Caring For an Older Dog

Caring For an Older Dog

Just like with people even dogs slow down with age.  As I have grown older I have found that I have less inclination or discipline to exercise regularly or monitor what I eat. The result is there for everyone to see, via my rather inflated tummy.  The same goes for dogs as well. With advancing age they might want to exercise less and therefore pack on a few pounds. Behaviour changes are also pretty normal for an older dog. Some dogs become friendlier while some become grumpier. Some dogs tend to become more anxious and agitated as they might not be able to see or hear as well as before or because they might be a bit slower in reacting from danger. Changes in personality in an older dog should not be brushed of lightly as they could be indicators of pain or an illness.

How To Know If Your Dog Is To Be Considered A Senior?

Senior dogs have different care requirements when compared to younger dogs. But how to know if your dog is now considered a senior?

The criteria for considering a dog senior vary depending on each individual dog. Smaller breed dogs age slower than giant breed dogs. If your pet is a Great Dane then you can consider him to be a senior dog when he is roughly 5-6 years old. A Chihuahua on the other hand can be a considered middle aged at 5-6 years old and senior by 10-11 years.  Larger breed dogs fall somewhere in between. A Golden Retriever can be considered to be a senior dog by 8 to 10 years of age. The following factors play an important role in how a dog ages:

  • Genetics;
  • Nutrition; and

These days many Vets provide ‘senior care’ programmes which are worth consideration. Picking up on behavioural changes in your dog can substantially improve the quality of their life as it allows for early treatment. It’s important to remember that older dogs require regular vaccinations as well as flea and worming treatments. Teaching your dog new tricks can lead to mental stimulation which might make them feel younger.

What Happens To Dogs As They Age?

The tendency to deposit fat in older dogs is greater as they tend to expend less energy because of their body slowing down. The following changes might become more noticeable in a dog as they start to age:

  • Illness or poor digestion might result in some dogs losing weight.
  • A dog’s mouth could become drier making swallowing more difficult.
  • The skin of your dog might start losing its elasticity while the coat might lose its shine.
  • Hearing and sight of a dog is affected as they become older. Also, dogs could have more trouble with remembering things as they age.
  • Older dogs tend to be more restless at night as their sleep patterns begin to change.
  • As dogs age their muscles and bones tend to become weak.
  • Older dogs are more prone to infections as their immune system might not work as well to fight them off. The reduced immunity might also lead to deterioration of important internal organs such as kidney, heart and liver.

However, the advancement of modern medicine means that even older dogs can be happy and active despite their age as long as they are taken care of properly.

How to Feed an Older Dog?

Dogs tend to become less active as they age and gain weight as a result. Obesity is one of the most serious health issues for dogs of all ages and even more so in senior dogs. Therefore, it’s better to feed your dog a diet that is lower on calories thus reducing the risks of possible weight gain and obesity. Greater research over the past few years have led to the development of specially formulated diets that assist in managing many health conditions associated with ageing. Specially formulated ‘senior’ diets are rich in antioxidants and polyunsaturated oils which can be beneficial for a senior dog. There are two important things to consider before you decide to put your dog on a senior diet and they are:

  • It should be done after seeking veterinary advice.
  • Any changes in diet should be made gradually.

As your dog grows older it is good idea to weigh them every one to two months. This way you can monitor if there is any weight gain and alter the food intake accordingly. Weight loss can be an early indicator of illness. It’s important to contact your vet if you observe any sudden increase or decrease in weight in your dog.

How to evaluate if your dog is piling on the pounds? Comparing your dog’s weight with tables outlining ideal weight might provide only a rough indication.  Even within a particular breed there can be vast size variation. Here are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself to gauge any potential weight gain in your dog:

  • Do you notice an hour glass waist when you look at your dog from above?
  • Can you feel the ribs with light finger pressure?

If the answers to the above questions are yes, then it’s not necessary to put your dog on a diet.  If the answer is no then its diet time for your dog. However, if you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite then it’s important to consult your vet.

If your dog is losing weight then one way you can increase the fat content in their diet is by adding vegetable oil or margarine. Again, it’s important to consult your vet before you do so as vegetable oil can sometimes cause diarrhoea in dogs.

Some Tips to Assist You in Caring After Your Senior Dog

  1. Visit Your Vet Regularly

Its important to get your dog checked by your vet at least once a year. This applies even if the dog appears healthy because many times diseases are not apparent in dogs and can stay hidden. Preventing a disease will cost much lesser than having to treat it.

Also, during each visit to the vet ensure that you schedule a body condition evaluation. Body condition is a vital factor in determining whether your senior dog is underweight or overweight or at ideal body weight.

  1. Ensure That Your Senior Dog Maintains Its Ideal Body Weight Through Food

Overweight or obese dogs are more prone to diseases such as

  • Diabetes;
  • Heart disease;
  • Skin disease; and even

With the assistance of your veterinarian decide an appropriate diet for your dog. This way you can ensure that the diet for your overweight senior dog includes all the necessary nutrients without increasing the calorie intake. A diet that consists of a specifically chosen carbohydrate or carbohydrate blend can assist in ensuring that your dog is satiated without increasing the calorie intake. Diets fortified with DHA and EPA, both fatty acids, has been known to be useful for dogs suffering from mobility issues caused due to arthritis. Dogs suffering from kidney disease are fed a diet which assist in controlling levels of calcium, phosphorus and electrolytes in their body.

  1. Important To Groom Your Dog

Grooming your older dog is not just something you do to make them look prettier but also assists them in tackling many health problems.

Hairballs in your older dog can lead to stomach and intestinal blockages. To avoid such a scenario it’s important to get out the dog clippers and trim your dog’s coat periodically.

Long nails in your dog can grow into skin and toe pad increasing the risk of an infection. Thus, ensure that you regularly trim your dog’s nails.

Eyes and ears need routine checks. If you see any redness or irritation then it’s important to inform your veterinarian immediately.

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