Senior Dog: 8+ years old
By now your mature dog has proven his loyalty after years of bonding with you and your family. Friends wouldn’t think of asking how you’re doing without including a shout out to your best pal.
Dogs enter their senior years at different stages, depending upon their breed and size. If you have a giant breed dog (think Great Dane) he’ll be mature at five to six years old; smaller breeds, such as Chihuahuas, reach senior status at 10 to 11 years old.
Feeding mature dogs
Many older dogs can’t maintain an optimal weight for their size and activity level.
More energetic dogs may require more calories or better-tasting food to get them to eat; other older dogs may lead a more sedentary life and need to avoid weight gain.
Being underweight or overweight at any life stage isn’t ideal for your dog’s health. But, like humans, heavy and obese dogs are more vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Ask your veterinarian when you should switch your dog to a senior diet, and discuss any therapeutic formulas that may help control geriatric conditions common in aging dogs.
High-quality senior foods featuring real meat and other proteins can help your mature dog maintain strong muscles. Added antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate can help support his joints if he suffers from arthritis and hip dysplasia that’s so prevalent in older dogs.
Signs of aging
Looking into the mirror, we may notice gray hairs and more wrinkles as we age.
Luckily for dogs, they aren’t as obsessed with mirrors as humans are. And though they may feel older as they mature, they can’t really tell us.
That’s why it’s important to watch your older dog more closely and keep your veterinarian apprised of any changes.
Urinary issues: Urinary tract infections and kidney disease are common in aging dogs. You may notice more accidents due to incontinence, and strained urination, as well; both can improve with dietary changes or medication once your veterinarian has weighed in. Also note any changes in your dog’s appetite and water consumption.
Oral disease: Excessive bad breath, drooling, inflamed gums, and loose teeth may appear in older dogs, especially if they haven’t benefited from routine dental hygiene. See your veterinarian immediately to treat any oral problems and start brushing up on routine care.
Vision change: Is your good old boy bumping into things? Falling more? Does he have cloudy eyes? Cataracts are an early warning sign of vision impairment that make your dog’s eyes look like they’re wrapped in a white film. Other signs of vision loss include bumping into things, falling, dilated pupils, and red or irritated eyes.
- Deteriorating vision is normal in older dogs. It’s also common for aging dogs to have “cloudy eyes,” which doesn’t affect their sight like cataracts do. Be sure to check with your veterinarian to differentiate conditions and to rule out any other eye disorders and diseases. Your vet can also show you how to help your dog handle impaired sight.
Coat and skin: Older dogs are prone to dry skin, rashes, hair loss, lesions, swelling and lumps. Dietary changes may help, so always speak to your veterinarian before treating these issues at home.
- Older, large-breed dogs who are less active and lay down on hard surfaces often get calluses on their elbows. Encouraging them to use their comfy dog bed, or buying a new, orthopedic one, can help calluses from becoming a painful nuisance.
Paw problems: Senior dogs tend to have brittle nails so be careful clipping them. Also, your mature dog’s footpads can thicken over time. It’s wise to have more “pawdicures” done since older, less mobile dogs are less likely to wear their nails down from running around the house.
Canine cancer: Cancer is the #1 disease-related cause of death for domestic pets. Older dogs are especially vulnerable because their immune systems weaken with age, leaving them unable to fight off diseases as easily as when they were younger.
Always let your vet know if you find lumps or bumps on your dog, and if they grow larger or change in shape or firmness.
Other signs that may indicate pet cancer:
- • Appetite and weight loss
- • Slowly healing sores
- • Bleeding from eyes, nose or ears
- • Excessive drooling, coughing, panting
- • Extreme fatigue, lethargy
- • Bowel changes, including blood and mucus in the stool
Medicating senior dogs
Now that your dog is of a certain age, you may have to administer vet-prescribed medications at home. Although dogs seem to wolf down anything, many are reticent when it comes to strange-looking and possibly funny-smelling pills, especially larger capsules.
Here are some tips and tricks for getting older dogs to “take their medicine.”
- Choose chewable, flavored medications whenever possible.
- Mix your dog’s meds into his meal. Push the pill inside canned or soft food like peanut butter or a small chunk of cheese, as long as your pooch doesn’t have nut and dairy allergies. Small cubes of ground beef or chicken work well, too.
