Pets are a wonderful and valued addition to families all across the country. For many, their dogs are more like family members than pets, which means they are members of the family for their entire lives. This means at some point in time, you will need to know what to do to take care of your canine companion as they reach their senior years. Older dogs have unique needs compared to puppies and younger adult dogs, so it is important to know when to start changing your routine and what your older dog will need.
Table of Contents
- Signs of Aging in Dogs
- Common Senior Dog Health Issues
- How to Detect Health Issues in Senior Dogs
- Problem Areas for Senior Dogs
- Making Your Home Accessible for a Senior Dog
- End of Life Care for Senior Dogs
Signs of Aging in Dogs
In order to provide proper senior care for your dog, you will need to be aware of the common signs that indicate your dog is reaching advanced years. While their yearly age is one indication, no two dogs will age the exact same way, even if they’re the same breed. Here are some signs of gaining in dogs that you will want to watch out for in your special pooch:
Changes in Activity Levels
As dogs age, they have some of the same symptoms as humans do, and this includes not being as energetic as they once were. Changes in energy levels, stamina, and metabolism can cause senior dogs to slow down and become less active.
Teeth and Gum Problems
Most dogs have some dental issues during their lives, but after years of wear and tear and use, a senior dog’s teeth and gums are often in bad shape. Broken teeth, bleeding gums, teeth falling out, and other problems are common in older dogs.
Mobility Issues or Difficulties
Like people, dogs start to develop bone and joint problems as they get older. Many senior dogs will start to walk gingerly and slowly or show signs of trouble or pain when walking. They will often stop running and jumping due to pain or discomfort.
Unexplained Changes in Weight
A healthy weight is important for all dogs, but this can be difficult for senior dogs. A dog with dental issues might not eat as much and lose weight, and likewise, a dog that is not as active due to joint pain may end up gaining weight.
Changes in Eyes or Vision
Many dog owners end up noticing something is off with their elderly pooch when they start bumping into things or seem to wander aimlessly. This or any visual differences in the eyes can indicate vision loss in senior dogs.
If your dog has always been obedient and attentive but they suddenly seem to be ignoring you, take note. This could be an indication that your dog may be experiencing some degree of hearing loss.
Incontinence and Bathroom Issues
Another common sign of age in dogs is trouble with house training. Sudden accidents, inability to make it outside, and other bathroom-related issues are actually quite common in older dogs and is seen in some way in almost all cases.
Changes in Fur and Skin
One obvious sign that a dog is getting older is the changes seen in their fur and skin. White and silver fur, especially on the face and muzzle, is common in senior dogs. Other common signs include bare spots, irritated skin, dry skin, and excessive scratching.
The final common sign to watch for in your canine companion is any changes in their behavior. Aggression, lack of interest in play, and other changes in how they act are common. When they are in pain, can’t see well, or don’t feel well, it can affect their behavior.
Common Senior Dog Health Issues and How to Spot Them
Aside from the visual signs that can alert you to the fact that your furry family member is reaching their senior years, there are some major health issues that also need to be monitored closely in senior dogs. Most of these problems have some early signs that your dog is unwell, and some of them are easily noticeable if you know what to look for. However, most of these require an examination of some kind by a vet to get a conclusive and certain diagnosis so the proper treatments can begin.
This disorder attacks the joints and causes stiffness, inflammation, and pain. It is especially common in large joints that bear a lot of weight. Arthritis can make is difficult for your older dog to get around easily and can significantly affect their quality of life.
Older dogs, just like older people, are more prone to diseases such as cancer due to the wear and tear on their body over the years. Cancer screenings are common for senior dogs in order to monitor and check for early signs of cancer.
Problems with the bladder and urinary tract are other issues that affect many dogs as they enter their senior years. Incontinence, poor bladder control, and build of minerals or toxins can also be issues that older dogs face later on in their lives.
