If you’ve got a four-legged and furry friend at home, you probably regard your pet as an irreplaceable part of the family. But while you might have adopted your dog when she was young and spry, the unfortunate reality is that puppies don’t stay little forever. No doubt, you’ll want to provide the best possible care for your good girl or boy as they age.
But what exactly does that entail? You might know that geriatric dogs (pups who are six or seven years old, depending on the size of the breed) need more love and attention. However, you might not know the finer details about what owners need to watch out for and how the care they provide might need to change over time.
Most dogs will live anywhere from eight to 15 years, but a dog’s lifespan can vary quite a bit depending on their size, their breed, and other health considerations. For example, small breed dogs live for 10 to 15 years, on average, while larger breeds will typically live for eight to 12 years. You can help to extend your dog’s life and ensure their comfort in their old age if you focus on five key aspects of their health:
- Nutrition: Your senior dog will fare better if you shift the focus to foods that are low in calories and high in fiber. This will help to reduce the risk of obesity while supporting gastrointestinal health. Don’t skip out on fruits and veggies (provided they’re approved by your veterinarian!) either, as these antioxidant-rich foods can help to fight off disease.
- Exercise: Just like humans need to stay active to preserve our health, so do canines. Dogs do become a bit more sedentary as they age, but keep in mind that inactivity can be harmful. Pups who don’t get enough exercise will be more prone to obesity, which can increase their risk of obesity and other medical conditions. If you need exercise ideas that are safe for your dog, consult your veterinarian.
- Checkups: Vet visits should be a regular part of your family’s routine. Both humans and dogs need to have their health assessed in order to prevent or catch problems. Most vets will recommend that senior dogs receive a checkup every six months.
- Oral Health: Although some medical problems are a bit more obvious (which we’ll touch on below), oral care issues are often just as damaging. Astoundingly, 80% of dogs will suffer from gum disease at some point during their lives. Owners should amp up their pup’s dental hygiene by brushing their dog’s teeth once a day — or using a dental spray and wiping away plaque, if your dog already has gum disease and finds brushing to be too irritating.
- Accommodations: In addition to oral health issues, older dogs may suffer from mobility problems, vision challenges, and physical pain. As a result, it’s important to make reasonable accommodations to ensure comfort and convenience for your aging dog. Switching to an accessible and soft bed can alleviate the need for your dog to jump, while therapeutic dog leg wraps and dog hock support braces can ease arthritic pain.
Keep in mind that even if you’ve zeroed in on these key aspects, you may not always be able to completely prevent your dog’s health issues. Conditions like arthritis, cancer, or kidney disease can still develop — despite all your efforts. Because of this, preventative tactics represent only one piece of senior care; owners must also recognize the telltale signs of these diseases and act quickly to ensure their pets receive the care they need.
You might be able to ascertain your dog has arthritis if you’ve noticed they’re having more difficulty with sitting and standing. Dogs with arthritis tend to sleep more, as well, and may favor one leg over the other. They’ll also likely show certain behavioral changes due to the paint they’re experiencing.
Cancer isn’t an uncommon diagnosis for humans or animals, but it’s certainly a scary one. A number of canine cancers may come on suddenly and be quite severe. Abdominal swelling, lumps or tumors, skin discoloration, breathing difficulties, and vomiting or diarrhea can occur. Regular vet visits can help to catch some cancer cases before they advance to later stages.
Kidney problems may be harder to spot, but you’ll want to pay attention if your normally ravenous pup loses interest in their meals. Decreased appetite — along with increased thirst, mouth sores, urinary frequency changes, and vomiting — can indicate kidney disease.
While not every senior dog experiences these serious health issues, it’s essential for pet owners to be diligent and proactive when caring for their aging pups. By prioritizing preventative care and taking quick action when signs of trouble appear, you can ensure your dog remains healthy and comfortable throughout their twilight years.
This article was contributed by Steffan Kasula.