Your eight-year-old Toy Poodle is still hyper, fit, and happy, while your six-year-old St. Bernard is beginning to lag. Why? A dog’s breed and many other lifestyle factors affect whether or not your dog is actually a senior.
There are common signs of aging to look for, to determine whether your dog is a senior:
Moving more slowly: Like humans, dogs can develop orthopaedic problems, like arthritis, that are more common in older pets. If your dog is taking longer to get up or has problems with stairs, take him to the vet to determine the cause and talk about medications that can make him more comfortable.
Your dog is thinner or fatter: A dog’s metabolism will naturally slow down as he ages, and he may be exercising less now. Dental problems can cause weight loss if it’s painful for your dog to eat. In either case, see your vet to rule out serious problems and to find out how to adjust his diet and exercise schedule to something more age-appropriate.
A haze over the eyes: A bluish haze over your dog’s eyes does not affect his sight and is a harmless sign of aging. However, a white haze over his eyes could be a symptom of cataract. See your vet immediately.
Unexplained barking or a slower response to commands: If you find you need to repeat commands to your dog, when you didn’t have to previously, or if he barks or appears startled for no reason, he may have hearing problems.
Problems with vision: You may not even notice that your dog’s vision is changing if it happens slowly. Sight-impaired or blind dogs generally adjust well to the loss of their vision. However, quickly or slowly it may happen, once you notice, take your dog to the vet to make sure it’s not a sign of anything serious. Also, as with hearing loss, be more attentive when walking your dog. He may become disoriented or afraid more easily now in unfamiliar environments.
Lumpy fatty deposits: These may or may not be harmless. It’s important to see your vet to find out if they are lipomas, which are benign fatty tumors that come with age.
A change in coat texture and colour: Dogs lose the lustre and colour of their coats as they age. Brushing and grooming your dog often can help him maintain the shine in his coat. However, if you notice a darkening and dryness in his skin that doesn’t improve with treatment, see your vet, as it may be a sign of hypothyroidism, which is treatable.
A heavier sleep: Older dogs sleep more soundly and more hours than young dogs. Make sure you don’t use this as an excuse not to walk him! Older dogs still need to exercise, albeit in smaller but more frequent sessions.
Canine confusion: Dogs sometimes develop age-related dementia, as humans do. He may be more short-tempered, confused, or appear not to know familiar people or places. See your vet if your dog is behaving differently than he used to behave.
Slowing the aging process
You can ease your dog into a happy old age, where he needn’t feel any different than he did before. Here are important tips on keeping your elderly dog in young-dog shape:
- Safety is most important: Your dog can hurt himself more easily now, as he may not be able to move, see or hear as well as he used to. Watch for hazards in your yard and home, and if you let your dog run free at dog parks, make sure he doesn’t get knocked over by a rambunctious pup.
- Watch your dog’s weight: Your dog should always have a noticeable waist.
- Take care of his teeth: Be sure to brush his teeth regularly, and give him snacks that are specifically designed to keep his teeth clean while he chews. Consult your vet for a thorough oral care regimen.
- Feed him the appropriate dog food, and only dog food: (Unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian.) A balanced diet is vital for a dog to stay healthy. Also, measure his food to make sure you’re not feeding him too much or too little.
- Get your dog vaccinated and visit the veterinarian regularly: When your dog starts exhibiting the signs of aging, it’s time to start seeing the vet every six months. (However, he does not need to be vaccinated every six months.)
- Give supplements and medication only as prescribed by your vet: Some supplements may help him stay alert and healthy, but don’t take guesses about your dog’s health. Your vet will know what’s appropriate in the right doses for his age and breed.
- Exercise your dog regularly: The amount and type of exercise he requires depends on the size and/or breed of dog. It helps him stay limber and also gives him a chance to relieve himself, which he needs to do more often now that he’s older. Try shorter, more frequent walks.
- Stimulate your dog’s intellect: New toys, new walking routes, and new training challenges all help him exercise his brain and stay interested.
If we’re lucky, all our dogs will become happy, healthy old dogs. With the right care, you can make sure your dog has many happy days ahead!