You can do a lot to ensure that your dog's senior years are also golden ones. The point at which your dog reaches senior status varies considerably according to their breed and size.
Giant breeds, which tend to have a shorter lifespan than smaller breeds, are viewed as senior at 5-6 years of age but smaller breeds can reach double figures before showing similar signs of ageing.
As your dog grows older it is important to be more observant about their behaviour. Start keeping an eye on them for any indications that they are beginning to feel ready to start taking things more steadily. Age related changes can creep in stealthily and may initially be quite subtle. It can be easy to miss them when you see your dog on a daily basis.
Often it is when someone who hasn't seen your dog for a while, comments on a change in their behaviour or appearance. This often happens when your vet sees them for their annual booster appointment.
Common signs of ageing:
- Less active
- Sleeping longer and more deeply
- Less enthusiastic about going for walks or playing games
- Reduced or loss of hearing
- Impaired vision or blindness
- Coat thinner
- Greying around the muzzle
- Muscle loss
- Weakness in back legs
If your dog no longer runs when going on walks or pesters to play games it can be due to discomfort. Arthritis is frequently a problem as your dog ages. Dogs can be very stoical and don't complain much but by showing an unwillingness to go for a walk or by being stiff in the mornings after getting up, they can be communicating that they are in pain.
Freedom from pain can make a huge difference and this can be done using many different methods including anti inflammatories (pain relief), joint supplements, weight loss, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and physiotherapy.
Little changes in the home can also help your dog like a stairgate to stop them attempting the stairs or a ramp to help them get into the car.
Older dogs still enjoy going for walks as it provides stimulus but they should decide the pace. Several shorter walks rather than one long one will be easier for your dog to cope with and aid in preventing stiffness and loss of muscle mass. Frequent shorter walks also allow your dog to empty their bladder and bowels more frequently. This function can also deteriorate with age. Dogs with hearing or vision impairments may be happier to stay on a lead. Older dogs also tend to feel the cold more and thin coated breeds especially may benefit from a coat when going for walks on cold days.
Comfy beds are also especially important. Choose one that is easy for your dog to get in and out of and allows them to sprawl out as older dogs tend to curl up less.
Why not answer our mobility questionnaire to check your pet's abilities.
Eating and Drinking
Older dogs require a senior diet to help support them during their ageing process. Many dogs gain weight as they get older, partly because they are less active and spend more time asleep and also because their slower metabolism needs fewer calories. Other dogs can have the opposite problem and lose weight. Sometimes this is due to deterioration in their sense of smell and taste but often it can be a sign of an underlying chronic disease.
Fresh water should always be available. Sometimes an older dog will start to drink more than usual and in many cases this can be a symptom of kidney problems or diabetes. If you notice any of these changes you should arrange an appointment to come see a vet.
Vaccination and Worming
Older dogs immune systems become less efficient and weakened over time. Infections are picked up more easily and as a result, senior dogs may not be able to fight off disease as well as they could when they were younger. We advise regular annual boosters in senior dogs. Regular worming is also advisable, both for your dog's health as well as your own.
Due to the ageing process important organs such as the kidneys may not function as well as they used to. It is important to detect these signs early and the warning signs are often increased thirst and increased urine production. Regular check- ups by your vet along with urine and blood testing can help detect the onset of kidney disease and we can help take steps to slow down the progression of the disease, allowing your dog a longer and better quality of life.
Dental problems are very common in older dogs. Warning signs are smelly breath, salivation or chewing to one side. If left, it can lead to periodontal disease and loss of their teeth. The bacteria in plaque can even spread to other parts of the body and have been linked to heart, liver and kidney disease. If you notice any of these problems you should make an appointment to come and see us.
If severe dental disease is diagnosed, usually a general anaesthetic is required to scale and polish the teeth and remove any diseased ones. Many people worry about the risk involved with older pets having a general anaesthetic but although every anaesthetic carries a small risk, advances have been made in anaesthesia and it is now much safer. Intravenous drips and blood testing prior to anaesthesia also help. Many owners are amazed with the improvement of their dog’s quality of life once the pain of toothache has been removed.
Heart disease is unfortunately very common in older dogs and certain breeds are particularly at risk. If you notice any of the signs listed below you should arrange an appointment to come and see a vet.
- less happy to run or go for longer walks
- pants a lot
- takes a long time to recover from walk
- is restless at night and can’t settle
Older dogs can suffer from signs of dementia and reduced brain function-cognitive dysfunction. Some of the first signs that can point towards senile changes are:
- uncharacteristic aggression
- a reduced ability to cope with stress or changes in their routine
- frequent and sometimes loud vocalisation
- urination or defecating in inappropriate places
- memory loss-not remembering simple commands
We can support and hopefully improve their brain function by medication or dietary supplements so it is important you book an appointment to see us if you start to notice any of these signs.
Regular grooming can be helpful especially if your dog suffers from arthritis as this can make it painful for them to groom themselves. It also allows you to regularly check for any lumps and bumps and seek prompt veterinary attention if you are concerned. Regularly nail trims might also be required as older dogs nails tend to grow at a faster rate.
Even if your older dog seems fine it is essential to come and see the vet a minimum of twice a year, instead of just the usual annual booster check up. This will aid in the early detection of problems as a lot of changes can happen in 6 months to an older dog. Blood and urine tests will also help to check all their vital organs are functioning properly.
If you do spot anything, don't put off booking an appointment because you are worried about what the vet may find. It is important problems are detected early to aid in treatment. Constant low grade pain reduces quality of life considerably and many owners are always amazed at the improvement of their dog's wellbeing once their problem has been alleviated or controlled.
Early warning signs of health problems:
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Changes in appetite
- Increased thirst
- Increased urine output
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Coughing and wheezing
- Difficulty in movement
- Unusual lumps and bumps
- Behavioural changes
- Unpleasant odours
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Senility with associated loss of memory
Our veterinary nurses also offer senior club appointments to help ease your pets into their mature and senior years as comfortably as possible. Why not answer our Senior Pet Questionnaire and come along and see us.
Click on the videos below to find out more about Cognitive Dysfunction and Feeding Your Older Dog.