There is a wide breed variation in what constitutes older age as generally speaking, small dogs tend to live the longest, while large and giant breeds have relatively short lifespan (a Great Dane is considered ‘old’ at six). But whatever the breed, there’s no reason why your dogs twilight years shouldn’t be just as rewarding as the rest, with a few simple tweaks to his/her lifestyle.
An obvious one but regular checkups are a definite must for older dogs. Vaccinations, worming and flea treatments are still just as important during your dog’s senior years. In fact, they are even more important as their immune system may not be as efficient and these preventative measures are vital to keep your older dog in good health.
Healthy teeth and gums
Older dogs can be more prone to gum disease and plaque build up. Check your dog’s teeth and gums regularly to check for any abnormalities and continue with regular visits to your vet to maintain good oral care.
Understanding the changing nutritional needs of your senior dog is one of the most important things you can do. In general, dogs of seven years and older (depending on breed) start taking life a bit easier and, as a result, their nutritional needs can begin to change. The older they get, generally the less active they are, therefore slowing down the metabolism so less calories are needed. However, high quality, easy to digest protein becomes more important than ever, to help maintain overall body condition.
A good senior diet provides concentrated, high quality protein, low fat, and easy to digest carbohydrates for energy. Key minerals support ageing joints, and vitamins, along with protein, help support the aging immune system.
However, if your dog appears reluctant to eat, you should always check with your vet that there is not an underlying medical problem. A few changes to feeding regimes may also encourage food intake in older dogs including feeding little and often as smaller meals can be easier to digest, varying textures and flavours, and warming the food.
Healthy skin, coat and nails
Giving your elderly dog a bath is a great chance to give them additional loving care and attention, especially if they love bath time! Dog groomers often offer the facility for a hydro-bath too, which is a soothing water treatment for arthritic joints. Nails that previously were worn down by activity may overgrow; become uncomfortable or if ignored completely grow back around into the paw-pad. If you aren’t comfortable with clipping your dog’s toenails ask your vet to trim them down.
A warm soft bed goes a long way for an older dog with sore joints. For ultimate comfort make sure the bed is in a quiet, draft free location, perhaps next to a radiator in winter or keep them toasty with a wheat bag/hot water bottle. Dogs with arthritic joints should not be encouraged to jump down from high surfaces, i.e the bed -so you may need to lift a small dog in and out of the car, or for larger dogs provide a ramp/steps. It’s also helpful to ensure food and water are within easy reach and don’t require trips up and down stairs or long distances.
Despite any joint problems your dog may have, it is still important to make sure they get some exercise. This will help stop their joints from seizing up completely and the more weight they keep off, the easier it will be for them to move around. A daily routine, with short bursts of activity throughout the day is beneficial to your dog’s physical, mental and emotional health, providing comfort and reassurance.
Sight and hearing loss
A reduction/ loss of sight and/or hearing will make your dog more sensitive to sudden movement and loud noises. It’s a good idea to make everyone in the family (especially children) aware of this so that they know to be gentle around them.
Lots of psychological changes take place as your dog ages so its important to try and be sensitive to the adjustments your dog is going through. Daily care of your older dog requires patience and adjustment on your part too. You will notice over the years that your dog cannot do the things they once used to do with ease and this mean creating and maintaining a new routine suitable for your dog. Your loving care and commitment really helps create a great quality of life during these senior years.