Thanks to better resources and healthcare for dogs, their average lifespan has increased over the last few decades. To help your dog lead a long, happy life it’s important to acknowledge when your dog begins to show signs of aging so you can help him stay as healthy as possible. In general, smaller breed dogs are considered seniors at around 10 to 12 years of age, while larger breeds are considered seniors when they reach 7 to 9 years of age. Aging is different in every dog, so consult with your veterinarian for the most specific information about your dog, but here are some general pointers on how to approach caring for your dog as he ages.
While it may be difficult to acknowledge that your dog is getting older, looking for signs of aging in your dog will not only help you make appropriate changes to his diet and lifestyle, but help you identify potentially harmful medical conditions so you can treat them in their early stages. One of the first signs of aging is slowing down. It will take your dog longer to get up and get started from a lying position, longer to climb stairs.
You may notice declining sight or hearing in your dog, graying hair or drying skin, and even some behavioral changes. Dogs can develop separation anxiety as they age and will whine or bark when you leave. Older dogs also become more sensitive to distractions and annoyances such as loud noises. Remember, when you see these changes talk to your vet right away; many physical symptoms can be lessened or even temporarily reversed if you catch them early on.
Aside from making semi-annual visits to the vet and being on the lookout for any changes in behavior, there are certain things you should be especially attentive to when taking care of an older dog. Helping your dog maintain a healthy weight is important throughout his life, and this becomes even more important as your dog ages. Extra weight puts stress on a dog’s body and makes him more prone to arthritis, a painful joint disease. Being overweight also increases a senior dog’s risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. Therefore, in addition to feeding your dog a healthy diet, be sure he gets enough exercise, even if it’s lower-impact exercise.
You should also be attentive to your dog’s dental health. Older dogs may have more sensitive teeth and start to prefer softer foods or play with chew toys less frequently. Therefore, their teeth are not cleaned through chewing the way a younger dog’s teeth are. You can help prevent dental problems such as gum disease by brushing your dog’s teeth at least three times a week. Consult our store staff on finding a soft enough toothbrush and the right kind of toothpaste.
As your dog ages, he may slow down, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun playing together. Exercise is important for dogs at all stages of life; it is tied to a dog's physical, mental, and emotional health. Even as they get older, dogs still need their exercise to benefit their heart, lungs, circulation, digestive system, and joints -- as well as to fight obesity. Compared with younger dogs, however, older dogs need to adjust the type and duration of the exercise they do. Every dog is different in the way he or she ages and the exercise he or she can handle.
You really need to be very observant in assessing your particular dog's abilities, natural inclinations, and current state of health. Keep alert to your dog's being excessively out of breath, or to a drooping head and tail. If your dog coughs or does not get her breath back after five minutes of rest following exercise, have the vet check his heart. A few other basic things to keep in mind are that your dog is better off exercising before he eats and waiting about half an hour after exercise to have a meal. Avoid prolonged exercise; two short walks are less stressful on joints than a long one. You can also find creative ways to help your dog exercise at home in a warm, carpeted area. A few examples are playing “fetch” in a smaller area or doing “roll-overs.”