They say dogs make for the best and the most loyal companions who stick with you through the ups and downs of your life. While this indeed is true, dogs also need the same love and affection that they give to you, and they need you to support them through their ups and downs, especially when they get older.
Senior dog care can be challenging, especially when you see your beloved pet slowly losing their health. However, you must remember that this is the time when your dog needs you the most and that their remaining precious time with you can be prolonged with your love and care.
What is a Senior Dog?
Not all dogs age the same; some may age faster than others. Generally, a dog is considered a ‘senior’ when they are in the last 25% of their life. Large dogs breeds usually have shorter life spans, which results with them reaching their senior dog years earlier when compared to smaller dog breeds.
Smaller dogs breeds like Chihuahuas can live up to 15-18 years, and may not be considered a senior dog till they are 11 to 13 years old. You can take a look here to check a specific breed’s average life span. It helps to remember that keeping your dog active and maintaining a healthy diet is the key in helping your dog enter his or her golden years gracefully with minimal health problems or suffering.
Signs Your Dog is Approaching the Senior Life Stage
When your dog is past half of their life expectancy, you should keep an eye out for these common signs of ageing.
- Changing eating habits, losing interest in food, or generally eating lesser
- Less energy resulting in reduced eagerness to go out, reduced playtime and shorter walks
- Trouble falling asleep and/or finding a comfortable position to lie down
- Losing bladder control and/or house soiling
- Irritability when approached or petted
- Anxiety, often exhibited by pacing, barking or growling
- Lower responsiveness to commands
- Reduced excitement about treats and toys
- Clumsiness and/or disorientation
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Unkempt hair coat despite usual grooming
Before ruling one or multiple of these signs as usual ageing, it is important to consult a veterinarian expert to ensure there isn’t another underlying problem or disease.
Common Health Problems Senior Dogs Face
Unfortunately, there are several health issues senior dogs may face. While none of these are inevitable, some may be unavoidable as your dog ages, and you will have to care for them appropriately.
- Weight loss or weight gain. As dogs age, their metabolism naturally slows down, as does their physical energy and activity. This usually leads to weight gain, which accelerates the ageing process. In some cases, however, weight loss may occur due to changing eating habits.
- Poor eating habits. Ageing dogs usually start eating less. This may be due to their reduced physical activity. However, other concerning reasons may present themselves such as nausea and stomach discomfort. Since mealtimes are usually an enjoyable part of your dog’s routine, these changing eating habits are often lead to your dog receiving inadequate nutrition.
- Dental problems. Just like us, senior dogs require enhanced dental care. Ageing dogs tend to have excessive plaque buildup and cracking or falling teeth. Although not much can be done at a later stage it doesn’t hurt to help delay a senior dog’s dental problems by developing a habit of brushing your dog’s teeth often in the earlier life stages or providing chews that double as dental aids. You can find out more about this in The Best Edible Chews For Your Dog.
- Gastrointestinal problems. Constipation or loose stools is very common problem in senior dogs; even diets that previously suited them could cause digestive problems. We will take a further look at how to solve this later.
- Degenerative diseases/Athritis. Despite a lack of energy and physical activity, arthritis and joint pain may occur. This is most evident from your dog being unable to perform usual physical activities like jumping or climbing the stairs, or showing signs of being in pain when standing up from a lying down position.
- Dehydration. Senior dog care particularly includes watching a dog’s water intake, because older dogs are more likely to become dehydrated due to underlying reason such as the discomfort of moving to the water bowl when arthritis sets in or a fear of having a lack of bladder control.
- Cancer. Research states that 50% of all dogs above the age of 10 are more susceptible to developing cancerous tumors.
- Other health problems may include diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease and heart disease.
Taking Care Of Senior Dogs
While ageing dogs can face a lot of health problems, there are several senior dog care tips and techniques you can follow to make sure you’re doing what’s best for your dog.
Senior dogs will not usually eat like they did all their lives; their eating habits as well as nutritional requirements change as they age. The following should be taken into account when it comes to senior dog care regarding food.
