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How to Care for an Older Dog

Did you know that a dog is considered a senior once he is in the last 30 percent of his expected life span? As he approaches the last quarter of his life, he is considered geriatric. Just like humans, dogs encounter various bodily changes as they age. Regular veterinary checkups with blood work and X-rays are essential to monitor these changes and ensure your senior dog remains comfortable throughout his life.

What Can I Expect As My Dog Gets Older?

Normal signs of aging in dogs include slight cloudiness of the eyes, hearing loss, and moving a little slower. However, there are signs of aging that should not be considered normal, such as unexplained weight loss, an increase in water consumption and urination, lameness, forgetfulness, and other changes in their daily routine. If you notice these symptoms, take your elderly dog to see your veterinarian for further evaluation.

How to Care for a Senior Dog

Senior Dog Diet

One of the most significant changes a senior dog will experience is a decrease in metabolism, which will drop by about 20%. If his calorie intake doesn’t reflect this change, the risk of obesity increases. Managing your dog’s weight is crucial as it benefits overall health, aids in joint pain management, and more. Additionally, certain health problems may require changes in your dog’s diet and nutritional needs.

Old Dog Skin Problems

As dogs age, their hair coat becomes thinner, duller, and gray, especially around the face and muzzle. Their skin also becomes thinner and more susceptible to injury. Fatty acid supplements can help restore some of the coat's quality and shine. Senior dogs may need more frequent grooming to prevent tangles and mats, allowing you to monitor for any new injuries, abnormal growths, or pain. Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed will help reduce arthritis in the feet and improve traction on all surfaces.

How to Help an Old Dog with Arthritis

Over time, regular activity and movement cause gradual degeneration in a dog’s joints and cartilage, resulting in pain and inflammation. To make life easier for a dog with arthritis, consider joint supplements, such as those containing glucosamine and chondroitin, which help replenish lost cartilage and synovial fluids. Weight management, elevated feeders, and ramps can reduce stress on aching joints, while heated or orthopedic beds can provide additional support. For dogs with normal liver and kidney function, your veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to improve mobility and reduce pain.

Senior Dog Dental Care

Dental disease is the most common problem in older dogs. Over 70 percent of dogs show signs of gum disease by the age of four, making good oral hygiene essential. Plaque that is not removed forms tartar, leading to gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. Regular dental care includes tooth brushing, dental rinses, hard chews and treats to reduce plaque, and routine dental checkups and cleanings by your veterinarian.

Senior Dog Constipation

As dogs age, the movement of food through the digestive tract may slow down, leading to constipation. Pain during defecation can also result from arthritis. Managing joint pain may help alleviate constipation. However, constipation can indicate other diseases, so consult your veterinarian if your dog has issues. Common treatments include enemas or laxatives.

Old Dog Heart Murmur

Aging can weaken a dog's heart muscles, reducing the heart's efficiency and potentially leading to cardiac failure, especially in small breeds. Your dog may tire easily and become weaker. If a heart murmur is detected, chest X-rays and medications to strengthen heart muscles may be necessary. Improved medications have significantly extended the lifespan of dogs with heart murmurs.

Kidney Disease in Older Dogs

Kidney problems in dogs can arise from various causes, including changes in the kidneys, other organs, or as a side effect of another disease. Blood tests and urinalysis are the most reliable ways to diagnose kidney disease. Depending on the dog's ability to process foods, diet or medication may need to change, and blood pressure medications may be indicated.

Incontinence in Senior Dogs

Incontinence, or uncontrollable leaking of urine, occurs when bladder muscles weaken with age. Hormone replacement can help, but frequent accidents may indicate a more serious problem. Consult your veterinarian if your dog has urinary issues.

Senior Dog Behavior Changes

Aging dogs may lose their ability to handle stress, leading to behavior changes such as separation anxiety, noise phobias, and aggression. Cognitive dysfunction, similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, can cause confusion, restlessness, and decreased attentiveness. Diet changes and medications may help manage these changes.

Energy Levels in Older Dogs

A decrease in energy levels can be a normal part of aging, but it can also signal disease. Anemia, caused by a lack of red blood cells, can make a dog weak and tired. If your dog’s energy levels change suddenly or persist, consult your veterinarian.

Hearing and Vision Loss

Hearing loss often goes unnoticed until it becomes severe. Your dog may not respond to commands or may become aggressive when startled. Vision loss is also common, but sudden vision loss requires veterinary attention.

Temperature Regulation

Older dogs struggle to regulate body temperature. Ensure your dog is comfortable by providing ways to cool down in summer and warm up in winter. Limit outdoor time in extreme temperatures, and provide water and heated or cooling beds.

Caring for an older dog requires attention to their changing needs, regular veterinary care, and adjustments to their lifestyle to ensure they remain comfortable and healthy throughout their golden years.

How to Care for an Older Dog
How to Care for an Older Dog


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