While your dog’s “middle age” may creep up on you, it’s difficult to ignore the signs. Many of these indicators are the same for senior humans – increasing amounts of gray “fur” on the head, face, and body, slower movements getting in/out of bed, and less stamina when it comes to favorite walks and activities.
All of these mean it’s time to take note and evaluate facets of geriatric pet care that will help your dog enjoy a longer, higher-quality lifespan.
When Do Dogs Become Seniors?
Seven years old is the age at which most dogs are considered “seniors,” although that age ranges depending on breed. Larger dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans, while smaller breeds tend to live longer. Genetic dispositions and environment also play a role in a dog’s aging process. Ultimately, your vet will determine a dog has officially a “senior canine citizen” as the following issues or conditions begin to emerge.
One, nearly universal, sign a dog’s “golden years,” have set in? S/he gains weight – even with the same diet and exercise routine. Obesity is far too common in aging pets. While there are sometimes underlying health conditions are the cause for excess weight gain (such as hypothyroidism), it’s more often a combination of too much food, and not enough exercise for an age-related, slower metabolism.
Read our post on pet weight management tips for more on that topic.
Is Your Dog Displaying Symptoms of Common Senior Health Issues?
The following is a list of seven conditions or health problems common in senior dogs and what you can do to support them. We recommend scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian to learn more about what you can do to support your senior dog’s overall wellbeing.
1. Hearing and Vision Loss
All of a sudden you may notice that your dog no longer barks at the pedestrians walking by, or that s/he barely raises an ear when the slider door opens and closes. Perhaps you notice s/he is less apt to run out into the yard during the nighttime hours or may seem a bit clumsier than usual.
These are all signs of potential hearing and vision loss and, after greying fur, may be the first signs your dog is entering his/her golden years. While cataracts can be surgically removed, providing minor visual correction, dogs rely far more on hearing than they do sight.
As a result, pet owners are best off learning how to properly check and clean their dog’s ears, optimizing their ability to hear.
2. Joint Issues
Sore, stiff, and inflamed joints are the hallmarks of osteoarthritis in senior dogs. The condition is degenerative, but there is much you can do relieve pain and inflammation, and improving mobility.
Speak to your vet about:
- Nutritional changes or supplements known to support joint health
- Acupuncture and other holistic treatments
- Weight management to reduce stress on the joints
- Things you can do at home to relieve pain and stiffness
You may find supporting joint health holistically reduces or eliminates your dog’s need for prescription medications.
3. Heart Issues
Congestive heart failure is the most common heart problem for senior dogs, occurring when the heart is no longer able to pump blood efficiently through the vascular system. Symptoms of congestive heart failure include difficulty breathing, lethargy, or decreased stamina, and coughing.
4. Tumors or cancer
Many of the odd lumps and bumps you feel on your aging pet’s body are fatty-tissue or benign tumors. However, you don’t want to make assumptions that allow cancerous tissue to grow or metastasize. Keep your vet informed about any new lumps, bumps, or unusual skin lesions to verify all is well.
5. Kidney Issues
Pet organs age with them and senior organs have a harder time working efficiently and tirelessly. Once kidneys begin to slow down or shut down, there isn’t a cure. However, there are things you can do to support your pet’s health and prolong his/her quality of life.
In a perfect world, you’d ensure your dog is only taking medications if absolutely necessary – and that meds are kept to the lowest doses necessary to treat the health issue. This prevents excess strain on kidneys and other organs.
Bi-Annual Geriatric Pet Care is Ideal for Senior Pets
If your dog is nearing or has passed the seven-year mark, speak to your veterinarian about a geriatric pet care plan that supports longevity and quality of life. Often, veterinarians recommend bringing senior dogs and cats in for wellness checks every six months (or even more often depending on health conditions), rather than once a year, to catch potential health issues early. Early diagnosis almost always optimizes the effects of treatment.