Caring for your dog as they age can be vastly different from taking care of your dog when they are younger. When caring for an older dog it helps to know what health conditions and behaviors to look for in order to prevent health problems from needlessly escalating.
These minor changes in how you care for your senior dog will help improve the quality of life for your dog as well as make your life simpler. It is important to know that larger dog breeds tend to age faster than smaller breeds. A great dane will be approaching old age at year 5-6 while a Corgi is what we would consider middle aged by 5-6 years. Not in every case, but in most cases bigger dog breeds have a shorter average lifespan than a smaller dog.
Some breeds are more predisposed to certain diseases than other breeds and knowing this information is helpful because it gives you an idea of warning signs and symptoms to possibly look out for. Also, early detection of diseases makes it easier for a veterinarian to successfully treat the disease.
In general larger breeds are more prone to hip dysplasia but almost every dog has a disease they are more susceptible to getting. For example, Labradors are more likely to develop bone cancer and dachshunds commonly develop epilepsy. Check out Dog Time for a great guide on many different breeds of dogs and what health problems they are likely to develop.
Why We Love Our Older Dogs
Adopting older dogs is great because they typically require less exercise, suffer from fewer behavioral issues, and come to you already potty trained. For these reasons, they are a particularly good choice for people adopting their first dog. Old dogs are also normally better with children and more patient than younger dogs. Older dogs still have so much love to give and they make a great loving addition to any family.
Common Health Problems All Dogs Face
As dogs age, diseases and medical condition will inevitably start emerging.
These can include:
- heart disease
- kidney/urinary tract disease
- liver disease
- joint or bone disease
Warning Sign to Look Out For
Often times before cancer or other serious diseases set in, warning signs will manifest in your dog. It takes a vigilant eye to detect these problems early before they progress out of control.
Most warning signs can provide insight into the underlying cause. For example, increased spotting/urination accidents in the house, increased thirst, and difficulty urinating indicate a possible urinary tract problem or kidney disease. For these reasons, it is important to know what health problems your dog's breed are most predisposed to getting.
Some of these early warning signs include:
- Chronic pain
- Difficulty moving
- Lack of appetite
- Labored breathing
- Constant whimpering
- Incontinent - cannot control where he/she goes to the bathroom
- Unusual shedding
- increased reaction to sounds
- Increased vocalization
- Decreased interaction w/humans
- Increased irritability
- Decreased response to commands
- Increased aggressive/protective behavior
- Decreased self-hygiene/grooming
What You Can Do to Make Sure Your Dog Stays Healthy
Take Your Dog to the Vet More Frequently
Dogs age faster than humans. Because of this, it is a good idea to at least have semi-annual visits to the vet. Vet appointments include many of the same routine checks that younger dogs receive but may also include additional blood work, dental care, and other examinations.
It is also very important to keep your dog up to date on all vaccinations. Only a professional veterinarian will be able to address any symptoms or warning signs your dog may be exhibiting and accurately diagnose the underlying issues.
Watch What You Feed Your Dog
The diet of a dog plays a huge role in the dogs overall health. In the last decade, a growing market for healthier dog food has emerged. Some companies make dog food that is specifically created for older dogs by including ingredients dogs need more of in their old age. Some foods will also include ingredients that are easier to digest. The first step in keeping your older dog active is a healthy diet. If you are unsure of where to begin it might be a good idea to consult with your veterinarian.
Make Sure Your Dog Maintains a Healthy Weight
Extra pounds on older dogs means more stress on their body, including joints and internal organs. Extra weight will also lead to a decrease in physical activity which will only worsen the health of your dog.
Furthermore, overweight dogs have a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, skin disease, and cancer according to the Pet Owners Association. For these reasons, it is important to be observant of your dog’s body weight. Also, pay attention to any sudden drop in body weight which can be a sign of a more serious disease.
Make Sure Your Dog Gets In Some Physical Activity
You don’t need to go out and buy a treadmill for your dog. All you need to do is make sure your dog gets some physical activity to help maintain mobility and quality of life. Even 15 minutes of light to moderate physical activity for a dog can help the dog stay lean and maintain muscle and bone mass.
This physical activity needs to be catered specifically to the breed of dog you have. If you have a large breed dog then walking your dog around the block is probably just a warm-up, however, a brisk 10-minute walk is probably enough to tire out a Chihuahua.
As with people, it is best to gradually begin exercise to see what your dog is comfortable with. These are older dogs we are talking about so they don’t need to be running full speed for 30 minutes straight. Most dogs only require a little bit of activity. Let’s be honest, how difficult is it to take your dog for a 5-10 minute walk every day. I'm sure you and your dog could both benefit from it!
Special Accommodations for Old Dogs
Your senior dog is not as mobile as they used to be. Maybe they have arthritis, or maybe they have a lot of ‘accidents’ in the house. There are ways to prevent some of these things and make life easier for your dog and yourself.
Getting softer bedding (especially for dogs with arthritis) is the number one thing you can do for your dog to make their life more comfortable. If you have hip pain and arthritis then try sleeping on a hard floor and see what that is like for your joints. A comfortable dog is a happy dog. For a small price you can greatly improve the comfort and quality of life of your dog.
Letting Your Dog Outside More Frequently for Bathroom Breaks
Older dogs can sometimes require more frequent bathroom breaks. If your dog does not have easy access to outside then you will want to consider letting your dog outside more. If you have a yard and a small dog you should also consider installing a doggy door in one of your doors. Check out Cares article about what to expect with your dog and bathroom breaks.
Moving Bedding & Food to One Floor
This is a great tip if you live in a multi-story home. If you can avoid having the food on a separate floor from your dogs living area than you will save the dog painful trips up an down the stairs. Older dogs with hip issues have overall mobility problems and stairs are exceptionally difficult for them. Small things like rearranging where the dog's food and crate are can be very helpful in improving your dogs quality of life.
Don’t Forget to Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean
Poor oral hygiene for your dog is directly linked to an increased risk of developing liver abscesses, heart valve problems, sepsis, and so much more. All it takes is a dental cleaning with your veterinarian once a year to really make a difference. There are some great chewies like the Denta Pup that also help remove plaque from teeth.
Stay On Top of Parasite Control
As dogs get older, their immune systems become weaker which means that potential health risks caused by ticks, fleas, and worms are greater. All these problems can be easily avoided by having your dog vaccinated and scheduling checkups with the vet. Don’t let something minor compromise your dog’s health.
People love their dogs and want the best for them. By following a few simple rules your dog can live a long healthy life. If you are interested in learning more about dog behavior and training your dog to be more obedient I highly suggest you take a look at That Mutt Dog Blog.
What We Can Do For You
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