- Give your dog un-medicated food and treats first before introducing food containing the pill, followed immediately by a normal treat so he doesn’t even taste or sense the medicated treat.
- You can fool your dog the same way if he likes to catch his treats and you toss him medicated food before he even realizes it.
- If you can’t trick your wise old canine into taking his meds, you may have to open his lower jaw with your hand that has the pill in it, while you hold your upper hand on his upper jaw, lifting his head toward the ceiling.
Once his mouth is opened, twist your hand to insert the pill to the side of your dog’s tongue as far back as you can, then quickly withdraw your hand as you close his jaw.
Keep his nose pointed up at the ceiling as you hold his jaws closed; gently stroke his throat downward to help him swallow. Once you’ve seen your dog swallow, reward him with a favorite treat so he’ll swallow again.
We all know the curmudgeon stereotype for old humans, but dogs can get cranky as they age too. If your once playful, happy-go-lucky canine is now ill tempered and standoffish, it could be a symptom of dementia.
If your dog seems confused, disorientated, irritable, paces uncharacteristically, and has other personality changes, have your veterinarian rule out Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD).
It’s common for dogs 10 years and older to experience some of the following CCD behaviors; be sure to tell your veterinarian if such symptoms escalate.
- Gets lost in your backyard or is confused inside the family home he’s known for years
- Stays awake all night, pacing, or sleeps more frequently
- Forgets his housetraining and has more frequent accidents
- Always seems fatigued and is much less active
- Loses attention easily
- Doesn’t recognize family, friends and other pet mates
Many veterinarians recommend that senior dogs be examined thoroughly at least twice a year, and more frequently if your elder dog has acute or chronic health issues.
While your veterinarian can recommend special food and prescribe treatments and medications to make your older dog’s day-to-day life more comfortable, there are some things you can also do at home.
Easy does it
Make life easier for your older dog to be mobile, especially if he has arthritis pain or impaired vision and can’t get around as he once did.
Place his dog essentials (food, water, toys, bed) on the ground floor so neither of you have to worry about stairs. Keep this area well lit so he has no trouble retrieving his food and water.
You may also want to turn lamps on near objects your dog frequently bumps. Sometimes moving furniture and precious artifacts to a room’s periphery is best so your dog can easily navigate open spaces instead. Plus, consider carpet runners on well-traveled floors to help keep your older dog from sliding.
This is no time to skimp on your senior dog’s bed; after all, he’s earned a comfortable place to rest his weary head. The more cushion, the better to protect his bones from the hard floor. Be sure your dog’s bed is in a quieter part of the house so no one disturbs his dreamtime.
Ramp it up
If you live in a multi-story home, ramps can help your mature dog access stairs and any dog-friendly furniture. Ramps are also useful for helping older dogs in and out of the family car, a necessity for veterinarian visits.
“Seniorcise”: Keeping old dogs active
No matter how old your dog is, it’s crucial to maintain age-appropriate activities, especially in his senior years so he can exercise his body and mind.
Always ask your veterinarian how much physical exercise is safe for your mature canine, based on his body condition and health. Even if they can no longer run and jump, dogs need and love to walk; you can always shorten and slow down your daily treks.
Whatever the physical activity, always watch your dog for signs of fatigue or pain and take frequent breaks as needed.
Mature Dog Toys
Remember, once a ball-catching and toy-pulverizing pup, always one; don’t think you have to stop the fun just because your canine is elderly. When in doubt, always choose toys and games that are specifically designed for senior dogs:
- Look for balls and discs that are lightweight and flexible so they don’t cause front teeth damage.
- Stuffing-free soft toys are ideal for retrieving, gentle tugging and just snuggling.
- Soft-rubber puzzle treat toys don’t get sharp when chewed and help lessen boredom,separation anxiety and other behavioral issues that can increase with age.
- Hide healthy, softer treats around the house (ground floor only).
- Look for toys that have more than one bell, multi-squeakers or whistle when they move, so dogs with hearing loss can retrieve them more easily.
- Choose toys in vibrant, contrasting colors (e.g., silver and blue) to make it easier for dogs with impaired vision to see them.