Your dog spent all his life at your side. It’s been your loyal companion, it shared with you all your joys and sorrows for long long years. Now the time came to return all the loving and care you’ve received. However, in order to take a good care of your senior pooch, you need to be aware of the changes it’s going through as well as different needs.
First things first. You need to know the answer for the question what is old age for dogs.
The old classic “one human year equals seven dog years” is an easy way to calculate and relate to your dog’s age, but isn’t the most accurate one and shouldn’t be relied on too much. Large breed dogs are considered a senior at 6 or 7 years of age, whereas small breeds, aren’t considered a senior until their teen years. There are studies to suggest that certain breeds are more long-lived than others, too.
As a general rule of thumb, a dog who is 7 years or older should be considered middle to senior aged, and a consultation with your vet is in order to determine the best health care maintenance program for your dog as it ages. For smaller breed dogs, your vet may choose (if you agree, of course) to wait a couple of years before doing any geriatric monitoring. Meanwhile, you can have fun here, converting human and dog years online.
Got it? So, what things should you expect as the dog ages?
Slowing down – You may notice that you dog slows down a bit with aging. This isn’t always the case, but look for subtle changes in how s/he gets up, lays down, and uses stairs. Is there any hesitation or stiffness? Does a change in the weather (rainy, cold) make it worse? Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, particularly large breeds. Arthritis can occur in any joint, most commonly the legs, neck and spine. There are many different medications available to help ease the discomfort of arthritis — see your vet if you notice any signs of slowing down in your dog or consider improving their home life with appropriate gear such as an orthopedic bed.
Graying around the face, muzzle – just like their humans, most dogs commonly show a bit of gray starting at middle age (5-6 years).
Reduced hearing – Is your dog hard to wake up after sleeping or does s/he become startled easily if you approach from behind? Hearing loss or deafness may be a reason for this. There isn’t a lot that can be done for age-related hearing loss, but a vet exam should be done first to rule out other medical problems, such as an infection, growth, or foreign body in the ear. If your dog does experience hearing loss, take care to protect him/her from hazards, such as cars and kids that s/he may not hear or see. It is a good idea to “cross train” your dog early in life to recognise basic hand signals.
Cloudy or “bluish” eyes – As they age, dog’s eyes often show a bluish transparent “haze” in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of aging, and the medical (and fancy) term for this is lenticular sclerosis. Vision does not appear to be affected. Keep in mind that this is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque. Vision can be affected by cataracts, and your vet needs to be consulted!
Muscle atrophy – Mild loss of muscle mass, especially the hind legs, may be seen with old age. Some muscle atrophy, notably on the head and the belly muscles, can signify diseases such asmasticatory myositis and Cushing’s Disease. Be sure to have your vet check this out if any muscle loss is noted.
Do senior dogs have special nutritional needs?
The short answer is yes. Seniors generally need lower-calorie diets to help prevent obesity, which is a huge problem in seniors, and higher-fiber diets to improve gastrointestinal health. Nevertheless, probably the most important thing for a senior dog is that their energy requirement gets lower. Many dog food companies now offer senior dog food formulations for an age-appropriate diet for older pets because they’re lower in calories. If possible, owners should feed their pets foods that are suitable to their stage in life.