Caring for an Elderly and Aging Dog
It can be hard dealing with a pet who is getting older. They start losing their sense of hearing and sight, not to mention their teeth. They may also begin to suffer arthritis and tend to need to see the vet more. It can all be troublesome for a loving parent to deal with, especially because we want the best for the dog who's protected the family, raised the kids, and cheered us up when we've had a bad day.
Currently, I have a dog who's about 13 or 14 years old—no one in the family can remember when we got him. He came into our family as a puppy and has had a long and well-loved life. To this day, if you call or yell his name from outside, and if he's on the other side of the house sleeping, he's not going to hear you. In the off-chance that he does hear, he'll probably then have problems trying to find you, not knowing exactly where you are. He has slight arthritis and trouble seeing, but the old man still barks at people who walk in the streets and when the mailman drops by—of course, that's only if he's lying near our other dog, who's also a senior at 11. Otherwise, he'll never know someone is coming towards the house.
Caring for older dogs can be a heartache, especially as they weaken and age. This article will outline the basic care that one should consider when caring for a dog in his geriatric years.
Whether your dog can be considered a senior actually depends on the size. Usually, larger breeds hit their senior years around 6 to 7 years old, whereas smaller breeds generally reach the senior years in the mid teens. Generally, though, if your dog is around 7 years old, they can be considered a senior.
A few things that you can expect include:
- Overall slowing down. You'll begin to notice subtle changes when your dog gets up from laying down for long periods, or when he tries to use stairs. General causes of muscle, bone, and joint concerns can be caused by arthritis and hypothyroidism.
- Graying. Dogs usually gray around the face and muzzle. This is much more noticeable in dogs with darker colored faces.
- Hearing problems. Whether the hearing is completely lost or if there are problems hearing every now and again, consult your vet just to make sure that the problem is caused by old age and nothing more serious.
- Cloudy eyes. Older dogs tend to get a blue-transparent haze over their pupil. This will not have much of an effect on the actual sight, unless cataracts are a concern. If sim you'll need to consult your vet. Remember, though, that cataracts are more of a white haze.
- Muscle atrophy. As dogs age, it's not uncommon for them to suffer some loss of muscle mass usually around the hind legs.
With older dogs, you want to keep a close eye on them, their health, appearance, and overall movement. You will want to consult your veterinarian if you notice any of the following concerns:
- Arthritis pain
- Bad breath or bleeding gums
- Sudden blindness, hearing loss, or head tilt
- Change in weight or appetite
- Change in urine output and overall thirst
- Hair loss, or overall itchy skin (especially if the dog has never really had a skin problem)
- Muscle loss—especially in the head and belly regions (can be a sign of Cushing's disease or masticatory myositis)
- Any cognitive dysfunctions
- Any abnormal behaviors
Making Your Senior Dog Comfortable
When you have a senior dog, the best thing you can really do is to make him comfortable. He's not going to act like his younger self and run around the block with you, much less really want to play fetch. So, what you can do is make him comfortable.
There are actually several different things that you may want to try and consider:
- Keep fresh water on every level or end of your home so that you dog doesn't have to go up and down the stairs or all over the house for it. Also, consider raised bowls for larger dogs. It will reduce the neck and back strain of having to bend down to eat and drink, aiding in overall digestion.
- Cover tile and wood floors with rugs to help them get around your house. Just make sure that you cover the main areas and walkways to prevent them from slipping and potentially causing an injury. You can also prevent slipping and injuries on slippery surfaces by making sure to keep their nails trimmed, as older dogs don't run as much, so their nails don't wear down naturally.
- The lack of exercise will, also, increase obesity risks, which can increase heart disease, diabetes, and even early onset death, so you want to make sure that you give your dog low-calorie and low-fat treats but only occasionally. You also want to avoid feeding him table scraps.
- Definitely purchase senior dog food. They have fewer calories and fats than the adult version. They are also formulated better in regards to the right amount of fiber, sodium, antioxidants, and other additives.
- You want to still walk your senior dog, but make the walks shorter. You may even want to consider a harness instead of a collar to help reduce neck strain.
- Groom frequently, as simple processes like brushing can increase circulation and help your dog's overall skin condition. Regular grooming also gives you the chance to inspect from head to tail, checking for any unusual bumps, sores, or rashes.
- Bring outside dogs indoors during extreme hot and cold weather. Older dogs are more susceptible to health problems. For example, the cold can enhance muscle stiffness and aching joints.
- Use carpeted ramps and stairs to help your dog get onto the couch or bed, if he's allowed to be on the furniture.
- You may want to upgrade your dog's plain old fleece dog bed. You can now find heated dog beds to ease pressure on aching joints and muscles, as well as beds formed to massage your dog as he sleeps and relaxes. Another type you may want to consider if there are incontinence problems are the raised beds that have cotton/mesh material that allows your dog to stay dry if he has an accident. The urine will flow through the bed, and you'll want to put a pan underneath to prevent it from dripping on your floors.
- On that note, consider diapers for dogs with incontinence problems. Also, never yell at a senior dog who has piddled on the floor. Remember that he can't help it. Just clean it up and continue with whatever you were doing.
- Be considerate if your dog is losing his sight. Basically, don't rearrange your house, as your dog no longer has clear eyesight, and the new obstacles can cause him to fall and cause an injury. Even if your dog loses his sight completely, he'll remember the general layout of the house, and shouldn't have any problems getting around.
- You may want to consider blocking access to the upstairs or downstairs portion of your house, depending on which area is the most used. This will prevent any use of the stairs, which will only put joints, bones, and muscles under more strain. Consider baby gates to block off the top or bottom of the staircase.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.