Senior dogs have different care requirements than puppies and adult dogs. In order to help your senior dog age gracefully with dignity, be pain-free and keep them happy and healthy, you have to do things differently. To help you maximise your senior dogs’ quality of life; we have compiled a list of seven simple things you must know about caring for your senior dog. We have also included a list of fantastic businesses and products to support you in providing senior pet care.
Number One - Weight Management and Diet for your Senior Dog
Managing your senior pets’ weight is crucial. Keeping a healthy weight can reduce the risk of other health issues associated with advanced age. A massive 54% of domestic dogs are overweight. As your dog get older, their dietary requirements change. With age, your pet’s metabolism decreases. Your senior dog requires their food to do different things now that they are older. For example, senior pets need to maintain their muscle mass, rather than requiring high energy foods to fuel them up for a long run. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight reduces the risk of diseases that can occur in later life. These can include diabetes, arthritis and chronic inflammation.
Your dog is considered a senior from approximately seven years of age. This is slightly younger for large breeds and slightly older for toy breeds. From this age, it is important to incorporate changes into your senior dogs' diet to meet their new requirements. Consult with your vet or a canine nutritionist to work out the most suitable diet for your pet. Feeding a premium senior pet food, a balanced fresh food diet and/or providing supplements can be a great way to support your senior pet’s health and manage their weight.
Number Two – Maintain Oral and Dental Health
Looking after your senior dogs’ teeth and oral health is very important. Did you know PetMD estimate over 80% of dogs suffer poor dental health? Picture this, you have a mouth full of rotting teeth that are causing you a lot of pain, so much pain that you can’t even eat your dinner and if you left this untreated by avoiding your dentist, you are putting yourself at higher risk for getting a really bad infection and becoming extremely unwell. The same thing can happen with your pet!
Heavy tartar and gingivitis cause inflammation in the gums, which can lead to an infection. This infection can allow bacteria to enter your pets' bloodstream and circulate through their body, making them incredibly unwell.
Maintain good dental health for your senior dog with chews, brushing their teeth and dental care at the vet. Teeth become weaker with age, it is never too late to start implementing a dental routine into your pet’s life. Speak with your vet about dental health at your dog’s next appointment, or sooner if you have any concerns. Don’t leave it until it gets really bad and your pet starts showing signs of noticeable pain and discomfort. Checking in and planning a regular dental health schedule for your senior pet is vital! Some procedures can require anaesthetic, which can become dangerous with very elderly pets. If you notice dental concerns, or your vet mentions them to you at your next regular appointment, addressing early is key.
Number Three – Schedule Regular Vet Exams for your Senior Dog
Heading to the vet with your dog, regardless of their age, should be done annually. As your pet gets older, so make sure you keep up with regular appointments. Every 6-12 months take your senior pet to the vet for a general health check. At this appointment the vet may feel your pets’ skin for any lumps and bumps and check their joints for stiffness or loss of movement. Remember one year of a dog’s life equates to seven human years, so keep up with those regular appointments. This is a great time to address any concerns you may have with regards to your senior dog too. Don’t ignore or avoid any concerns such as increased thirst, weight loss or joint stiffness. If any of these concerns present themselves and you don’t already have a vet appointment scheduled, it can be a great prompt to book one in.
Being on top of your pet’s health care is fundamental, the sooner you address concerns with your veterinarian, the sooner they can diagnose and treat any underlying conditions. Your pet might need monitoring in the clinic or at home before a diagnosis can be made, this also takes time. When conditions are caught early, treatment can start early and just like human health care, early intervention can provide better outcomes and shorter treatment times. It is just as important not to ignore any pre-existing conditions your dog has had throughout their life. For example, if your pet has had cruciate ligament surgery, be mindful of arthritis with older age. It’s important not to skip your vet appointments because your vet may notice signs and symptoms of pain that you don’t pick up on because you see your pet every day.
Number Four – Understanding Pain Signs and Symptoms in Senior Pets
Dogs have an invisibility cloak when it comes to their pain, they hide it from us! Therefore, as owners, we have a responsibility to pay close attention to subtle changes. Signs of arthritis and cancer can often go missed because of a dog’s ability to hide pain really well! No dog should suffer from un recognised pain, address it early. Long term pain causes a wind-up effect within your senior pet’s body. Their nerves get so used to feeling pain that even a gentle touch can be over exaggerated as significant and intense pain.
Dogs guard their bodies feeling pain by making changes in their day-to-day life. These are some signs and symptoms that may indicate your senior pet is experiencing pain:
Signs and Symptoms of Pain in Senior Dogs
- Mild lameness or limping after exercise or waking up
- Stiffness after a period of rest or when the weather is cold
- Refusing spontaneous exercise or movement like running up to a door to greet people or to their dinner bowl
- Stopping early on walks and slowing down significantly rather than exploring or sniffing their surroundings
- Refusing to jump into the car, climb steps or jump onto a bed or couch
- Spending more time sleeping than usual
- Behavioural changes like your senior dog appearing grumpy, irritable, lethargic or flinch when stroked and can show signs of aggression
- Becoming withdrawn from the family to avoid being touched in painful areas or being encouraged to exercise when it is uncomfortable for them to do so
The good news is, when you pick up on your pets’ pain, you can help treat and manage it! Medications for pain relief can be given, supplements can be used and canine physiotherapy and acupuncture can help reduce pain. You can make changes in your home like putting rugs on slippery floors. You can also raise your senior dogs' food bowl if they have neck pain or use ramps on stairs. Maintaining gentle exercise on a regular basis can also help ease pain. Shorter daily walks or hydrotherapy can be a great option. Consistent exercise is key, don’t let them sleep all week and take them out of a long hike on a weekend. Monitor your senior dog after exercise and see how they recover. If they appear stiff or painful, reduce the duration of their exercise and consult with your vet.
