One minute, they are cute, little puppies, and the next, they’re full-grown seniors. With old age, comes multiple problems for your pet including a decline in mental health, vision loss, and slow metabolism.
Aging is a natural process that happens to all living things. However, when it comes to dogs, life passes extremely quickly. In a few years, the cute, bubbly puppy you brought home as a companion matures into a full-grown senior before your very own eyes. Just like human beings, dogs grow old at different rates. This, of course, is dependent on their size, breed, genetics, nutrition, and environment. Smaller breed dogs like Chihuahuas, for instance, are not considered seniors until they reach the age of 10-11 years, whereas larger breeds like Great Danes become seniors much earlier at the age of 5-6 years.
On the other hand, medium breeds such as Golden Retrievers enter old age at the age of 8-10 years. Old age comes with certain changes, which may affect your dog’s health and overall wellbeing. It’s crucial to be familiar with these changes and be ready to care for your canine companion when that time comes. With that in mind, here are 10 changes you’re likely to see in your senior pet.
1. A Decline in Mental Health
Many aging dogs experience a condition known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), which is simply a severe deterioration in their mental health. It’s characterized by signs such as increased irritability, increased separation anxiety, disorientation, and loss of appetite.
Other symptoms to look out for include:
- Forgetting commands they once knew like stay or sit
- Pacing or staying awake at night
- Having frequent bathroom accidents
- Lack of interest in the sights, sounds, and smells within their surroundings
Even though there’s no known treatment for this degenerative condition, there are supplements that can help slow it down. So, be sure you ask the vet for advice first before purchasing any supplements for your dog.
Other than supplements, mental stimulation can also slow down CDS to some extent. Some things you can do to keep your senior pet mentally stimulated include:
- Giving them interactive toys to play with
- Teaching them new tricks
- Bringing them along when running errands to expose them to new faces, sounds, scents, and sights
2. Difficulty Moving Around and Playing
Dogs also tend to suffer from mobility and joint problems as they grow older. This can cause difficulty in performing simple tasks like running up and down the stairs, playing tug of war, going for walks, getting in and out of the family car, or getting up and down the couch.
Dogs with joint and mobility problems can also show these symptoms:
- Getting tired more easily
- Stiffness, especially during morning hours
- Inability to sleep comfortably
Seeing your beloved pet go through all these problems isn’t easy, especially when all their lives they’ve been active and playful.
Here are some simple things you can do to make life more bearable for your pet:
Provide a Helping Hand Where Necessary
Give your dog a boost if you notice that they’re unable to climb up the sofa to be with you or when they need help getting in and out of the car.
Keep All Essential Items Close By
It’s equally important to ensure that everything that your pooch uses daily, like their bed, toys, food bowls, and water bowls, are all within the same floor as them. This eliminates the need to move around, which in turn, reduces the pressure on their joints.
Pimp Their Bed
Aging dogs have less fat in their bodies to cushion their bones while lying down. Because of this, you should try making your pet’s bed as comfortable as possible with towels and soft blankets. This ensures that they sleep better and more easily.
Also, don’t forget to place the bed in a part of the house where there’s less noise or traffic, so they can sleep undisturbed.
Provide Ramps for Easier Movement
Ramps make it easier for older dogs with mobility issues to access their beds and furniture, and climb up and down the stairs without feeling too much pain. So, make sure you have them around the house as well.
Invest in Orthopaedic Beds
You might also want to invest in orthopaedic beds if your furry friend has difficulty moving around the house. These beds are fitted with a vibration/heat source, which not only reduces joint stiffness in dogs with arthritis but also improves blood circulation.
Consider Food Supplements for Arthritis
Dog food supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, chondroitin, or glucosamine are also known to ease the pain caused by arthritis as well as improve joint health. So, talk to your vet about them and see if you can get a recommendation for your senior pet.
3. Deteriorating Eyesight
Many dogs also suffer from a wide range of eye problems as they grow older. These problems include cloudiness, redness, conjunctivitis, cataracts, and loss of vision. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your senior pet is bumping into things and falling down a lot lately. This is a clear sign that something is wrong with their eyes.
Fortunately, eye problems like cataracts, corneal damage, and conjunctivitis are treatable. So, have your pet examined by the vet as soon as you realize that your pet’s eyesight is deteriorating. Once these problems are diagnosed early and treated professionally, your senior dog will be able to see again.
But, if they’re suffering from vision loss, which is irreversible, you’ll be told what to do to help your senior dog adjust to their new life. Here are some general tips to make your pet’s life more comfortable at home:
Add Soft Cushions to Sharp Edges
Attach soft rubber cushions to all edges of sharp objects to protect your dog from the sharp edges of the objects they’re bumping into. This will not only protect them from getting serious injuries
but will also give you the peace of mind of knowing that your senior pet is safe.
Also, consider clearing your dog’s path to make navigation easier. All objects that may obstruct their path to different rooms should be removed, like flower vases, antiques, etc. You can also arrange your furniture in a way that leaves more open space in the middle of the room for your dog to move freely.
