Written by Caz Irving –
Taking care of your dog in their senior years
It may come as a surprise to learn that larger breeds having reached the age of five are considered to have entered the senior stage of life. During this stage of life, your dog’s needs are changing, but much of this change will have gone unnoticed. This is the time of life when several conditions are more likely to occur so you should pay extra attention to your dog’s needs.
Some older dogs spend more time asleep, combined with stiff joints it is easy to understand the importance of providing a soft padded bed. If your dog sleeps upstairs, it may be worth getting them used to sleeping downstairs. Avoiding stairs late at night will be kinder on the joints and take the additional strain off the back.
Older dogs can also become wobbly on their legs, especially if they have arthritis. If you have many ceramic tiles at home then using non-slip rugs can help avoid slips and falls.
Old age may be the start of poor eyesight. Help your dog by keeping the home environment the same, try not to move furniture around too much.
Many older dogs seem forgetful or confused; they often lose their normal house training habits and can appear short-tempered. Although these are common do not accept them as inevitable, there is a lot that can be done to improve the quality of your dog’s life and reduce the signs. Other signs of brain ageing are getting lost on walks, restless at night and not greeting you when you get home. Special diets and medications are available to improve many of these behaviours.
Although dental problems can happen at any age, they are by far the most common disorder in a senior dog. Signs to look for are bad breath, brown teeth, dribbling, rubbing the face or mouth, swelling on the face, especially under one eye, bleeding gums and a poor or reduced appetite. If you notice any of these ask you vet for a dental check up. Treating gum disease early can reduce the risk of kidney and heart disorders. Encouraging your older dog to chew will help keep his teeth clean, there are special dental toys and rawhide dental chews available that keep both teeth and gums healthy.
Keep your dog looking their best by daily grooming; this also allows you to do daily checks making it much easier to spot problems early. Regular brushing stimulates the skin, improves blood flow and reduces the build up of dead hair and skin. Using a good quality dog shampoo will hydrate the skin and reduce skin bacteria.
Exercise is very important; to not only maintain physical fitness but also to provide mental stimulation. If you confined older dogs for long periods, they become depressed and withdrawn from their surroundings. Try not to save all the weeks’ activity and exercise for great long walks at the weekend. Regular, short walks will result in a fitter, happier dog. Excessively long periods of exercise may cause more problems than it eases. Older dogs are also much more susceptible to heat stresses.
It is also a good idea to switch your dog’s food to a special senior diet, ask your vet for recommendations if you are unsure.
As with puppies and adult dogs it is still very important to keep all vaccinations, flea and worm control up to date
You can’t stop your dog from getting older, but regular veterinary check-ups, a good diet and a routine health care programme will go a long way to ensuring they live a long and healthy life.