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How to Care for Your Senior Dog

Senior dogs are cherished companions, but their care requires special attention and consideration. Working closely with a veterinarian can help you understand the unique needs of an older dog and make informed decisions to ensure they enjoy a high quality of life.

What Age Is a Dog Considered a Senior?

The age at which dogs are classified as seniors varies based on their breed:

  • Small dogs, like Yorkshire Terriers, are considered seniors around 11 years of age.

  • Medium- and large-sized dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers, reach senior status at 7 years.

  • Giant breed dogs, like Great Danes, are seniors as early as 5 years.

  • Mixed breed dogs are generally considered seniors at approximately 7 years of age.

Recognizing when your dog becomes a senior is crucial because their needs change, including more frequent veterinary visits, different dietary requirements, and potential medications or supplements for managing health conditions.

Your Senior Dog’s Health

Twice-yearly veterinary checkups are essential for senior dogs due to their rapidly changing health status. Some dogs on medications may require more frequent monitoring to ensure no adverse side effects. Common health issues for senior dogs include:

  • Cancer

  • Arthritis

  • Heart disease

  • Liver and kidney disease

  • Obesity

  • Blindness

  • Hearing loss

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Cushing’s disease

  • Dental disease

  • Urinary tract disease

  • Lipomas

To diagnose these conditions, your veterinarian will conduct a full physical exam and bloodwork. Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended based on the results and any symptoms your pet may have.

Your Senior Dog’s Nutrition

As your dog ages, it might be necessary to transition them to a diet specifically formulated for senior dogs, particularly if they have an underlying health condition. Your veterinarian can recommend the best senior dog food based on your dog's unique health needs.

Some senior diets contain supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to support joint health, especially for dogs with arthritis. If your dog has a chronic health condition, such as kidney or liver disease, a prescription diet may be recommended. For example, diets for chronic kidney disease typically have lower phosphorus, sodium, and protein content.

Senior dogs may also have different caloric needs. Some might require fewer calories due to a slower metabolism, while others may need more calories to maintain weight.

Your Senior Dog’s Well-Being

Providing a routine can make senior dogs feel secure. This includes regular feeding times, predictable daily activities, and consistent bedtimes. Feeding them high-quality, AAFCO-approved dog food and avoiding table scraps or excessive treats is essential to prevent unwanted weight gain and strain on their joints.

Senior dogs also benefit from mental stimulation to keep their brains sharp and prevent boredom. Enrichment toys, stuffed Kongs, new stuffed animals, and puzzle toys can keep them engaged. Soft toys are better for senior dogs as they are gentle on their gums and teeth.

Daily walks and outdoor time are highly beneficial for older dogs. Maintaining good dental hygiene is crucial; brushing their teeth daily helps prevent plaque buildup. Senior dogs also benefit from once-yearly professional dental cleanings, with twice-yearly cleanings for those predisposed to dental issues.

An orthopedic dog bed can promote comfort and provide support for joints, preventing pressure sores on elbows and legs.

Supplements for Senior Dogs

Your veterinarian may prescribe supplements to improve joint health. Supplements containing chondroitin, glucosamine, and MSM reduce joint inflammation and support healthy cartilage. These supplements are beneficial even for dogs with existing arthritis as they slow disease progression.

Work Closely With Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian is the best resource for addressing questions or concerns about caring for your senior dog. It's essential to work closely with them to determine a care plan that promotes health and happiness as your dog enters their golden years.

For more information and resources on senior dog care, visit

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