Gray hair, creaky bones and lots of midday naps...aging happens to the best of us and our dogs are no exception. During this time, many of his basic needs, from diet to exercise, will begin to change. Dogs are very good at hiding their health problems so it’s our responsibility to keep an eye on our senior dogs to ensure that we're adjusting his routine to match changes in his body and immune system. Routine exams, preventive medicine and adjustments to your dog’s lifestyle can help your pooch stay healthy even as the years creep up. These tips will help you understand what it takes to keep your senior dog happy and healthy for years to come.
1. Know When is Your Dog is Considered "Senior"While each dog reaches “seniorhood” at a different age, most canines become seniors between 7 and 10 years old. Different sized dogs age at varying rates, with larger dogs reaching senior status much sooner than smaller dogs. Ask your vet about when your dog’s needs may begin to change.
2. Watch for Common Senior IssuesAs your dog ages, you and your vet will begin looking for specific issues that become more prevalent.
- Kidney disease
- Cognitive disorders
- Intestinal problems
- Prostate disease
- Dental disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Cancer (especially testicular or breast cancer)
- Liver disease
- Vision problems
3. Schedule Regular Wellness ExamsRegular health checkups are always essential but they become increasingly important as dogs grow older. Most experts agree that senior dogs should be seen at least once every six months. The purpose of frequent exams is to check for three things:
- The state of your dog’s health and longevity.
- Detect any illnesses at their earliest stages.
- Identify and control potential health risks.
- CBC (complete blood count)
- CHEM screen (liver and kidney function)
- Blood pressure
- Heartworm blood test
- Fecal test
- Thyroid function testing
4. Consistently Monitor Your Senior Dog’s HealthMany of the illnesses that commonly plague senior dogs are obvious even to the untrained eye. So it’s important that you monitor changes in your dog’s health between regular vet visits. If any of the following signs present themselves, contact your vet immediately.
- Incontinence (sometimes evidenced by accidents in the house)
- Increased vocalization
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Changes in appetite, water intake, or urination
- Shortness of breath or other difficulty breathing
- Stiffness or limping
- Uncharacteristic aggression or other behavioral changes
5. Watch Their WeightUnexplained fluctuations in your dog’s weight may be an early sign of an underlying disease. Weight management itself can be a huge factor in your dog’s health. Obesity in dogs increases the risk of developing arthritis and a number of other diseases.
6. Adjust Your Dog’s NutritionFoods designed for senior dogs often have less fat, but not lower protein levels. Ask your vet to recommend a senior dog food formula for your dog. Smaller, more frequent meals are often easier on a senior dog’s digestive system. You may also want to adjust your bathroom routine, giving your dog more frequent opportunities to go outside. Size typically determines the age at which you should shift your dog to a senior-friendly diet.
- Small breeds (dogs weighing less than 20 pounds) at 7 years old
- Medium breeds (21 to 50 pounds) at 7 years old
- Large breeds (51 to 90 pounds) at 6 years old
- Giant breeds (91 pounds or heavier) at 5 years old