Caring for a senior dog is a lot different from caring for a puppy.
Senior dogs have unique needs, and preparation is key so that these new needs don’t take owners by surprise.
In this post and we’ll discuss what changes to expect in an elderly dog and show you how to care for senior dogs and keep them comfortable, ensuring that your senior canine enjoys his golden years as much as his puppyhood.
How do you tell when your dog has hit that time in its life? It really depends on the individual dog.
In general, giant breed dogs age faster than smaller breed dogs. For example, a Great Dane is considered to be senior by roughly 5-6 years of age, whereas a Chihuahua would likely only be middle-aged then, and probably not be considered a senior dog until 10-11 years.
Large breed dogs fall somewhere in between – dogs like Golden Retrievers might be considered seniors by 8-10 years of age.
You’ll witness a number of changes in your dog as he or she ages. While it can be startling to see your beloved pup change as he or she grows older, remember that many of these changes are completely normal and nothing to be worried about.
A few of those changes you can expect to witness include…
Senior dogs aren’t as mobile as they once were – they get tired quicker and suffer from old age aches and pains. This decrease in mobility sometimes means they’ll end up gaining weight as they get older (you’ll see this happen in humans too).
Overweight dogs (just like humans) have a higher chance of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, skin disease, and even cancer. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your dog, especially since overweight dogs must be fed carefully to ensure that all nutritional needs are met while still allowing for weight loss.
Special diets that have fewer calories as well as those that are high L-carnitine are available for obese or overweight dogs. A diet with a carefully chosen carbohydrate or carbohydrate blend can also help keep your overweight dog feeling satiated.
Asking for help from your veterinarian is a good start, but it would be a good idea to start learning how to read your dog’s food labels.
As dogs get older, some of their organs can break down and don’t work as well as they did in canine youth. You may want to consider a special diet if your dog has heart or kidney disease. Diets lower in sodium are better for dogs with heart disease, while diets which help control phosphorus, calcium and other electrolyte levels are given to dogs with kidney disease.
Even if your dog isn’t overweight or suffering from disease, there are also dog foods on the market that are specifically designed for senior dogs. These dog foods are usually much lower in fat while providing the nutrients that senior canines need.
You may simply find that your senior dog has gotten pickier – you may need to experiment with different dog food brands to find what fits his taste best.
Your dog will be moving much less often as they get older. This means more napping and less chasing after squirrels (which can actually be a bonus).
You’ll likely see your dogs mobility change in a number of ways, including:
This can pose issues for dogs who normally must go down steps to access yards where they go to the bathroom. In these cases, we recommend considering dog ramps, which can let your dog travel up and down steps easier. Dog ramps are also great to help dogs into cars, or help them up onto beds. Senior dogs can’t jump up onto beds or couches, so they will need steps or a ramp for that as well.
Keep a careful eye on your dog and assess his condition, turning back when he seems tired. Don’t overwork him.
You’ll find your buddy will be napping and sleeping much more than he or she did previously. Dogs already sleep quite a lot, but older dogs sleep even more!
They’ll take longer to get up in the morning, and will opt for snoozing by your side rather than bounding around the house.
Regular vet visits are extremely important when it comes to caring for your senior dog.
Whether or not your dog should see a vet more regularly once he or she begins to age is really determined by your dog’s health and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
A normal vet checkup recommended for a senior dog in good health is every six months (twice a year). Be sure that your vet is very thorough with the examination and checks your dog’s heart and lungs in addition to all of the regular routine.
Older dogs are unable to regulate body temperature as effectively as young dogs, and should be kept warm, dry, and indoors when not outside for exercise. Senior dogs are also extra sensitive to heat and humidity. Take precautions to protect them from conditions that could cause heatstroke.
An arthritic pet may need ramps in the home, extra blankets, and an orthopedic bed (potentially even a heated one if your dog gets cold easily).
As your dog gets older, you’ll see some or several physical signs of aging, including:
Have you ever noticed how people can get a bit grumpier (sometimes a lot grumpier) as they age? The same thing can happen to our canine pals!
Older dogs may become aggressive for several reasons. Aggression may be the result of a medical problem such as something causing pain (arthritis or dental disease), or vision/hearing loss, which result in the dog being easily startled.
For this reason, it’s best not to force senior dogs to interact with young children – even if they’ve always been great with kids in the past. Young children move unpredictably, and that can often frighten and overwhelm older dogs.
Aging dogs gradually experience fading senses, just like people. These fading senses can cause behavioral changes and, sometimes, frustration.
Be aware of how your senior dog’s senses may be changing, and try to adjust accordingly.
Senior dogs often need a bit more help staying comfortable – here are a few supplies you may end up picking up to help out your senior canine.
If you need recommendations, consider taking a look at our post about the best dog beds for senior arthritic dogs.
As your dog gets older, you’ll find that he gets stressed much more easily and more often.
Separation anxiety and stress is one of the most common behavior problems seen in older dogs. A dog who has separation anxiety will become very anxious when he senses his owner is about to leave. When the owner does leave, the dog can become destructive, barks or howls, may urinate or defecate, and may salivate profusely.
Solutions: Work with your veterinarian to discuss any of these behaviors. Your vet will check to see if any indicate a treatable condition, or they may determine the behaviors are due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which may need to be treated with medication or training.
Also try to learn and evaluate your dog’s stress signals – this can help you become more aware of which situations or objects are stressing your pooch out.
Your older dog can become senile as he gets older. You may find him barking, whining, and acting unusual for seemingly no reason. Some dogs will suddenly become distressed without explanation.
One big component of understanding how to care for senior dogs is dealing with mental deterioration.
Senior canine cognitive dysfunction is a common problem, and can be very alarming for owners. Signs of cognitive dysfunction include:
Knowing these signs will make things a lot easier for you and your dog as you decide how to move forward. Just know that, despite how difficult seeing cognitive deterioration in your dog can be, you are not alone – many dogs suffer from it.
Watching your beloved pet get older, and witnessing the changes that occur with seniority, can be extremely difficult for owners.
Do not get too down about your dog getting older – if you’re reading this post, you likely care very much for your canine pal and have given him or her many good years already. You have cared well for your pet.
Do what you can to make your pet comfortable in his or her golden years – consider an orthopedic dog bed, certain medications (after talking with your vet), and other small things you can do to make life easier for them. Don’t stress too much about your dog getting older. Instead, use this time to continue to make wonderful memories together.
Cuddle a little longer, eat a bit of bacon, watch the sunset. There’s still plenty of good times ahead with your senior dog, so treasure those times.
Meg Marrs is the Founder and Senior Editor at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!