Number Five – The Importance of Mental Stimulation for Senior Pets
Keeping your senior pet’s mind busy and engaged is just another important part of their health. Buying them new enrichment toys and encouraging mental stimulation can help promote the health of their brain. Change out or rotate your senior dog’s toys regularly, and teach them new and basic tricks. When you provide change to their routine it makes your dog think, and this can help reduce the occurrence of canine dementia.
Including your dog in family interactions, putting them in the car when you go for a short drive or exploring a different part of your yard are also fantastic mentally stimulating activities. You might find, with age, teaching your pet sign language for their basic skills, like sit, drop, look and stand not only can protect their mental ability to learn and keep them interactive, but if they lose hearing in later senior years they will still understand what you are trying to tell them.
Number Six - Common Health Concerns to Monitor for Senior Pets
Canine cognitive dysfunction:
Is an age-related cognitive decline. People might also refer to it as a senior pet becoming senile or having dementia. This condition affects your pet’s mental processes of perception, memory, learning and awareness. It change the way they interact with new environments, people and other dogs compared to how they did before. Canine cognitive dysfunction is incredibly common, affecting up to 68% of dogs by the time they turn 15 years old. Not only is it very common, it’s also significantly underdiagnosed because owners often assume the behavioural changes that are common with this condition are just normal changes that happen with age. In a 2018 study, it was found that only 1 in 7 cases of canine cognitive dysfunction were diagnosed at regular vet appointments. The best way to help protect your pets’ brain is to provide mental stimulation.
It is common for older pets to develop cataracts, even if they had perfect eye health when they were younger. Monitor how your pet interacts with their surroundings. You might notice them having a harder time getting around at night, progressing to lack of sight during the day. You may notice them bumping into walls and furniture, difficulty jumping on and off the couch and tripping or falling when walking near gutters or steps.
It is not uncommon for some pets to lose their hearing ability with age, just like people. If you notice your pet appears to be ignoring you, not coming when called and no longer running to a packet or food sounds like they use to, you should get their hearing checked out by your vet. Do not leave your pet un supervised or unattended outdoors, if they have hearing loss, because they won’t hear dangers like cars, other dogs, or small children. They might become easily startled and react with aggression.
Arthritis in older dogs is very common and can be a result of just living a happy and active life as a puppy and adult dog, but it can also be exaggerated by conditions like diabetes, obesity and past injuries. The most common form of arthritis in pets is osteoarthritis, which can also be known as degenerative joint disease and affects as many as 1 in 5 dogs. Arthritic pain can be managed with the same methods mentioned in understanding pain signs and symptoms.
Don’t rush to scold an older pet who is urinating or defecating in the house. Even if your pet has been toilet trained, if you notice puddles of urine around the home, your senior dog is not trying to be naughty. Incontinence is a very real part of aging and a lot of dogs experience it as they get older. It’s important to see your vet to get a diagnosis of incontinence in your pet and to rule out any other issues like UTIs, kidney disease or diabetes. With a diagnosis you can work on ways to help improve your pet’s quality of life like using a medical grade pet nappy, and trying supplements for good bladder health.
Number Seven – Adapt to Your Senior Dogs' Changing Needs
As our pet’s change in age, we need to adapt to their changing needs. The normal aging process, plus other conditions associated with age can mean our senior pets need a little more support around the home. We have mentioned some changes in this blog already, like raising food bowls and putting rugs on slippery floors. You can make adaptations like the following to provide optimal care for your dog:
- For eyesight, don’t change the layout of furniture in your home, this can confuse an older vision impaired pet.
- For reduction in hearing, be patient if they come to you slowly when called.
- Putting a jacket on if their coat is thinning, even in mild cold weather.
- Cutting their nails regularly and grooming them. Senior dog’s nails can become overgrown easily, maintaining nail length can reduce any pain in their feet as a result of overgrown nails.
- Give them a comfy place to sleep, loss of muscle mass can make sleeping on hard surfaces painful so a soft and supportive bed can make a significant difference to their pain levels and comfort.
- Supporting their walking with a supportive harness, sling or pram
- Use tools like pet ramps, harnesses, pet nappies and other health and hygiene tools to care for their needs.
Great Recommendations for Products to Assist in Senior Dog Care
We love supporting great businesses, so here are some fantastic senior pet essentials to help adapt to changes and great brands that sell them. Note: some of these recommendations are specific to location.
- Orthopaedic dog bed - Pawpedics
- Travel ramp or pet steps - 4Paws Dog Ramps
- Interactive toys & Plush toys - Laila and Me
- Supplements for joint health - 4cyte
- Dog brush and grooming tools - Kong Zoom Groom
- Pet hygiene and nappies - Dundies
- Pet nutritionist - Maggies Dog Wellness Canine Nutrition Consultation
- Support Harnesses - Ginger Lead (Ginger Lead products can be found in Australia by searching Ginger Lead on Google)
- Dog Toothbrush Manual - AFP pet toothbrush kit from world for pets
- Dog toothbrush ultrasonic - Emmipet Ultrasonic Pet Toothbrush
- Animal acupuncture - On Point Animal Acupuncture
- Natural Dog Dental Chews - Laila and Me
- Pet Urine Pads - Dundies Puppy Pads