The needs and care of dogs change as they grow from puppyhood to adult to old age. But when are they considered old, and what do they need?
A widely accepted idea is that old, or senior, is when 75 percent of the anticipated lifespan has passed. So, if a particular breed’s life expectancy is 12-15 years, a senior is considered 9 – 11 years.
Older dogs often develop many of the same age-related issues seen in older people.
However, senior dogs can live a healthy, comfortable, and enriched life in their twilight years. Here are some suggestions.
• Regular observation
Check eyes and teeth, feel for lumps, bumps, and skin irritations and note any change in food and sleep routines, hearing, or vision loss.
Pay attention to any confusion, irritability, weakness, or difficulty walking or getting up from the floor. Watch for fatigue or rapid breathing with usual
• Regular veterinarian visits
Medical check-ups and care are more important at this age for preventative and maintenance care. The veterinarian can also help manage pain and mental decline if these become a problem. A visit is also an excellent place to discuss quality and end-of-life concerns.
• High-quality nutrition
Seek the veterinarian’s advice, as there’s no actual legal requirement or definition of what constitutes a senior dog food at the retail store. Also, keep an eye on their figure as overweight dogs have a higher incidence of diabetes, heart disease, skin problems, and can aggravate painful joint conditions.
• Proper Dental Hygiene
Dental disease is painful and may make it difficult for senior dogs to eat. The first step is a veterinary exam and professional dental cleaning. Then, schedule regular follow-ups and brush daily at home or offer dental treats, dental diets, or dental toys.
Keep up the moderate exercise and walks, games, and play. Set up play dates with other friendly dogs.
• Brain Games
Provide new toys, interactive puzzles, and treat scavenger- hunts around the house. Consider rides in the car and dog-friendly holidays and outings. Let walks be leisurely and free to explore new smells, sights, and sounds.
Brushing up or learning new skills gives them a job and another way to interact with family members and friends. In addition, training improves communication, mental alertness, muscle tone, and confidence.
An orthopedic or a heated dog bed may help senior dogs suffering from arthritis and other joint problems, as will steps or ramps to help them get into cars, up and down stairs, and onto furniture. In addition, carpeting or rugs over hard-surface flooring can help arthritic dogs gain footing and make it easier for them to get around. Finally, night lights may be of help, especially by the food and water bowls.
Senior dogs have a unique blend of charms, and living with them can indeed be a privilege. So, celebrate the golden years!
Ann Coffey, Ms. Fairy Dogmother, is a dog trainer and pet sitter available at 817-668-6229 or visit www.msfairydogmother.net for more information.