One day that rambunctious little puppy you have added to your family is going to become an old dog. This happens at different times depending on the breed of the dog; a Great Dane, for example, will be a senior by the time he is six years old. Smaller breeds will not become seniors until they are twelve or even older. Indoor dogs age more slowly than outdoor dogs. Pure bred dogs are more genetically disposed to diseases such as cancer.
It is very important as a pet parent to recognise the signs of ageing in your dog and to modify your care so that he maintains his quality of life for as long as possible.
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Older dogs slow down and begin to deteriorate – both physically and cognitively. Senses deteriorate, and issues with hearing, sight, taste and smell are common in older dogs. Many lose weight.
Signs of ageing in your dog:
• Lower energy levels
• Joint stiffness after walking or lying down
• Rougher coat with bald or greying patches
• Greying at the muzzle
• Dental issues
• Lower appetite
• Weight gain or loss
• Urinary incontinence
• Excessive thirst
• Disobedience or depression
• Lumps, warts or tumours
• Haziness of the eyes. Some dogs develop cataracts
• More daytime slumber but night time wakefulness
How to Help Your Dog in his Twilight Years
• Lots of Love – he needs your love and attention as much as ever – but he also needs his space. Like people, old dogs can become crotchety and be less tolerant of annoyances
• Nutrition is Critical – old dogs have specific dietary needs, with low fat but high quality protein, minerals and vitamins, and easy to digest carbohydrate. Some require renal support.
• Exercise still Matters – walks might be shorter and slower, but they are still important, both for physical condition as well as mental stimulation
• Dog Grooming – to maintain skin and coat condition as well as to pamper your old friend
• A Comfy Bed – he has old bones. Make him a comfy bed that is easy to get on and off, and always make sure water and access to a toileting area are close by. Bring him in out of storms, winter cold, and summer heat.
• Weight Control – an overweight dog has more stress on his body, particularly on the internal organs and joints
• Dental Care – healthy gums and teeth are very important. Your vet can address this.
• Daily Routine – a consistent schedule without surprises will reassure your ageing dog
• Regular Checkups – to keep up with annual vaccinations, geriatric screenings (e.g. kidney function, thyroid disease, liver disease, diabetes), worming, and checking for tumours and arthritis.
The final years of your dog’s life are a special time – a time for gentle togetherness and meaningful bonding. Never abandon a dog because he is old. Care for and love him as much now as you did when he was a pup, and he will be a happy, loving and content companion until the end of his life.