Contrary to what you may have heard one “dog year” isn’t necessarily equal to seven “people years.” Although it’s true that dogs have a shorter life expectancy than humans, there are a variety of factors that determine their relative age. These factors include their weight, size, breed, and diet.
Dogs are generally considered to be “seniors” at around their seventh year with larger breeds entering their senior years a bit earlier. Smaller breeds aren’t usually considered to be in the senior phase of life until year eight or nine.
Just as with humans, dogs’ bodies change as they enter their senior years and they require more care from their owners. Older dogs are far more likely to develop arthritis, as well as kidney, heart and liver disease than puppies and adult dogs and cancer accounts for about 50% of deaths in dogs over ten years of age according to the American Kennel Club (AKC)
Senior dogs also experience hearing and vision loss and gastrointestinal issues.
Here are some things you should keep in mind as you care for your senior dog.
Hearing and Vision Loss
While vision and hearing issues are common in senior dogs, there are things you can do to help them adjust and function with these handicaps. The first is to avoid making big changes in their environment. Just like you, your dog has gotten used to where things are in your home and yard, so you should avoid rearranging the furniture or moving your dog’s bed, food and water dish. This will help him get around as his vision diminishes.
As your dog begins losing her vision and hearing motor vehicles become increasingly dangerous, it’s best to keep your senior dog inside your home or a fenced yard for her own protection. Outdoor dogs love to laze around in the shade; unfortunately, parked cars and trucks provide a shady respite from the sun. If your dog has access to the driveway or other parking areas, be sure to make sure he’s nowhere near your vehicle before getting in or backing up.
Osteoarthritis, usually referred to simply as arthritis, is a progressive, degenerative joint disease that is common among senior canines. Obese dogs are more likely to develop arthritis, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight throughout your pet’s life.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be effective at relieving the pain associated with arthritis and your veterinarian may also prescribe disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD) injections to slow or alter the progression of the disease. Remember, you should never give your dog any medications without first consulting your veterinarian.
Cold temperatures tend to exacerbate arthritic symptoms, so keeping your senior dog warm and dry can help reduce her arthritis pain.
You should also make sure your dog has easy access to her food and water dish, as well as her outdoor potty area.
Diet and Eating Habits
As dogs age, their metabolism slows. A reduced appetite is normal as your dog enters her senior years, but you need to be vigilant of sudden and drastic changes in her appetite and potty habits. Dry foods are harder to chew and digest than soft foods. If your senior dog begins turning up his nose at his regular dry food, you might consider adding water or no-sodium chicken broth to the mix or possibly switching to a soft alternative. Soft dog food tends to be a bit more expensive than dry food, so be sure you’re not skimping on the vitamins and minerals to save money when making the switch.
You should also monitor your dog’s potty habits. Sudden increases and decreases in frequency can be an indication of a health problem. Changes in the color, consistency and amount of feces and urine produced can also indicate a problem and should be checked out by your vet if they persist for more than a couple of days.
Finally, it’s important to identify and treat any and all health issues as early as possible. While some issues are observable by any attentive pet owner, regular examinations by your veterinarian are essential during her senior years.
About Breckinridge Park Animal Hospital
Breckinridge Park Animal Hospital (BPAH) is a General Practice Veterinary provider in Richardson, Texas. As a family-owned and –operated veterinary hospital, BPAH treats you and your pets with the same care and consideration we bestow upon our own family pets. The expert veterinarians and skilled nursing staff at BPAH focus on your pet’s every need, from preventative medicine to medicine to disease management and more.
This information is not a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice. Prior to starting any new treatment or questions regarding an animal’s medical condition, always seek the advice of your veterinarian.