This is not new news, but it helps to remind us that senior dogs need special care. The American Kennel Club offers some great tips on how to keep our old girls and boys on top of their game.
With improved diet and veterinary care, dogs are now able to live longer than ever before. Older dogs, like people, now tend to live long enough to experience more age-related conditions and challenges and a new set of needs.
When does a dog become a “senior” dog? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, depending on a dog’s breed or type, a dog who is 6-8 years of age can be considered a senior dog. Large and giant breeds mature late but have shorter life spans and age much more quickly than small or toy breeds.
Dogs can develop many of the same physical problems that humans experience as we age, such as metabolic or endocrine disease (kidney, liver, diabetes), heart disease, vision and hearing problems, joint issues, and degenerative weakness.
Here are some basic considerations when caring for older pets:
Increased veterinary care. Geriatric pets should have semi-annual veterinary visits instead of annual visits so signs of illness or other problems can be detected early and treated. Senior pet exams are similar to those for younger pets but are more in depth and may include dental care, blood work, and specific checks for signs of diseases that are more likely in older pets.
Diet and nutrition. Geriatric pets often need foods that are more readily digested, have different calorie levels and ingredients, and include anti-aging nutrients.
Weight control. Weight gain in geriatric dogs increases the risk of health problems.
Parasite control. Older pets’ immune systems are not as healthy as those of younger animals. As a result, they can’t fight off diseases or heal as fast as younger pets.
Maintaining mobility. As with older people, keeping older pets mobile through appropriate exercise helps keep them healthier and more mobile.
Vaccination. Your pet’s vaccination needs may change with age. Talk to your veterinarian about a vaccination program for your geriatric pet.
Mental health. Pets can show signs of senility. Stimulating them through interactions can help keep them mentally active. If you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior, consult your veterinarian.
Environment. Older pets may need changes in their lifestyle, such as sleeping areas to avoid stairs or more time indoors. Disabled pets have special needs that can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Reproductive diseases. Non-neutered/non-spayed geriatric pets are at higher risk of mammary, testicular and prostate cancers.
Dogs can also develop behavioral changes such as confusion, increased vocalization, anxiety, changes in sleep cycles and house soiling. Older people can develop what we term as “senility.” In dogs, we term that behavior as canine cognitive disorder. This disorder should ONLY be considered when other medical conditions have been ruled out (such as urinary tract infections, brain tumors, etc.).