Complete Senior Dog Care Guide
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When a dog is considered geriatric depends on different factors. While age is the most significant, this can differ slightly depending on the size of the dog. Generally, smaller dog breeds are considered senior at a slightly later age than large dog breeds. Regardless of size, once they become elderly, their physicality and cognition are likely to deteriorate. For this reason, both the level and from of care they receive can also change.
At AnimalWised, we provide our complete senior dog care guide. In it you will find out what changes occur when a dog becomes elderly and what care changes are required to best maintain their quality of life.
What you need to care for senior dogs
Generally, once a dog reaches around 10 years of age, they will be considered geriatric, i.e. a senior or elderly dog. However, this can depend on their size, as we can see in the following chart:
- Small dogs (<20 lbs): 9-13 years of age.
- Medium dogs (21-50 lbs): 9-11 years of age.
- Large dogs (50-90 lbs): 7-10 years of age.
- Giant dogs (>90 lbs): 6-9 years of age.
As this implies, smaller dogs tend to liver longer than larger. Additionally, large and giant sized dogs tend to be more prone to suffer mobility problems and other issues exacerbated by age. However, there are other factors which determine the health of older dogs.
During this final stage of life, the dog will experience various behavioral changes and is more susceptible to disease. This is due to the deterioration of their body caused by the effects of age. As a caregiver, we need to know that caring for older dogs takes patience and dedication. We need to be considerate of their changing circumstances and understand we will not be able to interact in the same way before.
Feeding senior dogs
Feeding senior dogs can be difficult to manage at first. Even if we don't see noticeable changes in their physique, we should know their nutritional needs are changing. This means not only changing their diet when they become elderly, but doing so preemptively to help mitigate the effects of age. The following tips will help you do so when feeding a senior dog:
- All dogs, especially elderly dogs, will need to be well-proportioned. Ensuring an optimal figure means preventing obesity and excess weight. This helps to reduce the pressure and strain extra weight can put on their bones and muscles.
- To ensure your dog is well fed, it is important to go to the vet every 6 months for an analysis and a general check-up. This will also help to rule out anemia other health problems associated with age.
- If your dog is in good physical shape and eats without problem, you should change their diet to a lighter feed or one formulated specifically for senior dogs. This will have fewer calories and is specific to this stage of their life. It will always need to be a quality product.
- On the other hand, if your dog loses too much weight, this can also be a problem. In these cases, the dog may need to eat a higher-fat content feed.
- If you observe your dog doesn't drink sufficient water, you may need to ensure better hydration. There are many ways we can get dogs to drink more water, including adding salt-free broth to their dry food or giving them more wet food.
- Your dog will need to have access to plenty of clean fresh water at all times.
- During their latter stage of life, their teeth can become more easily damaged and more likely to fall out. This means we should avoid giving them chew toys and bones to gnaw on.
- It can happen that a senior dog spits out their food or simply doesn't want to eat it. When this occurs, we need to look for a higher quality feed and you may even need to make some homemade meals for the dog. Go to the vet if they still refuse to eat.
- If your elderly dog eats too fast, it is easier for them to develop gastric torsion. Otherwise known as bloat, the dog's belly becomes hard due to obstruction and it can be fatal. To prevent this, you can give the dog smaller portions more regularly or even spread the food over the floor so it takes longer for them to eat.
- Since senior dogs are more likely to develop neurological disorders, it is possible they will grow senile and forget when they have and haven't eaten. If this happens to your dog, you will need to ensure you monitor their eating habits closely.
- Elderly dogs are more likely to suffer from deafness or vision loss. They may need some help finding the food and even need company when eating.
If we do not feed or hydrate our senior dog correctly, serious problems such as kidney failure or heart problems can occur. It is important to review and verify that our dog is nourished properly.
Walking senior dogs
As a dog enters old age, they will sleep more and become less active. This does not mean they don't need any exercise, nor that they don't need to socialize with other dogs. It is important we adapt their physical exercise and time outdoors to their specific abilities, but they still need to be maintained.
We recommend taking walks more frequently, but with less duration. This will become incrementally less as they age. Ideal times for walking senior dogs are in the morning or at sunset. Direct midday sun can cause the older dog to overheat and put unnecessary strain on them. Walking helps to maintain muscle condition and weight. They will also still need to see other dog, but be careful if younger or more hyperactive dogs approach as they can play too hard.
We also need to be careful with an older dog's safety when walking. They may have decreased function in their hearing and vision, so traffic can be more of a problem. Keep them on a leash when near roads and be careful if there are any possible dangers around.
Finally, it is essential to add that we must be considerate and understand that our elderly dog may display altered behavior. Do not pull on the leash or scold them for slowness. Be patient with them and provide positive reinforcement for dogs, such as treats and encouragement.
Our list of activities for older dogs can help ensure you provide them with the right level of exercise.
Provide constant affection
A senior dog can change their behavior, but in what way can be difficult to predict. Some will become more independent, others will require more affection than before. We may even see more cases of separation anxiety, especially if they are confused by neurological disorders.
One common thing that happens with senior dogs is their caregivers see their need to sleep more as a desire to be left alone. It is true we need to let them rest and not interrupt their sleep. However, they still need plenty of affection and company. We can encourage them to play and spend time together, otherwise they can develop depression and become isolated from the family they love.
We need to be respectful of their physical limitations, but we can still provide them with plenty of stimulation. Give them appropriate toys and intelligence games for when you are not around.
Senior dogs at home
It is normal for senior dogs to change their behavior or attitude within the home. You may notice their personality becomes a little exaggerated. This can be a consequence of sensory deficiency, especially if they are afraid of being alone. We recommend you give them confidence when you are around and make more effort to give them affection if you have been away for any time.
Maintaining order within the home is important if the dog has dementia or their senses are weakened. Otherwise, they can become disorientated easily.
Many senior dogs will develop aches and pains in their body due to degeneration of their body. They may also find it more difficult to regulate their temperature. For this reason, it is important we provide a large wide bed which allows them to spread out comfortably.
Common diseases in senior dogs
There are certain diseases and pathologies which are more common in senior dogs due to their advanced age. It is important you take more opportunities to feel your dog's skin and look for symptoms of certain diseases. Skin tumors, for example, are more likely in older dogs.
It is also important that you carry out the emptying of the anal glands, a common problem in older dogs. If you do not feel capable or comfortable doing it, you will need to take them to a veterinarian or groomer to avoid anal sac impaction or infection.
Some of the most common diseases in senior dogs include:
- Tooth loss
- Gastric torsion
- Hip dysplasia
- Renal disease
- Heart disease
It is important to go to the vet more regularly than usual when caring for an elderly dog. This is the best way to notice any symptoms and administer treatment in a timely manner.
Adopting senior dogs
As you can see from above, there are different requirements for caring for senior dogs. However, these can often make them better companions for certain families. For families which are not as active and need more time at home, a senior dog's behavior can make them the best choice. It provides companionship for both at the same level.
Many shelters have too many senior dogs because younger dogs are often favored. You might want to consider how rewarding adopting a senior dog can be, especially if you have a lifestyle suitable for them.
If you want to read similar articles to Complete Senior Dog Care Guide, we recommend you visit our Geriatrics category.