Caring for an Older Dog Part 1


A special bond exists with a dog that has loved you unconditionally for many years. It's a hard thing to accept that a dog's lifespan doesn't match a human lifespan. For every year a human ages, a dog ages the equivalent of 4 or 5 years. Size of the dog is a factor, as well. Many giant breeds, such as Great Danes could be considered seniors at age six and only may live to age 8 or 9. Small dogs, like Pomeranians, may not qualify for senior status until they are over 10, and may live long past age 15. By being aware of your dogs potential lifespan you can provide the best of care.

A thorough veterinary examination for geriatric dogs is recommended at least twice a year. This way, you can address health crises as they occur, and work proactively with your veterinarian to maintain your senior dog's health.


Health Care Concerns for Senior Dogs

Weight Gain: Good nutrition is a powerful tool in maintaining the health of an older animal. The needs of a senior dog are very different from those of a young dog. Need for calories diminish as your dog grows older. Your dog may benefit from an increase in fibre and decrease in fat in his diet. Extra weight is a negative factor for your dog. Consult with your veterinarian in choosing a suitable diet.

Arthritis: Exercise is important in older animals - even if they have arthritis. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication for the arthritis pain, and exercise should be modified to your dog's ability. Don't expect him to run and fetch like a puppy a even if the dog still thinks he can run and play like a puppy!

Dental Disease: It is important to keep teeth clean and check teeth for gum disease. Diseased teeth and gums can have serious consequences for your pet. Periodontal disease can lead to infection that can enter your dog's bloodstream causing discomfort and even death. A dental check-up should be part of every exam given by your veterinarian.

Kidney and Liver Function: Both functions decrease as your animal ages. Regular check-ups mean these conditions will be treated with medication and appropriate diet. Signs of possible liver or kidney disease could be vomiting, loss of appetite, excessive drinking and urination, and confusion.

Coat/Fur: Just like in humans, more gray hairs appear as your pet ages. If the quality of your dog's coat changes dramatically, consult your veterinarian. Taking a little extra time for gentle grooming will help your canine friend feel good.

Vision: Cataracts and glaucoma can affect senior pets. And some breeds are genetically predisposed to developing eye diseases like Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Watch your dog for signs of sight loss by observe him as he walks and by making note of any changes in the appearance of the eyes.

Hearing: Sudden aggression and not responding to voice commands may mean your pet is losing his hearing. He simply can't hear you. Signaling or gesturing with your hands or stomping your foot may help him realize that you're talking to him.

Constipation: Digestion slows down as your pet ages; your veterinarian can advise on increasing fibre in the diet or whether a laxative is appropriate. Encourage your dog to drink water. Watch for blood or mucous in the stool.

Stress: Stress is everyone's enemy, particularly for older dogs that can start to manifest anxiety by barking excessively, being afraid of noise, and demonstrating separation anxiety. Medication can help as well as behavior modification techniques.

Cognitive Dysfunction: Just as human seniors are prone to Alzheimer's disease, your pet may experience similar changes. If your older dog is confused, disoriented and "not himself", consult your veterinarian. There are medications that may be appropriate for your pet, after examination and assessment.

Heart and Prostate Disease, and Hypothyroidism: These health concerns become more common in older dogs and need to be treated by a veterinarian. Coughing, weight changes, exercise intolerance, or any behavioral changes should be investigated by your vet.

Sleeping Areas: A loving pet owner can assist a senior pet by changing things to make life more comfortable: provide a soft bed to cut down on calluses on the elbows, clip nails that become more brittle with age, groom your pet gently and more frequently, especially around the anal area.

Hands-On Health: Stroke and comfort your older pal - be attentive to lumps and bumps. Report any unusual findings to your veterinarian.

Time to Say Good-bye?

Regardless of how well you care for your aging canine companion, there will come a time when you have to say good-bye. Making the decision to euthanize your beloved dog will be one of the most difficult choices you will ever make on his behalf. As you struggle with this decision, remember that if your pet is suffering, euthanasia is a final act of caring and love.

Article submitted by: © Sally Bennett