1. How to Care for an Aging Dog's Specific Needs - Understanding the Aging Process
Most dog owners are under the impression that their furry friends become seniors at the age of seven.
This calculation, however, can lead to confusion for those who do not notice any specific behavioral changes in their dog's demeanor or physical appearance at the seven year mark.
This is due to the fact that aging occurs at different times in different breeds. Larger breeds tend to begin aging at seven years old, however medium to small breeds may not begin to show any signs of aging until their teen years.
That being said, each breed will show similar aging characteristics, and their needs will begin to slowly change over their declining years.
The main concern for most pet owners is the comfort and health of their aging companions. Aging in canines is similar to aging in human beings, in that they may begin to display:
- lack of energy
- hearing problems
- vision problems
As you begin to notice one or a combination of the aforementioned symptoms in your dog, be prepared to make the following changes in his lifestyle and in the manner that you care for him.
Coping With Common Aging Problems
A marked difference in energy and a lack of playfulness are often unavoidable changes that will slowly take place as your dog gets older. While they are not generally a cause for concern, it is best to change the way that your dog lives once these changes have set in. For example, the energy deficiency may lead to a decrease in tolerance for environmental stressors, such as extreme temperatures, noise, light, etc.
This is due to an increase in emotional and physical stress that accompanies aging. Create a comfortable bed area for your tired pet and do not encourage play beyond what he is comfortable with.
Make sure to make regular exercise such as light walking a daily habit to ensure that your dog does not suffer unnecessary health problems related to his new life stage (such as obesity or excessive soreness of the joints).
Hearing and vision problems can be expected as your dog ages, however there is no immediate need for alarm. Pay attention to how well your dog receives commands that were previously obeyed promptly.
If you notice a delay in your pet's command response, such as a hesitation to come when called, do not chastise your dog. It is likely that his hearing is simply beginning to fade. To cope with this change, you can retrain your dog to respond to hand signals.
For example, you might replace the word “sit” by raising one hand several feet above your dog's head and snapping your fingers (a common motion used by dog trainers). The visual stimuli that you create will soon register as a command with attentive and patient training.
If your dog is displaying signs of vision loss, such as tearing, excessive discharge, or eye discoloration, simply make accommodations in your home to keep him safe and comfortable. Block dangerous areas, such as staircases and utility rooms, with baby gates to keep your dog away from potential harm.
Also, be aware that he may become nervous more easily due to his lack of vision, therefore his responses to noise and familiar people may be altered. A gentle touch to let him know you are near may be cautiously used, and restrictions on noise are advisable.
Always keep furnishings and decor in the same place so that your dog does not undergo the intensely stressful process of having to relearn his surroundings, and carefully lead him throughout your home daily so that he may learn how to
navigate on his own.
Signs of Major Illness
While some common signs of aging are to be expected in your dog's lifetime, there are certainly red flags to be on the watch for. Certain characteristics that aging dogs experience are not merely signs of normal aging, but rather of an underlying serious condition. Some of these may include:
- frequent urination
- weight loss
- weight gain
- cloudy eyes
- tumors beneath the skin
- extreme activity intolerance
- mobility limitations
- excessive coughing
- gum disease
Complications can arise from these symptoms that require immediate medical attention. If not investigated in a timely manner, the aforementioned symptoms can lead to unnecessary complications and even death. Some of the more prevalent aging conditions that dogs can suffer from include:
- heart disease
- tooth decay
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- respiratory disease
A general rule of thumb is to have your pet, regardless of size or breed, brought in for twice yearly veterinary checkups after he reaches the age of seven. While one can easily detect many common signs of illness in an aging pet, other illnesses require blood tests and other medical examinations.
Twice yearly checkups not only ensure the health of your dog and the ongoing treatment of aging conditions, they can also aid in the early detection of life threatening diseases. As caring for an aging pet can become a pricey endeavor, consider purchasing pet insurance immediately to ensure that your dog receives the best health care possible for the entire duration of his life.
Additional methods of making your aging pet more comfortable include providing a warm, quiet bed, restricting outdoor time, restricting his subjection to noise, restricting young visitors and other pets, switching to softer foods (as his teeth may begin to lose strength), and making regular exercise a priority.
Remember, your dog requires special attention as he begins to age, much as he did as a puppy. Be prepared to make him as comfortable and happy as possible, being attentive to his changing needs, and you can be sure to have your best companion around for a long time.