As your dog gets older, there are important factors to consider for your senior furry friend's health and happiness. Our Los Angeles County vets explain senior dogs, their needs, and what you can do to help your canine companion throughout their golden years.
Senior Dogs & Aging
You might have heard the common notion that 1 human year equals 7 dog years, which is often used to estimate your dog's life stages and how long they might live. However, it's a bit more complex than that. Several factors, like your dog's breed and size, influence how quickly they age.
Generally speaking, smaller dog breeds tend to age more slowly compared to larger ones. To determine when your dog is considered a senior, you can use these rough guidelines: Small breeds typically reach senior status around 10-12 years of age, while medium-sized breeds do so at about 8-9 years old. Large and giant breeds, on the other hand, are considered seniors at approximately 6-7 years old.
Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs
It's likely that you will start to notice some differences in your pet as they grow older. Physical, mental, and behavioral changes are all par for the course when it comes to your dog growing older. Some of the most common signs of aging in dogs don't need veterinary attention - such as greying of their muzzle - but pet parents should keep a lookout for signs that a visit to their vet's office may be needed. Some of these include:
- Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
- Poor or worsening hearing/vision
- Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
- Mental dullness
- Dental disease and tooth loss
- Loss of muscle tone
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function
If you notice these signs in your older dog, schedule a check-up with your vet. Regular wellness exams for senior dogs allow your vet to detect and treat geriatric conditions early. Your vet will also evaluate your senior dog's diet and mobility, offering recommendations for adjustments that can benefit your pet.
As dogs age, it's wise to have regular vet check-ups, including annual or biannual exams. Senior dogs need to undergo yearly blood work. This helps ensure their overall health by checking their white and red blood cell counts, as well as their kidney and liver function. It's an easy way to detect diseases early.
Caring For Your Senior Dog
Your dog's nutritional needs are likely to change as they get older. Senior dogs tend to become less active, which can lead to weight gain and health issues like heart problems and joint pain.
Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your dog's diet needs to be adjusted, which could mean watching your dog's daily calorie intake or switching to a food that is specifically formulated for weight loss.
There is also a range of prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs that are targeted to the various health conditions that senior dogs experience. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.
A good diet benefits your dog physically and may also help their mental function as they age. Like humans, dogs can develop cognitive problems, but feeding them food rich in omega-3 fatty acids and ensuring they get enough exercise might help keep their minds sharp.
Exercise (Physical & Mental)
Just like humans, keeping your aging dog both physically and mentally active is crucial for their well-being. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine can help your furry friend maintain a healthy weight and keep their joints in good shape.
It's important that you pay attention to your dog's comfort and abilities when it comes to exercise. If you notice that your dog is having issues with the long walks or runs in the park that they used to love, try to take them for shorter and more frequent walks if you can. Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks can also be signs of health issues such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. So be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible to make sure that your pet gets the treatment they need.
In addition to physical exercise, senior dogs also need mental stimulation. It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks or introduce them to puzzle games or toys that challenge their minds. These toys often hide kibble or treats, making them enjoyable for your furry friend. You can find a variety of options in pet supply stores and online.
Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable
Aside from ensuring they are receiving adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can consider doing to help your aging four-legged friend live out their golden years comfortably:
- Orthopedic dog bed, heated dog bed (or heating pad/mat set to low heat under a blanket in their sleeping area) for dogs with joint pain or stiffness
- More carpeting around a home with tile, laminate, or wood floors can reduce slipping or tripping hazards for your older dog (some dogs also do well with dog socks that have non-slip soles)
- Pet gates (or baby gates) can be placed at the top or bottom of stairs to prevent tripping or falling hazards.
- Improve accessibility with dog ramps to help your pet go up and down the stairs, on furniture, or into cars; elevating their food and water bowls can also help with neck and back pain.
- If your dog has vision issues, seeing at night will be harder for them; some nightlights around the home will help them navigate.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.