How to Care for Senior Dogs: The Definitive Guide （2019）
This guide will introduce everything you need to know about how to care for senior dogs, with some real experience shared.
As dogs grow older, their needs change.
By staying alert to what your dog is trying to tell you, you can keep abreast of the side effects of ageing to help you make sure your dogs are as comfortable as possible as they move into their later years.
Dogs are our best friends and being in their company is a privilege and a joy, but unfortunately, there are downsides to any relationship.
With dogs, these tend to relate to illnesses and ailments and as they grow older these are bound to become more prevalent.
Sometimes there is not much that can be done, as I discovered when my Chocolate Labrador Otto was struck down with virulent kidney cancer.
On his 11th birthday in 2013, the vet said he had the teeth of a five-year-old and he had the energy and sprightliness to match. Sadly, his demise was fast and two months later he was dead.
But hopefully, you will be given more time with your dog as he or she starts to age.
What is the Age Range of Senior Dogs?
When a dog starts to age it tends to hasten relatively quickly.
The majority of dogs start their senior years when they are about seven years old. This can happen sooner with the larger breeds. And it can also occur later if the dogs are kept fit and healthy.
The first thing you may notice is that your dogs start to slow down.
They may also begin to gain weight and show signs of being less alert than they once were. Your dog will drop a wealth of hints indicating that they are not able to be as active as they once were.
When Seeing And Hearing Become Weak
If there are any indications that your dogs are ignoring you, it may be because they aren’t able to hear you calling as well as they used to. If he or she is not reacting to any balls you throw it may be that he or she can’t see the ball.
I had another Chocolate Labrador called Dallas(see above picture), who absolutely adored when we used a battery-powered device to throw balls for the dogs.
But slowly her enthusiasm noticeably waned and eventually, she just stopped running after the balls unless she was given extreme encouragement.
As I was later to learn, it was the first indication she was coming down with what turned out to be a malignant thymoma in her chest. She was about to celebrate her eighth birthday.
But when she finally went in for a surgical operation to have it removed, she passed away on the operating table having suffered a cardiac arrest. It was in tragic circumstances like this that we learned how to memorialise our pets.
Too often, owners don’t spot signs that their dogs are losing their sight or their hearing or suffering from something worse until the problem is too severe.
Early signs may appear as aggression, for example, when the dog is touched without noticing the person approaching and reacts out of defensive surprise. It may well also be that your touch triggered some feeling of pain in an arthritic or sensitive area.
If and when a dog starts to lose its hearing, a way of preparing for a smoother transition to deafness is to begin using hand signals instead of your voice to indicate your commands.
When a dog gets to know hand signals, it will not matter so much that it can’t hear what you’re commanding.
Many of the dogs that are hard of hearing still detect vibration, so their attention can be harnessed with the use of hand claps, knocking on hard surfaces or by applying other strategies for causing reverberations.
When a dog’s vision is becoming impaired you may be aware of it when your dog is more clumsy, or shows reluctance to move around, or startles easily.
There are strategies that may prove useful. Clutter should be cleared from the floors where your dog tends to go. Various areas can be marked with different scents or a range of textured rugs so it’s much easier for the dog to recognise individual rooms.
Dangerous areas like pools and ponds should be blocked off, and familiar objects like furniture and food and water dishes are best kept in the same place because dogs are creatures of habit.
She/He May be Anxious All Day Long
If your dog shows signs of finding it harder to handle stress it’s a common sign of the ageing process. You may find signals of separation anxiety become increasingly prevalent.
I know one ageing Labrador who feels anxious when her owner is asleep and is not alert to her. Other dogs manifest their concerns when visitors enter the home or they hate interacting with new dogs.
Be aware if your dog appears to have any new noise phobias or simply acts in a more irritated or agitated way in certain circumstances. Some dogs become much more clingy. Others just want to be left alone.
It’s always important to check that any signs of anxiety are not caused by medical issues. When anxious or more aggressive behavior becomes apparent, an immediate visit to the vet is worthwhile so your dog can benefit from a complete examination to ensure no medical issues are pressing.
If the problem is caused by the dog getting older, the ways you can help include more frequent walks, increased playing of games and other ways of boosting mental stimulation.
Providing extra space – we, for example, allow our older dogs to inhabit a folded duvet in the middle of the living room floor - and keeping routines consistent so the dogs know what to expect each day are good ways to reassure your animals.
It is crucial that you stay as patient as possible because dogs are sensitive to our moods and you don’t want to add to any anxiety they may already be feeling.
How to Deal With Extremely Sensitive To The Cold?
Older dogs like cozy beds, not least because it helps them regulate their body temperature.
As they grow older, dogs, even the ones who used to love biting, cold days in their youth, are likely to need a coat or a warm sweater when they are out and about on chilly days.
Doing things like setting up your dog’s bed nearer a heat source will not only help keep your dog’s body temperature up but it will also help minimise any joint and muscle stiffness.
Keeping warm helps dogs stave off ailments and illnesses because it helps the immune system focus its attention on things other than just beating the cold.