The brain is working 24/7/365 to control and protect the body. As dogs age, they can experience problems with memory and mental function and activity level. This can include forgetting tricks, not being as active, appearing lost, or becoming depressed.
Some senior dogs develop problems with their stomach or intestines that can lead to picky eating, refusal to eat, or vomiting. The effects of intestinal problems can range from annoying to life threatening, so they must be dealt with as soon as possible.
Hearing loss is common in older dogs and in many ways should be expected when your pooch gets really up there in age. However, it is still something to address because deafness can lead to behavioral problems and mental decline as your pooch feels cut off from the family.
When teeth break or fall out or there are problems like gum infection, eating can be painful so dental checkups are a must. Dental infections can also spread and affect other areas of the body, including major organs like the heart, brain, and lungs.
Many pet owners are surprised to learn that their dog can develop diabetes. It is true, and is why routine blood work is should be done. Dogs with diabetes will need a special diet and exercise regiment, and they also need special medications to prevent damage from occurring.
Issues such as kidney stones and kidney failure can be devastating for an older pet. It can lead to issues with house training as well as their overall health as toxins can build up due to poor kidney functions. So, it is important to always watch for issues with urination.
The liver helps remove toxins and harmful compounds from the body and is essential to your pet’s overall health and wellbeing. Changes in a senior’s dog behavior and activity level could point to a problem with their liver, so be mindful of how your pet acts.
Visible changes that you see in your dog’s eyes is a clear warning sign. You should also watch for things like staggering and bumping into things. Vision problems can lead to problems with behavior and can greatly increase the chances of injury.
How to Detect Health Issues in Senior Dogs
You naturally want your canine companion to be well cared for, and you want to do everything you can to take good care of them as they get older. One of the best things you can do for your pooch is to stay alert to their health and to work closely with your veterinarian to address all their needs. There are three ways you and the vet can work together to take care of your senior dog:
Regular Veterinary Screenings
It is recommended that senior dogs get routine vet care. With a younger dog, you may wait to address because they could go away on their own. With an older dog, waiting to observe health issues could be life-threatening. A small bump on the skin in a young dog could be a bite or an allergy that could be watched and then addressed by the vet if it’s not better in a few weeks. For an older dog, a bump could be the sign of a bad infection or cancer. So, getting regular screenings and checkups is important and any concerning symptoms should be addressed as soon as possible to rule out any serious problems that might be developing.
Careful At-Home Monitoring
Older dogs tend to spend a lot of time in the house, especially when the arthritis kicks in, and they are not as active as they once were. This means you will have to be extra vigilant and watchful for any sings that something might be wrong. A younger dog who is active will let you know when they hurt their leg by whimpering and limping around. An older dog may avoid limping altogether by laying down and not doing anything. You and your family will need to be active and engaged with your senior dog on a daily basis to make sure that they are ok.
Continued Family Education
You and your entire family also have a big responsibility to your senior dog. They rely on you now more than ever to take care of them, protect them, keep them safe. It is important that all members of the family know what they should and should not do with a senior dog. Children especially need to understand how their beloved pooch is changing and how they need to be acting around them now that they are getting older. Help teach the entire family things you learn from the vet and work together to stay educated about the wants and needs of your furry family member.
Problem Areas for Senior Dogs
Aside from the health aspects of aging, there are few problem areas that pet owners need to be aware of, so they can give their senior dog everything they need:
More Sensitive to Extreme Temperature Changes
Older dogs will feel the effects of the cold more than a younger pup will, and the same goes extreme heat as well. Cold weather can aggravate arthritis, and extreme heat can cause overheating and dehydration. Both extremes can prove to be deadly to senior dogs, so always ensure they have what they need to stay warm or cool whenever the weather changes.
Moderate Exercise for Older Dogs
It is important that they get some type of exercise every day so their joints don’t stiffen, so they don’t gain too much weight, and so they do not become bored or depressed by lack of activity. You do not want anything too rough and rowdy, so they do not hurt themselves. You also need to watch for when they are getting tired so you don’t push them too hard.
