Maybe he doesn’t chase every ball or frisbee thrown for him at the park or around the back garden. And he’s a little slower to get up to greet you when you come home. Then there’s that grey hair slowly creeping into his muzzle. Your dog is getting old. But dogs are living much longer, fuller lives these days with the help of loving owners and caring veterinarians.
When you were a kid, you probably tried to figure out how old the family dog was in “people years” by multiplying her age by seven. Veterinarians, however, look at a dog’s physiological overall condition. Most dogs can begin to age at about seven years for small or medium breeds and around five years for large and giant breeds. The telltale signs may include a dull or dry coat, flaky skin, joint stiffness, energy loss, hearing loss, cloudy or ‘bluish’ eyes, weight gain, increased water intake, digestive problems, frequent constipation and loss of muscle. Which leads me to:
It is a good idea to feed a premium senior diet, as they are lower in calories and reduce the likelihood of weight gain. Advances in research over the last few years mean that specially formulated diets are available to help manage medical conditions associated with aging, but these should be used under veterinary advice, and all dietary changes should be made gradually.
Dog weight table charts outlining ideal weight for each breed only give a very rough indication of correct weight – there is much size variation even within breeds. The only way to tell if your pet is piling on the pounds is to look!
- Can you see an hourglass waist when you view from above?
- Can the ribs be felt with light finger pressure?
If the answers to these questions are “no”, it is time to cut your pet’s calorie intake. Starting with a Premium Senior diet is a great idea as good nutrition can help your elderly dog:
- Maintain muscle tone
- Maximize digestion
- Retain ideal body weight
Starting to become stiff?
Joint function deteriorates with age, and arthritis is common. Weight control is vital and an exercise plan may help to alleviate symptoms.
Keep the amount of daily exercise fairly constant, as unusually strenuous activity may make your dog sore the next day. Exercise your dog little and often – about 20 to 30 minutes, daily. Do not take your dog out on days when he is lame or stiff. Provide a soft bed and consider putting a ramp over your steps. Massage, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy may help. A visit to your vet for a full check-up and advice is worthwhile.
Are you noticing wet patches on your dogs bed?
Unfortunately this is a problem for many elderly female dogs. Often control of the neck of the bladder deteriorates with age, so the exit is not fully closed when it should be, and there is leakage of urine. Sometimes elderly dogs get a little senile and forget their house training. Dogs with these problems often wet where they are resting. But this is not the only cause for wet patches. There are some less common bladder disorders which produce incontinence.
In many cases, there are effective treatments available. See your vet as soon as possible and if you can, take a sample of urine from your dog with you to your appointment.
Foul smelling breath?
Modern anaesthetic techniques are generally considered safe, although there is always a degree of risk for any animal – or human. A large number of anaesthetics are given to older animals, because many older animals have problems that need surgery. Your vet will probably want to do blood tests to check your dog’s general health first. Having infected teeth and gums is uncomfortable and can be a source of infection that will damage other organs of the body. Many owners find that after dentistry, animals with bad teeth are happier, brighter and eat better .
Regular, routine check-ups
It is important that dogs have an annual checkup or “wellness” visit with their vet. This is even more important as they age, so talk to your vet about whether such visits should become more frequent. Most vets recommend that healthy senior dogs are seen every six months. This is to check your dog’s heart and lungs, overall body condition including skin, fur, ears, eyes, mouth, teeth and to check internal organs with routine screening tests for early detection of any problems.
Key points – take your dog to the vet if:
- your pet is eating less
- your pet is drinking more than normal
- your pet has smelly breath
- your pet has lost weight
- there is stiffness, a limp or difficulty in jumping up onto things
- you find any lumps or bumps, especially if they are rapidly getting bigger
- your pet is getting tired when out for a walk
- your pet has a cough
- your pet is having trouble passing urine or faeces, or is passing water indoors
- your pet has become dull, disorientated or is having trouble with balance
- there are discharges from the vagina
We stock a number of Premium Senior Diets at the clinic and online: