Has your dog been complaining about the pains of growing older? Probably not.
But were you aware that large breed dogs are considered to be in their “senior” years around the age of six and small breed dogs hit their golden years just two short years later?
Your aging dog may be asking for your help in ways that you just don’t recognize.
Knowing how to detect signs of advancing age in your dog is essential to providing the high level of care your furry friend deserves!
Get Your Dog’s Weight Under Control
Weight gain isn’t just a people problem.
According to an April 2008 research paper from the American Veterinary Medical Association Journal, “obesity is the most commonly diagnosed nutritional abnormality in dogs and may affect up to 44% of the pet dog population” and yet most pet owners believe their dog is at a healthy weight.
Be honest with yourself. If your dog can stand to lose a pound or 5, getting the weight off now is better than later.
A senior dog can start to experience joint pain and sore muscles more often. Excess weight exacerbates the problem by putting more stress on joints and making simple things like walking and getting up off the floor harder.
If your senior dog is overweight, we suggest the first thing you do is visit your veterinarian to rule out a medical cause.
If there isn’t one, then getting your dog’s weight under control depends on better nutrition, portion control, and exercise – a simple quality food in, energy out equation.
Make sure your dog is eating the amount of food recommended on the package for their weight and age. Keep in mind that the metabolism of older dogs can start to slow as they age so you may need to reduce the portion size a little to help them achieve their ideal weight.
Packaged dog treats and scraps of people food should be kept to a minimum or even avoided all together.
Improve Their Nutrition
As with people, younger dogs can get away with eating lower quality foods and likely not feel the effects.
As a dog ages, their nutritional needs change and the quality of food they eat matters. Dogs are at the mercy of their owners to provide them with a nutritionally sound diet.
Check out these tips on choosing the best dog food for your senior dog.
If you’re still unsure what you should be feeding your aging dog, or what food is most appropriate for a dog with certain health conditions, make an appointment to speak with your veterinarian.
Maintain (or Create a new) Exercise Routine
Have you ever heard your dog sigh discontentedly as they lie on the floor or the couch? If so, they may be experiencing stiff joints and muscles.
There are several ways to naturally improve your senior dog’s mobility and maintaining some level of activity is one of them.
Staying active helps keep circulation and blood flow to your dog’s joints. It will also help keep their weight in check so there is no undue stress being put on their body.
Complications stemming from a dog’s lack of exercise can also result in physical manifestations such as hip dysplasia or heart problems.
Distressing mental and emotional problems can arise from inactivity as well. Behaviors such as intentional defecation indoors, inappropriate chewing, and excessive digging indoors or out can be serious signs of intense and prolonged depression in dogs which deserve the owner’s immediate attention.
Before starting a new exercise routine with your dog, check with your veterinarian. Ask for ways to increase your dog’s activity based on their needs.
If your dog is used to regular exercise, consider that you may need to decrease the intensity of it as they age. However, that doesn’t mean you should let your old dog do nothing but lay around the house all the time.
It’s still important to give your senior dog plenty of opportunities to be active and entertained.
Check out the article 5 Exercises to Keep Your Dog Feeling Young if you need some ideas.
Watch for Issues with Your Dog’s Teeth and Illness
The best tools for early disease detection are an owner’s sense of sight, smell and touch.
In the morning when you first get up, at night right before your dog goes to bed, or the period immediately following a light bout of exercise (and a drink of cold water!) are optimal times to perform a routine check of your dog’s overall health.
Give your dog a massage by lightly running your hands over their body and running your fingers through their fur. This will help you catch any lumps, bumps, or other things that just don’t feel right.
Make looking in your dog’s mouth part of the routine. Use a flashlight if you have to do a quick check of their back teeth and throat for any cracked or broken teeth or growths.
Lean in and give your dog a little sniff. Take note if your dog smells foul or just different anywhere.
Foul odors emanating from the mouth which may indicate the presence of rotting teeth or diseased gums and skin that smells can indicate an infection or internal illness.
Either way, any new strong odor should be immediately reported to a veterinarian who can properly diagnose and treat the condition.
Help Your Old Dog Out with Grooming
Flexibility in older dogs is often limited and makes self-grooming more difficult.
You can help keep your dog clean by using a combination of brush and flea comb to remove knots, mud, and anything else your dog picked up on his exercising adventure while also ensuring that fleas aren’t using him as a free meal ticket.
This brushing can be combined with the massage mentioned above.
Owners who pet and brush their dogs daily are much more likely to discover growths, lesions or tumors luring on or within the skin as well as suspicious changes to the skin such as redness, dryness, or an unusually rough texture.
Senior dogs are special. They’ve typically given their love and companionship through years of life’s ups and downs.
As your dog ages, you can pay them back for this unwavering devotion by paying special attention to their health and needs.
If you want to help your “good old dog” live a long and enjoyable life, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine.