be prone to suffer from kidney, liver and heart issues. All these problems can cause weight loss too. Other dogs may put on weight when they become less active.
Regular Visits to the Vet
Senior dogs should see the vet every 6 months or so. It’s worth remembering that preventing diseases is much more cost-effective than treating them. You may not notice some conditions that a vet might be looking for.
Your vet would typically check your dog’s blood pressure, make fecal tests along with ultrasounds and chest X-rays. They’ll also monitor your dog’s general body condition to ensure your pet is at its ideal weight.
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Feed Your Senior Dog a High-Quality Diet
Diets for older dogs should be more easily digestible and have the right balance of nutrients that can help to compensate for some of the aging changes dogs can experience. These can include:
- Helping to support their joints
- Reducing levels of nutrients that your dog’s body might struggle to process
You should always check the ingredients of any food your dog eats so that their diet is appropriate for their age and lifestyle. Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, skin disease and even cancer.
Carrying excess weight also puts unnecessary pressure on their joints. If your dog needs to shed weight, your vet is likely to recommend a lower calorie diet of specialized food high in L-carnitine and with a carefully selected blend of carbohydrates.
You might also want to consider enriching your senior dog’s diet with certain fatty acids that can help with joint issues caused by arthritis. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can benefit senior dogs.
Your vet might advise a diet that’s lower in sodium if your dog has signs of heart disease. They may recommend a diet that helps control phosphorus, calcium and other electrolyte levels if your dog is suffering from kidney disease.
You should improve your dog’s oral hygiene by regularly brushing their teeth or by using dental treats or toys to help keep their mouths free of infection.
Regular Exercise That Your Dog Can Manage
You may find your dog slows down in later life but you still need to ensure they get sufficient exercise. This will help them to stay fit and keep joints and muscles healthy.
Older dogs also need stimulation with activities that challenge them. Here are some helpful tips:
- Stick to regular and gentle exercise
- Don’t stop walking altogether but, if necessary, reduce the route
- Be mindful of the weather conditions
- Switch to indoor exercises if the outside temperature is too hot or cold
- Exercise in familiar places if your dog develops problems with their senses
- Avoid going for walks in places that might cause your dog stress
- Walk at your dog’s pace
- Don’t exercise your pet for longer than they’re comfortable with
No matter how old dogs get, they will always look forward to a walk. Be prepared to take a shorter route and make lots of rest stops. If your dog likes being in the water, swimming is great exercise as it reduces the strain on sore joints.
Always dry your dog off as soon as they come out of the water. Avoid pools or lakes with high sides that your pet may struggle to get out of.
Play plenty of scent games with your dog. As long as they still have a good sense of smell, dogs will benefit from these no matter what their age. These kinds of games are a great way to keep their bodies and their brains in the best condition possible.
It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Training is an excellent way to keep a dog’s brain active and functioning well. Remember dogs are social animals too, so, if possible, let them mix with dogs of their own age that they get on with.
Making Adjustments at Home to Cope With Arthritis
You may need to provide ramps to help your dog walk up and downstairs if they are having trouble because of arthritic joints. You could also install stair gates so you’re always there to help them when necessary.
Using rugs on hard-surface floors can also help them to get around more easily. You might need to think about moving their bed downstairs. Consider buying a special orthopedic bed that helps take pressure off your dog’s joints when they’re lying down.
Regular Visits to the Vet Are Cost-Effective
Taking your senior dog to see the vet every 6 months or so will help keep your pet more active and healthy as they age.
Do you still have any concerns about your elderly dog? Then schedule a video consultation with one of our qualified vets!
We are also pleased to be able to offer hassle-free, pet insurance for your dog whatever its age at the click of a mouse.