Light Up Areas Your Dog Frequents
Your pet will have difficulty finding his way due to his poor vision, especially at night. So, make his movement easier by putting lights in all the areas that he frequents.
4. Strained Urination or Urinary Incontinence
Middle-aged and senior dogs also tend to suffer from strained urination and urinary incontinence. In some cases, these two problems may indicate an underlying illness like urinary tract infection or kidney disease.
Because of this, you’re advised to consult the vet the moment you realize that your pet has either strained urination or urinary incontinence. Underlying problems like kidney disease, for instance, can be controlled effectively with prescription drugs and a special diet that the vet will recommend after examining your dog.
5. Swollen Gums, Broken Teeth and Other Dental Problems
Good oral hygiene necessitates that you brush your dog’s teeth twice a day and take them for professional dental cleaning every 6-12 months. Failure to do this diligently can lead to a wide range of dental problems for your pet later in life.
Many senior dogs suffer from oral problems that could have been prevented by observing regular teeth brushing. These problems can be anything from loose teeth, broken teeth, bad breath to swollen gums. Because they cause too much pain and discomfort for dogs, they sometimes lead to a lack of appetite and, subsequently, weight loss.
Have your dog examined by the vet as soon as you realize that they’re having dental problems so that they can be attended to professionally. Once the underlying issue has been treated, you’ll also be advised how to care for their oral health moving forward.
6. Weight Gain
Some dogs also tend to become less physically active as they grow older, which often leads to weight gain. And as you may already know, being overweight or obese makes your pooch more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, joint disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses, among others.
Shift to a Low-calorie Diet
The good news is that you can manage your pet’s excess weight through calorie control and regular gentle exercises. There are dog foods that are specifically formulated for less active senior dogs like yours.
Some of them have lower calorie content but still offer all the nutrients that your pet needs to stay healthy. Ask your vet to help you choose the right one for your dog.
Provide Regular Gentle Exercises
Senior pets also need both physical and mental exercises to stay lean, healthy, strong, and active. Swimming is one of the physical activities your canine companion can engage in to lose weight without hurting their joints. Besides, you can take them for short walks regularly to keep them in good shape.
Food-dispensing toys also come in handy to promote weight loss and improve physical and mental health. So, make sure your senior dog has a wide variety of them to play with. You can also have them climb up and down the stairs slowly (with the help of a ramp) to help loosen their stiff joints and keep them active.
7. Weight Loss
Some senior dogs gain excess weight, while others tend to lose weight to dangerous levels. This may be due to underlying ailments that have not been discovered, or a change in their senses, which causes them to lose appetite for the foods they once loved.
Shift to a High-Calorie Diet
Either way, your vet is in the best position to identify the exact cause of your pet’s weight loss after proper examination. If it’s something that can be treated, they’ll treat it and then prescribe a special diet to help meet their nutritional needs.
A high-calorie diet containing a highly delicious and digestible protein source is often recommended for underweight senior dogs.
Though certain dog breeds like Boxers and Golden Retrievers are more predisposed to this disease, it can affect any breed unexpectedly. Senior dogs are not left out. They’re affected by different types of cancers, including melanoma, bone cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, hemangiosarcoma, and lymphoma.
The good news is that your dog can survive cancer if it’s detected early and treated properly. But that can only happen if you take them for their annual veterinary exams as scheduled.
Hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder that results in the slowing down of a dog’s metabolic rate. It occurs mostly in medium and large breeds between the ages of 4 to 10 years. Breeds like Golden retriever, Doberman pincher, and Irish setter are at a higher risk of being affected.
Dogs with hypothyroidism may exhibit one or more of the following signs:
- Lethargy or lack of interest in physical activity
- Weight gain without any noticeable increase in appetite
- Dark patches on the skin
- Slowed heart rate
- Increased occurrence of ear and skin infections
- Intolerance to cold weather
- Inability to grow hair after shaving or clipping
- Dull and dry hair
- Hair loss or thinning around the tail, trunk, and rear legs.
Your vet will conduct a series of blood tests to confirm the presence of hypothyroidism in your dog’s blood. Once confirmed, you’ll be given a thyroid replacement hormone, which you’ll
have to administer to your pet orally for the rest of their lives.
10. Skin Problems
Lastly, dogs are also more vulnerable to all kinds of skin problems as they age. You may notice these problems on your dog’s skin – lesions, bumps, lumps, rashes, dry skin, and swellings.
Some of these skin problems are harmless and can be alleviated easily once the vet examines your dog and recommends the right treatment. However, there are others that may indicate a bigger problem, for instance, lumps that change in size, shape, and color as the days go by. Such lumps should be evaluated immediately and the underlying cause treated as soon as possible.
Overall, these are some of the changes and health problems that senior dogs experience. As a pet parent, you should always keep a close eye on your pet and report anything unusual to the vet. This may be a change in their appetite, bumping into objects, or being irritable without reason.
Also, make sure that you take them for their medical check-ups regularly so that any hidden health issue can be caught and treated early. This will go a long way in keeping your pet healthy and happy.