Everyone wants to help their pets live longer and healthier lives. The key? Early recognition of issues that come naturally with aging, says Donna J. Spector, D.V.M., of VCA Animal Hospitals.
Read on for her tips for keeping your senior dog’s life golden:
1. Figure out your dog’s life stage. “Dogs are considered ‘senior’ in the last 25 percent of their expected lifespan,” Spector says. “If you have a Labrador Retriever with a 10- to 13-year life expectancy his ‘senior’ years start at 7½. A Toy Poodle with a 14- to 16-year life expectancy reaches his golden years at 10½ years old.”
2. Know the common medical conditions affecting older pets — cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, arthritis, liver and intestinal disorders — and notify your vet immediately if your pet starts exhibiting any concerning symptoms.
3. Find a veterinarian you trust. Older pets should visit their veterinarian every six months in order to detect problems early, Spector says. “Because dogs and cats age faster than humans do, their health problems can progress much more rapidly,” she says.
4. Attend to basic health maintenance such as flea and tick control, dental health and vaccinations to ensure your pet is well protected against preventable diseases, Spector says. To avoid unnecessary risks, ask your veterinarian about newer vaccination protocols and anesthetic procedures for older pets.
5. Consider giving your dog supplements. Certain supplements may help counter degenerative organ changes that occur during the aging process, Spector says. For example, fatty acids have a proven anti-inflammatory effect in many organ systems; glucosamine may act as a cartilage-protecting agent to improve mobility; and digestive enzymes and probiotics may be beneficial for gastrointestinal health. Ask your veterinarian what supplements might be right for your senior pet.
6. Recognize that older dogs often experience hearing loss and failing eyesight. Although these are usually degenerative changes with no cure, your veterinarian should evaluate your pet for treatable conditions, Spector says. Make adjustments around your home to avoid dangerous situations for your pet — eliminate tables with sharp corners or holes in the yard that your pet may not see. Announce yourself with your voice and footsteps when approaching your pet to avoid startling.
7. Provide your senior dog the healthiest and most nutritious food you can. If you are considering making your pet’s food, work with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to ensure you are creating a complete and balanced diet. In order to avoid problems with constipation, make sure both dogs and cats have free access to fresh, clean water.
8. Don’t over-feed your dog. As many pets age, their metabolism and activity levels decline, which decreases their need for calories. In general, older pets require 30 to 40 percent less calories than their younger counterparts. Overfeeding can lead to weight gain, obesity and increased problems with arthritis.
9. Provide your dog adequate exercise. With aging often comes decreased mobility and problems with arthritis. It is important to continue exercise in order to avoid obesity and keep your pet’s muscles strong to support their aging and arthritic joints. Swimming is an excellent exercise for older pets as it limits stress on joints and encourages a large range of motion. Leash walking and low-impact stair climbing are also good exercises. Make sure to include a warm-up and cool-down period with every exercise session.
10. Avoid stressful situations for your senior dog. As pets age they often become less tolerant in certain conditions. Recognize what constitutes stress for your pet (crowds, noise, children, etc.) and avoid exposure to keep them comfortable.
And finally, spend quality time with your older dog. Many senior dogs require extra nursing care or help with grooming — giving your pet some extra love and attention will help them thrive!