Older Dogs Have Special Needs.
So far in these lessons (see the list at the end of the article) we’ve addressed issues pertaining largely to the younger or new dogs. In fact, most people when they think of getting a dog think of young dogs, preferably puppies. But, most of the dogs found in shelters and/or rescued are older dogs, which is why it is harder to get them adopted. Regardless of the age of the dog you get or have age is going to be a factor sooner or later.
First, what does the word ‘older’ dog mean? Most people know that a dog year equals seven human years. Not so fast. In fact dog years’ calculation can vary depending on the size of a dog and/or how much it weighs. Larger dogs tend to have a shorter lifespan, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. So, a larger dog could be considered ‘old’ when it reaches age six (in human years). Here are a couple of examples: Seven years for a small to medium dog equate to human ages of 44 to 47, while in a large dog seven years might equal 50 to 56 years. Small in this case would mean up to 20 pounds, medium 21 to 50 pounds, large 51 to 90 pounds, and very large 90 pounds or more.
As a dog gets older it is susceptible to the same kinds of diseases that afflict humans as they age, including cancer, heart disease, liver/kidney/urinary tract diseases, arthritis, diabetes, etc. In some breeds, such as German Shepherds joint or bone disease is very common.
The older dog will require more attention. That could mean more frequent vet visits, dietary adjustments or changes, and changes to the home in which they live. Here are some tips about each area of possible concern.
1. More Trips To The Vet
Older dogs, just like humans, may need more frequent trips for medical review. While younger pets would normally make a once-a-year visit to the vet, older dogs may need to double up on that schedule. And the visit may need to be more in depth. Visits may now include dental care, more frequent blood tests, and checking for physical signs of aging such as weakness in the legs. You should also note that dogs (as well as cats) that aren’t spayed or neutered are at a higher risk for disease such as mammary, testicular, and prostate cancer.
2. Diet And Nutrition
There are lots of specialty dog foods on the market that claim to be specifically formulated for the senior dog. The most important aspect of adjusting the diet for an older dog is that it be easier to digest. Perhaps that hard kibble may not be as suitable for the dog that has lost some teeth or has soreness in the gums (a condition that would require further review and analysis). Also, as dogs age their activity levels decrease so the caloric content of food is important to gauge and adjust. The dog may not need as much food and maintaining the same level of food may lead to unnecessary and dangerous weight gain (you should also look out for unexplained weight loss which could indicate other health problems).
3. Immune System
The older dog is more susceptible to disease because its immune system is not as vibrant. They may not be able to fight off disease as well as they could when they were younger. That’s why it’s important for you as its owner to keep an eye out for unusual symptoms such as unexplained lethargy, not eating, etc.
4. Exercise Adjustment
Older dogs need exercise as much as younger dogs do. However, the nature of the exercise may change. No longer will it be as rambunctious as when it was young, nor will it be leaping fences as it once may have. You need to understand that and not expect it to do things it did when it was young. It’s very sad when an owner loses interest in a pet just because it is older. There are exercises better suited to older dogs and you should ask your vet about them or check them out online.
Your vet will tell you about adjustments that may need to be made to your pet’s vaccination schedule. Older dogs’ may require different medications or adjustments to its current vaccinations.
Pets can become senile (Alzheimer-like conditions are known in pets) and your vet should review such symptoms. But, sometimes what is needed is some form of stimulation. When a dog is young it usually finds its own stimulation through exercise and curiosity. When it gets older you may need to be more aggressive in providing that stimulation by way of exercise adjustments or new and unique toys and playthings, etc.
7. Lifestyle Changes
Older dogs’ residences may need to be adjusted. Perhaps you’ll need to change where it sleeps because of staircases it can no longer climb, or because keeping it outdoors is no longer an option given weather conditions it can’t easily adapt to as it once did.
8. Behavioral Changes
As a dog gets older you might notice that it doesn’t seem quite the same in terms of its behavior. Such changes may be due to medical conditions that aren’t apparent just by looking at it. A trip to the vet may be called for. Some changes could include confusion, increased reaction to sounds (or conversely not being alert to sounds), being irritable for no apparent reason, not responding to familiar commands, becoming needlessly aggressive, and more.
Taking care of your dog in its earlier years can go a long way to making its senior years better. Owning a dog is a life-long responsibility.