Watching your dog slow down as they age can be difficult. No matter how lively and active your dog is, they will inevitably experience a decline in activity as they age. However, there are several ways to ensure your senior dog stays comfortable and maximize its quality of life.
The Difference Between a Senior and a Geriatric Dog
There is an important distinction to be made between senior dogs and geriatric dogs. Senior dogs are in the early part of the aging process, though the exact timing of this phase depends on the dog’s breed. Generally, dogs are considered to be senior once they reach 75 percent of their expected lifespan.
During this phase, dogs can typically continue to live their lives as normal with very few changes. Sometimes, dogs will show no signs of aging during the senior phase, while in other circumstances, they may show minor signs like reduced mobility.
As dogs begin nearing the end of their lives, they can lose some of their normal function beyond minor mobility issues. Once a dog advances to this point, they are considered geriatric. Geriatric dogs require significant adjustments to support mobility and feeding.
Make Proper Dietary Adjustments
As a dog ages, their dietary needs change. In many cases, owners of both senior and geriatric dogs will need to make some dietary adjustments to keep their pets healthy.
One of the primary dietary considerations for aging dogs is obesity. According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of all dogs in the United States are obese or overweight. This is especially common in elderly dogs since they have reduced caloric needs and lower activity levels.
If an owner continues to feed an older dog the same way as when they were younger, the dog can quickly gain weight. This excess size can lead to many health problems in older dogs, so you may need to gradually reduce the amount of pet food your dog consumes each meal. Veterinarians often recommend a 20-30 percent reduction in caloric intake.
Another aspect to consider is your dog’s dental health. If your dog’s teeth are deteriorating, you can feed them specially-formulated cooked dog food, which tastes great and is easier to chew than other high-protein dog food. Before making changes, consult your veterinarian for advice.
Commit to Regular Vet Appointments
While regular visits to the veterinarian are essential for a dog of any age, older dogs require more professional attention than younger dogs. Even if your dog is not showing any signs of disease or ailments, your vet can perform tests to detect underlying issues and start early treatment. This can have a significant impact on your dog's health outcomes.
VCA Animal Hospitals recommends that owners of aging dogs take the following measures:
Manage Chronic Pain
Elderly dogs often suffer from chronic pain due to ailments like arthritis. Some signs that your dog is suffering from chronic pain include:
Commonly prescribed canine pain management medications include:
Continue Regular Exercise
Even in dogs with chronic pain or mobility issues, it is vital to continue to exercise your dog. The intensity and duration of this exercise will depend on your dog’s mobility and pain levels.
For example, a dog with no chronic pain can continue to exercise with relatively high intensity, while a dog with severe mobility and pain issues may need to reduce the intensity and frequency of their exercise significantly. Talk with your vet to develop exercise ideas that will not aggravate any pre-existing issues your dog may suffer.
Some exercise options for dogs with chronic pain include:
An often-overlooked part of maintaining an elderly dog’s health is their mental engagement. As dogs age, their cognition can begin to deteriorate. Fortunately, you can prevent cognitive decline with enrichment activities. Enrichment activities are mini-games or activities your dog can engage in to maintain cognition. Some examples of these activities include:
Adjust Your Home for Accessibility
If your dog has reduced mobility or chronic pain, you should make accommodations in your home for them. Depending on your dog’s mobility level, you can make a variety of adjustments to make their lives easier, including:
Support Your Aging Dog
As your dog ages, it is crucial to make adjustments to your home and their routine to accommodate their changing mobility and metabolic needs. Simple changes like adding ramps to get on the sofa or in the car or providing alternative activities to keep them stimulated can significantly enhance their quality of life in their later years.
NONIE'S PERSONAL COMMENT [NOT ASSOCIATED WITH THE ABOVE ARTICLE], as an elderly dog suffers with arthritis, sore joints, hip problems, I recommend providing your elderly or geriatric dog with an elevated feeding station. It can really be uncomfortable for the to have to bend down to the floor to eat or drink. IN fact, due to this discomfort, you might find your elderly dog reduce his eating habits.