Low calories and low fat. Since their metabolism and activity levels are reduced, senior dogs should be fed diets with lower calories and fats, so as to avoid unwanted weight gain and lethargy. However, some fatty acids like DHA and EPA are essential and must be part of the diet. These can mostly be found in skin and coat supplements.
Fiber and protein. Senior dogs should also be fed more fiber to help fight potential gastrointestinal problems, so adding a prebiotic and probiotic supplement to your dog’s food or offering your senior dog a small amount fruits and vegetables might help. Additionally, despite popular beliefs that older dogs require less protein, it has been proved that a senior dog requires a higher amount digestible proteins when compared to a younger dog. This will help a senior dog maintain muscle mass and maximum energy for as long as possible.
Home-cooked foods. It is often observed that ageing dogs tend to lose interest in regular dry food, which results in loss of nutrition. A great senior dog care tip to help deal with this is to try making home-cooked food. This can make mealtimes exciting for the dog, and give them something to look forward to. Read our post on home cooked diets to learn more about its benefits and if it’s right for you and your dog.
Age-appropriate food formulations. If you prefer to not cook food at home, it is recommended that you switch to dog food suited for your pet’s age. While there are food formulations for senior dogs, you can also use ‘all life stages’ formulas. Remember that now is when it is most important to invest in a high-quality diet. Studies have shown that dog that were fed better quality food tend to live longer lives with less health problems, so don’t be reluctant to spend some money to get the best for your pet. This will be a wise investment which will reduce potential vet bills in the future and help your dog live a longer happier life.
Make eating easier. For older dogs, chewing can be quite the struggle. Some of them may have even lost their teeth! To help with this, it is recommended to go for softer foods such as canned food or hydrated raw food, or to add a tasty liquid like goat’s milk or soup to their soften their regular food.
Condition-specific diet. For dogs with specific health conditions, make sure the diet is vet approved or advised. For example, for dogs suffering from kidney disease, their diet needs to take into account the amount of calcium and phosphorus which can be potentially harmful to the organs.
Supplements. Despite rigorous senior dog care, it may prove difficult to naturally provide all the nutrients a senior dog requires. In such a case, consult your local vet and decide on the types of supplements your dog needs. For example, dogs suffering from arthritis and joint issues can be given glucosamine and chondroitin.
Flavour enhancers and appetite stimulants. While these artificial products are not recommended as first choices, they can be resorted to if nothing else works and a dog just won’t eat their food. We usually suggest natural meal toppers such as Stella & Chewy’s Meal Mixers, or complementary canned dog food like Kakato if you prepare non-raw food.
Ageing dogs undergo several physical changes, which means they won’t be as active as they’ve been all their lives. To keep them active, healthy and interested in physical activity, here are a few steps that can be taken.
- Don’t give up on exercise. Even though your dog will be lethargic, low on energy or just undergoing pain, it is important that you don’t let them completely give up on physical activity. Lower the amount of exercise they get, but make sure they get some. For dogs that have completely stopped exercising, start slow by taking small walks and build your way up.
- Keep them engaged. To keep your dog physically and mentally healthy, give them newer toys that are exciting. Puzzle toys, food puzzles and hidden treats are all great ideas. Take a look at our earlier article for the Best Types Of Dog Toys For Your Furry Friend to get a better understanding.
- Enhance alternative senses. As they grow, some dogs will experience loss of vision or hearing. In such cases, you could retrain them and switch from verbal commands to visual commands, or vice versa. Not only will this help you keep your dog mentally occupied but also prevent unwanted accidents caused usually by a disobedient dog.
- Carry out regular full-body checkups. While these are not needed that frequently earlier in life, make sure you regularly visit your vet and have your dog entirely inspected at least annually. If you are unable to bring your dog to the vet regularly, a simple wellness test kit will allow you to test their urine easily at home.
A Final Word
All in all, senior dog care can be physically and emotionally draining. However, now is the time when your lifelong companion needs you the most. Your involvement, love and care will directly determine their quality of life, and while it may require a lot of patience, it will ensure that your pet spends their last few years happy and as healthy as possible.