How to care for your ageing pet dog

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Humans in good health are generously granted half a century to prepare for the effects of ageing. Spare a thought for your beloved ageing pet dog.  Depending on the size of your dog, signs of ageing can kick in from as early as five years. Your dog is dependent on you to fulfil their physical needs as they age. In this article, we’ll run through the signs that indicate your dog is ageing.  We’ll also share ideas on how to support your beloved canine buddy through their senior years.

The 3 essentials for caring for your ageing pet dog

To maximise enjoyment of our senior years as we age, we need to regularly monitor and tweak:

  • a healthful diet tailored to our physical activity and health needs.
  • an exercise routine that is friendly on our ageing bodies. It also needs to be sufficient to maintain our best possible cardiovascular, joint and muscle condition.
  • preventative health tests and health check visits – medical, cognitive, mental and dental.

Not surprisingly, exactly the same lifestyle adjustments apply to your ageing pet dog.

What to expect as your pet dog ages

A common calculation is that dogs age at seven human years, per year of your dog’s life. This figure is for small to medium sized dogs. A larger breed of dog, will hit the equivalent of our human 50 years from five years onward.

Of course, these are just numbers. Here are some of the signs that will tell you that your dog has started his or her senior stage of life:

  • Grey hair around their nose, jaws and eyes.
  • Less active.
  • Showing signs of tiring during routine walks or swims.
  • Weight gain.
  • A little slower to get up when lying down.

If you’ve started noticing some of these signs, book in to your local veterinarian for a health check up. It will be a good opportunity to learn more about how to support your ageing pet dog based on expert advice.

Signs from your ageing pet dog that need intervention

As your dog moves into his or her later years, sadly their physical and cognitive health will deteriorate at some stage. Some of the symptoms can be managed with some early intervention.

Here are some symptoms to watch for, along with suggestions that may help your pet age in the best possible comfort. In all cases, check in with your vet for expert advice.

Rough, hard elbow callouses

Callouses on dogs elbows are very common in older, heavier dogs. A good orthopedic dog bed that cushions your dog’s elbows may be just the kind of comfort your dog would ask you for, if they could.

Getting pudgier through weight gain

As your dog ages, their metabolism and activity levels may be progressively dropping. If they are still eating the same portions and types of food that they were in their youth, its time for change. It may be time to adjust their nutrition intake to match their energy output. Obesity in older dogs is common for this very reason.  Obesity in dogs can have health effects equivalent to those we know about in obesity in humans – heart conditions, diabetes, organ deterioration and joint conditions.

Quality of nutrients is the focus as the need for quantity of kilojoules decreases. For example, their need for fatty acids for good joint health increases as they age. Seek advice from your veterinarian or pet food specialist to adjust their diet to suit their life and health stages.

Getting thinner through weight loss

Weight loss in later years of a dog’s life can be a symptom of one of many age related conditions. Unexplained weight loss is always a reason to seek veterinarian advice. Given an ageing dog’s activity levels and metabolism is likely to progressively reduce, weight loss needs intervention.

Of course, if the weight loss is intended because your pet dog has been getting chubby, it may be a positive sign. Find out from your veterinarian the weight range your dog should fall within at their current age, and manage their weight around this recommendation.

Tiring earlier from regular walks or swims

Just like us, older dogs’ physical strength and cardiovascular fitness can be affected negatively as they age. Try changing their exercise routine. Rather than planning one long walk or swim each day, try going for short intervals, a number of times each day.

If your gorgeous dog has suddenly – rather than progressively – started fatiguing earlier than usual, it could be a sign of a temporary, passing ailment.  You know yourself how a cold or flu can knock your fitness. However, a sudden reduction in endurance could also be a sign of an age related canine condition.  If in any doubt, book in your dog to visit your local vet.

Less interested in food

If you have a Labrador or Golden Retriever that starts to show a disinterest, or reduced interest, in food you’ll know that is completely out of character. Yes, your author has a five year old Golden Retriever nicknamed ‘Hoover’ because of her ability to vacuum up the smallest dust particle of food.

Regardless of breed, if your pet dog is showing signs of reduced appetite, book in an appointment with your veterinarian. Hopefully it is a minor and temporary ailment, but reduced appetite can be a symptom of many age related conditions in dogs.

Increased water intake or increased urination

Diabetes, kidney disease, bladder stones and bladder infection are all conditions that older dogs can suffer from. If you notice your ageing dog drinking more than usual, or urinating more frequently than usual – or suffering from incontinence – it’s time to book in to see your dog’s vet.

Sensory decline

If you notice that your dog is becoming less responsive to you calling their name, or responding to a command, it may be time to book in to your vet and have their hearing investigated. The same intervention is required if your dog’s sight appears to be deteriorating. Cloudy pupils can be a sign of cataracts. Early intervention may save their vision, and prevent glaucoma.

Chewing appears to be a challenge

Any changes in how your dog is chewing their food can indicate their dental health – such as tooth decay, an abscess, tooth damage or gum disease – may be causing them discomfort. Open their mouth and check there isn’t something lodged in the roof of their mouth, or in their gums, that is the cause of the discomfort.

Bad breath, bleeding gums and disappearing gums can all be signs that indicate that dental attention is needed. Intervention in this case, is booking in an appointment with your local veterinarian for an expert assessment and dental health plan.

Trouble with number two’s (aka constipation)

If your older dog appears to be having trouble with mobilising their bowel movements, talk to your vet about how to increase their dietary fibre intake. If the weather is warmer, constipation can be a sign of dehydration, so ensure that your dog always has fresh water close by. Unfortunately, constipation can also be a sign of one of a number of age related diseases so always best to check in with your vet.

A usually shiny coat that is looking shabby and dull

Skin conditions can affect how your ageing pet dog’s coat appears. Check your dogs skin for signs of dryness. The addition of fatty acids in your dog’s diet is a great way to maintain healthy skin and a glossy coat. Flaxseed oil is increasingly being added to quality dog food products for this very reason. Glucosamine has also been shown to contribute not only to better joint health, but also skin and coat condition.

Your local pet groomer or veterinarian will be able to offer expert advice on how to address a dull coat or skin conditions.

Early diagnosis and intervention is the key

Unfortunately, there are many more signs and conditions associated with an ageing pet dog. We’ve just covered some of these.

The key to maintaining the best possible health for your older dog is in increasing the frequency of veterinary visits. As with us, early detection mostly always results in a better prognosis.

Increasing the frequency of grooming of your ageing dog, will not only enhance your unique bond but will enable you to pick up any changes in physical condition sooner.

Just like us, managing our senior years well simply means making some lifestyle changes as early as possible.  As a devoted dog lover, the best thing you can do for your dog in their senior years is to commit to ramping up your care routine. It’ll be good for both of you!

Resources and links to useful ageing dog care information

Calculate your pet’s age in human years: Pet Age Calculator

Senior pet care: RSPCA > Health and Behaviour > Senior pet care

Tips for caring for senior dogs: Pet MD > Dog > Care > Older Dogs


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