When you closely monitor your pet’s environment you will see early signs of the dog being chilly and take the necessary steps. Rugs, sweaters, comfy beds, heating pads can all be put to good use in an effort to provide consistent warmth.
However, it’s equally important to make sure that your dogs don’t become too warm.
What Causes Breathing Fast and Heavy?
When dogs get on in years their breathing can become fast or laboured.
When older dogs breathe unusually fast, its called tachypnea.
It may not be a sign of distress.
They may simply be panting to stay cool. However, if your pet is breathing heavily and faster with mouth closed it could be a sign of something serious.
The causes vary from lower-respiratory issues like fluid on the lungs or bronchitis to non-respiratory problems including anaemia, bloat or heart disease. The condition can also be caused by stress, heat, fear, or fever. It should never be ignored.
If your dog’s breathing is laboured or the animal is short of breath this is often called dyspnea. The danger is your dog may not be able to get enough oxygen in their bloodstream and this is a sign of an emergency that could be life-threatening.
One of the most common causes of laboured breathing in older pets is fluid in the chest cavity or the lungs. It is commonly associated with heart and lung diseases.
Less common causes include foreign objects, infections like pneumonia, lung cancer, kennel cough, allergies and injuries to the chest wall. Issues with the nose, windpipe, lungs, throat, and the diaphragm could also be the cause.
How to Relieve Mobility Issues of Senior Dogs?
Ageing dogs commonly suffer arthritis and joint pain. It could be triggered by an old injury that flares up or the onset of arthritis that gets worse.
Whatever, joint pain can be a problem for older dogs stopping them climbing into the car, walking down stairs or being able to move around efficiently when the weather is cold.
A good way to assist with any joint issues is to feed your dogs glucosamine and chondroitin supplements from as early as possible. I have fed my dogs these supplements with their food from when they were puppies.
When the joint pain becomes constant a vet could administer and prescribe anti-inflammatory pain relief.
To help a dog climb stairs or get into the car there are ramps available. It’s probably time to shorten the walks you go on together but make them more frequent.
A change is as good as a rest, so vary the exercise if you can by providing opportunities for swimming or another non-impactful exercise.
It will probably make eating and drinking more comfortable if you can get hold of an orthopedic bed and elevators for the food and water bowls.
When She is Gaining Weight, How to Choose Food for Her?
Among the most major health issues for older dogs is obesity. It is the root cause of myriad health problems including joint pain, breathlessness as well as heart and liver issues.
It’s not hard to discern the causes of weight gain in older dogs: not only do their energy levels and appetite for activity decrease but also their caloric needs change.
Like ours, dog metabolisms slow down and they need less food to keep a consistent weight. So it’s important to temper your enthusiasm to feed their hunger with treats because their bodies no longer burn the calories as efficiently and weight is easily gained.
Choose dog foods for seniors because it has fewer calories, plus more fibre, less fat, and additional nutrient supplements.
A loss of cognitive ability is common in ageing dogs. It’s possible that your dog may start to forget simple things like how to navigate around obstacles or even get lost and not recognize people he or she knows.
He or she may start having a hard time learning and performing tricks. It has been known for dogs to forget behaviours they have had for a long time, such as their house training. Indoor accidents may become a more regular problem.
When a dog begins acting unusually and shows signs of behaviour change, it’s a good idea to have the dog checked out by a vet so you can identify the cause.
It could be more than just ageing. If it is down to growing old, the way to help is with medications and supplements and showing more patience.
Skin, coat and nails sometimes show signs of changing as dogs become older. Skin can dry out while their coat becomes more coarse. Adding supplements like coconut or salmon oil to their meals can help solve this problem.
If your dog’s skin is becoming thinner, making injuries more likely, it’s time to pay more attention when the dog is playing or out walking in case he or she is hurt.
In addition, dog nails can become brittle as they age. Be prepared to have more nail clippings administered because as dogs become less active they don’t file down their own nails as much.
As well as this you may need to factor in an increase in the times you brush out their coats to help them stay clean.
Now that our two Black Labradors are approaching their ninth birthdays my wife, a professional groomer, has taken to giving them regular baths in her mobile grooming salon.
It’s not only a great way of bonding with one another, but it gives her a chance to check them over for any lumps and bumps that may need to be seen by the vet.
As dogs age, they are likely to suffer a decline in their ability to function. Memory, learning ability, awareness and senses may all deteriorate.
Such deteriorations can manifest themselves in disturbed sleeping cycles where they become restless at night and are more sleepy in the day.
It can either increase or decrease their activity levels and lead to forgetting previously learned commands. Some animals become increasingly overdependent. Others show less interest in affection or interaction.
There are many things to look out for as a dog ages. You should watch out for their dental care so gum disease can be avoided. It’s important to take more interest in a dog’s diet checking that it fulfils the dog’s nutritional needs. You should also be alert to common ageing issues that can include liver disease and diabetes.
It sounds like a lot of work caring for a dog as he or she grows old but the devotion has special rewards, including the knowledge that you are doing all you can for a friend who has been depending on you from the first day that you met.