Specialized Senior Dog Food
Just as there is special food for puppies, there is special food for senior dogs. Be sure to discuss with your vet when and how to change your dog’s food as well as which food they recommend. Not all senior dog food brands are as carefully regulated as others, so be sure to follow the recommendations of your veterinarian and always check for recalls or reported issues from consumers.
Watch Out For Weight Gain
Many older dogs gain weight because they are not active, and their owners do not adjust their feeding routines. Carrying around too much weight can hurt your dog’s joints, heart, and overall health. Changing food, reducing how much you are feeding, and keeping them as active as possible can go a long way in helping them stay fit and at a healthy weight. If your dog is overweight, you may even want to put them on weight loss dog food to help them shed a few of those extra pounds.
Making Your Home Accessible for a Senior Dog
There is a lot that you can do to make your senior dog safe and comfortable in your home. Here are some simple yet vital changes you can make:
Maintain Comfortable Temperatures
Avoid wild fluctuations in temperature between day and night settings and ensure the winters are not too cold and the summers are not too hot. You and your pooch will both be a lot more comfortable and enjoy your time together more.
Take Shorter or Slower Walks
Walks are still very important for senior a dog’s overall health and wellbeing, but they will need to be shorter than the used to be. It might be a good idea instead to take two or three short walks spread out during the day rather than going on just one long walk.
Use Ramps for Stairs and Furniture
Older dogs often have a hard time walking so jumping onto and off of furniture, and climbing stairs can be nearly impossible and even lead to injury. Ramps make it safer and easier for your dog to get to where they wants to be.
Add Mats and Rugs for Slick Floors
Mobility issues are common in older dogs with bone, joint, and muscle issues, and slippery floors can be difficult to walk on. Adding a throw rug or a mat for your dog to lay on can make them more comfortable and make it easier for them to get around. Just remember to use a rug mat or something else to ensure that the rug doesn’t slide when your dog walks on it.
Purchase an Orthopedic Dog Bed
Arthritis, osteoporosis, and other issues can make it hard for your pooch to get comfortable. Special doggy beds with added support and cushions can go a long way in keeping them safe and helping to reduce their pain when they try to lay down.
Switch to a Specialized Senior Dog Food
Dog food made for older dogs is specially designed to be easy for them to digest and will also help them maintain a healthy and manageable weight. Be sure to make the switch slowly and follow vet recommendations to avoid stomach upset. You may also want to start giving them senior dog vitamins to help them stay healthy. Hip and joint supplements can also be useful for dogs who have trouble moving around.
Keep Water and Food Easily Accessible
You may also need to rethink the food and water bowls to make sure your canine family members can easily access them at any time. Going without food or water affects older dogs much more than it does younger and healthier dogs.
End of Life Care for Senior Dogs
Having to face the impending loss of a pet is among the most painful and difficult experiences a pet parent will ever have to face. Not all pets are able to pass away peacefully in their sleep, and in those cases, you will need to make the descision. If your dog has a terminal illness, chronic pain, or something else that drastically reduces their quality of life, euthanasia can be the best option.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. Going to your vet is stressful for many animals, and stress is even harder on senior dogs. If asked, many vets will come to your home and perform the procedure there. That way your dog can be in the comfort of his bed and not an unfamiliar examination room. Having your pet euthanized at home can also give you and your family the the time needed to mourn the loss. In the end, the descision is up to you. There is no right or wrong way to say goodbye to a beloved pet, and you should do what feels best to you.
Pets are a wonderful and valued part of many families. Dogs are more like family members than pets, which makes it all the more difficult to watch them grow old. There will come point in time when you will have a senior dog to take care of and you will need to know what to do to give them the best life possible during their remaining years. With the information you now have, you can be better prepared to take care of your senior dog and give them all the love they deserve at the end of their lives.