Thanks to improvements in veterinary science and medicine and pet owners now treating their dogs as members of their families, meaning that they invest more money and time into them as they age, dogs are now living longer than ever before. A dog is for life, and so whether have owned your dog since they were a little puppy, or if you have decided to adopt an older dog you will inevitably have to help them go through the aging process. Thankfully there are many things you can do to make this process easier and kinder for yourself and your furry friend.
Try to catch things early
Dogs age in much the same way as humans but at an accelerated rate, and as with humans it’s best to catch any signs of illness or difficulty early to give you the best chance of treating them. As dogs reach their senior years it’s worth scheduling regular check-ups with the vet, around every 6 months or so, to ensure that any issues are picked up early, such as arthritis, cancer or heart disease, giving you the best chance to treat them. Also be sure to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of some of the common ailments found in older dogs such as gum disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and dementia. Be mindful of any changes in your dog’s behaviour, any sudden changes in their weight, if they go off their food, or if they develop and strange lumps and bumps and take them to the vet straight away if you have any concerns. Another key area to monitor with your older dog is his mouth, older dogs are very prone to dental problems which can put them off their food and lead to worse ailments, check your dog’s mouth and brush their teeth to help maintain good oral health.
Practice preventative care
It’s never too early to begin preventative care for your pet, for example, good joint health for dogs can be practiced throughout their life by lifting them down from the back of the car rather than letting them jump – reducing the chance of unnecessary injury, providing them with supplements to ensure optimal joint health and maintaining a healthy weight to avoid unnecessary strain on their joints and ligaments. You can also practice preventative care throughout your dog’s life by feeding them good quality food and in the right amounts. A well balanced diet will set your dog up well for their older years and will make it easier for them to stay at a healthy weight, reducing the risk of weight related diseases. Other areas of preventative care include regular exercise, a good quality diet, maintaining their nails and teeth and practicing proper grooming.
Maintain a well balanced diet
As your dog ages his eating habits and dietary needs will change. In general, older dogs need far fewer calories as they are less active than they once were, most dog foods do this by lowering their fat content, but maintaining a good protein level to keep your dog feeling full. They will also need more fibre to help with digestion and reduce their chance of constipation, and some foods will also contain additional supplements to help ensure that they are receiving the vitamins and minerals they need. The time at which you should begin to transition your dog over to a senior diet varies depending on the breed, smaller breeds of dog mature later than larger breeds and so a chiuaua may not need a senior diet until he is 10 whereas a boxer may need one at 5 or 6. Most vets consider dogs to be senior from the age of 7 or 8 years old, as this is the time at which their metabolisms start to slow down. Remember, if your dog has a specific medical condition, such as poor kidney function, then they may need a completely specialist diet, and your vet will be able to advise you in these cases.
Maintain a Good Amount of Exercise
Although your dog may slow down a little as they age it’s still important to maintain a regular exercise schedule all the time they are able to do comfortably do so. Exercising your dog regularly will help them to maintain good muscle conditioning which will provide better support to their aging joints. Exercise also aids with maintaining a healthy weight and is good mental stimulation for your dog. Even if your dog struggles to walk longer distances a trip out in the car is something most dogs will always enjoy and they will appreciate even a short walk outside. If your dog really can’t walk anymore but still enjoys the mental stimulation of the great outdoors then you can even purchase doggy pushchairs or carriers to take them for walks in.
Make Some Small Changes to Your Home
As dogs age they often become less agile, may lose their vision, or suffer from arthritic pain, therefore they may find some of the things they used to do more difficult, such as jumping on the bed, going up or down stairs, getting in and out of the car or walking on slippery floors. If you notice that your dog is starting to struggle then you may need to make some small changes to your home to help them to be more comfortable and prevent them from causing themselves an injury. Putting down a rug or some non slip matting can help your dog if they struggle with slippery floors, commercial stairs and ramps can be purchased to help dogs get in and out of the car or on and off of furniture, not to mention they will save your back too. You can even buy ramps that sit alongside your staircase to help them get up and down stairs. Whatever area your dog is struggling in, have a conversation with your vet who will be able to advise you of products that may help to make their lives both easier and more comfortable.