Pets that move the hearts of our pet sitters, senior dogs. With their grey snout, the wisdom in their eyes, and slower movements, they have something special making it hard not to fall in love with them. Just like us humans, our dogs age and slowly will physically and mentally decline. Depending on the breed and size of the dog, this may vary in speed, and bigger dogs tend to age faster than smaller dogs. So, what are signs that your dog is ageing? And how can you provide them with the best care possible?
Physical signs of ageing
Most dogs get slower when they age and will start having trouble getting around. They may start having issues getting up after laying down, or can’t get up the stairs or in the car anymore. Their overall mobility will decline and they will become more stiff. You can help your senior dog by adjusting their exercise regime. Short and slow, but regular walks, will keep them as healthy and fit as possible. Swimming is also an excellent option. If you have a slippery floor, provide your senior dog with a way to get more grip to prevent sliding, and to help them get up more easily after laying down. For cars there are ramps available. If your senior dog can’t get up, wrapping a towel under their belly and slowly pulling it up from both sides might just be the push that they need to fully get up. Supplements can be considered to promote overall joint health. There are orthopedic dog beds available which will relieve pressure on joints and bones and as they are elevated, are usually easier to get out of then normal dog beds.
As dogs age their weight and caloric needs usually change. As they get slower and less active they might need to consume less food to stay at a healthy weight. The reduced muscle mass, which is normal in senior dogs, might make them also lose weight. Make sure to adjust your dog’s diet to their needs. Any rapid gain or loss of weight should always be investigated by a veterinarian.
Cloudy eyes are not uncommon in senior dogs. As they age the cloudiness gradually increases, making it often go unnoticed at the start. The natural clouding of the eyes due to ageing is called Nuclear Sclerosis and is caused by the lens hardening. There are also other reasons why a senior dog can get cloudy eyes, like cataracts. Any sudden changes in the eye always need to be investigated by a vet at the soonest, as in some cases it can be a medical emergency. If you notice that your dog is starting to see less, have a vet confirm that it’s due to ageing. You can help your dog by keeping the layout of your house the same to prevent them as much as possible from bumping into objects.
Older dogs often start smelling a bit from the mouth. It’s important to make sure this smell is not caused by an infection in the mouth, tooth decay, or gum disease. Bad teeth are not uncommon in senior dogs, so make sure to stay on point with their dental care and regularly check their teeth and mouth for anything abnormal. Understandably so, dog owners are often wary of placing their elderly dog under anaesthesia to have dental work done, but having dental problems can lead to other health issues like heart disease. If your elderly dog needs anaesthesia, always do additional blood-work to ensure all blood values are within normal range, and make sure that your vet monitors your pet during anaesthesia and uses the last and most up-to-date anaesthesia methods and medication.
Incontinence may happen in elderly dogs, though always needs to be investigated by a vet to rule out any medical issues like UTI’s, crystals, or stones. There are medications available to manage incontinence, though they are not always effective. Dog diapers and pads can be used to keep most of the mess contained . Obviously dogs should never be punished for their incontinence. Senior dogs might also have more trouble holding their urine and poop in general, so more potty breaks might be required.
Some senior dogs are prone to developing lump and bumps as they age. Any bump needs to be checked with a vet to confirm they are benign.
As your dog ages you might also notice their behaviour change. They might start napping more as older dogs need more sleep. Take any behavioural changes in your dog seriously and investigate where needed, as in some cases it might point to an underlying issue. A dog that suddenly starts snarling when touched, might be in pain due to arthritis for example. Senior dogs can also suffer from CCDS, which stand for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, which is similar to Alzheimer in humans. Signs your dog might be suffer from CCDS are:
- Staring at the wall.
- Behavioural changes, like extreme irritability, excessive licking, loss of appetite, decreased playing and increased vocalisation.
- Repetitive and compulsive behaviours
- Pacing, vocalisation and restlessness at night
- Forgetfulness (like commands or routines)
- Increased anxiety
- General Confusion & Disorientation, like getting stuck around objects and not recognizing familiar pets or people.
- Pooping and Peeing in the house
What more can you do for your senior dog?
Besides keeping them as comfortable as possible by making adjustments in and around the house for them where needed and providing them with a balanced, healthy and complete diet, it’s advised to see a vet if you notice any physical or behavioural changes in your senior dog. Have your vet examine your dog yearly to assess their overall health and consider doing blood work yearly to check things like their kidney function. Keep your senior dog groomed and clean and help them where necessary.
By paying close attention to your senior dogs needs you can provide them with the care they require and ensure their senior years are comfortable.