Taking The Physiological Changes Of Aging Dogs Into Consideration
At Advanced Animal Care, we love providing senior dogs with the care and support they need to age gracefully and comfortably. We understand that the experience of caring for older dogs can be a tremendously rewarding one that enhances and enriches the lives of dogs themselves, as well as their human caretakers. We truly are dog people at heart. We love to lend insight and guidance into caring for older dogs.
It is important to remember that many physiological changes occur during the aging process your canine companion is experiencing. These include:
- Reduced hearing
- Changes in eyesight
- Arthritis and muscle mass loss
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Cardiac and kidney disease
- And more
Some or all of these symptoms may not become noticeable until your dog is very old. Our veterinarians are skilled at detecting subtle changes in a dog's body that can easily go unnoticed by its owner. Early detection of these changes can help prevent the progression of disease and minimize the suffering of a senior dog.
Dogs are considered seniors at the age of seven in most breeds. Some breeds, the really large-breed dogs, tend to not have as great a lifespan as the smaller dogs, so they might be considered a senior citizen at the age of four or five. It very much depends on breed ad the general health of each individual patient.
The most important thing is to make sure that your senior is comfortable. One of the things that happens, as our pets age, is that they can start getting arthritis, or having pain from backaches, old injuries, and knee problems. It's important to make sure they're comfortable and happy, especially as they advance in age and become sick.
It's important to make sure, nutritionally, they're getting enough protein and fat without overdoing it, in case they might have a kidney or liver problem.
As their eyes age, there may be some vision loss. A lot of times, it's a bluish haze or cloudiness of the eyes that's pretty easy to notice in some dogs. It's like looking through the fog when we're driving. It doesn't necessarily mean they can't see. But then, sometimes, that blue haze can turn out to be cataracts, which can be related to diabetes or just a natural aging change. It's important to pay attention to that. Some dogs may experience hearing loss as well.
Many dogs also have trouble getting up and down the stairs, jumping up on furniture, running, and doing all the fun things that they used to do when they were young.
One really important thing to consider as our pets age is whether their environment is safe. They may not be able to see as well as they used to. They might not be able to jump or walk as well as they used to. Falling down stairs is a real danger to senior pets, just like in people. Breaking hips is a real thing in pets, too. Making sure they have good traction with rugs or yoga mats and blocking off stairs, just to keep the environment as safe as possible, is important.
It is important for senior pets to have at least one exam a year, but I really encourage people to come in twice a year, every six months. Since aging does happen faster in dogs, a lot can happen in six months in their little bodies. We like to make sure that we're checking blood work, doing a good physical exam, and checking their teeth. All of those things that can go wrong, we want to try to catch early if we can.
Cognitive dysfunction is common in older pets. It's similar to dementia in people. Dogs and cats can start to show signs of disorientation, or not sleeping well at night. Maybe they always slept really well, but now they're pacing or roaming at night. They can also have problems with knowing where things are in the house, or falling down.
It can be tough at the end of life, and it may be difficult to know when it’s time to consider euthanasia. No one knows your pet as well as you do. Think about three or four things that are really special to your dog. Does your dog love to run and jump? Does your dog love to eat? Does your dog greet you every time you come in the door? As a family, it's nice to sit down and think that when your pet can't do those really special things anymore, then is that the time to make a decision to end any suffering that could be happening?
Euthanasia actually means good death. Euthanasia is a way of ending life in a very humane way. We first give a sedative so that your pet feels no pain through the process. We then give an injection that ends life. It's a very peaceful process, and it's a sad time. We're here to help people through every stage.
Schedule Regular Veterinary Visits For Senior Dogs
Because many of these conditions will develop gradually, it can be difficult to notice the changes occurring. During the senior wellness exam, our doctors and staff will ask you questions that specifically target medical issues common to senior dogs. Working together with you, we will develop a great plan to ensure optimal health for your dog.
It is important to remember that the aging process is accelerated in dogs. Therefore, we recommend seeing all senior dogs at least twice a year.
Senior dog care visits provide an opportunity to discuss the well-being of your canine companion as he or she ages. This includes:
- Daily schedule
- Sleep patterns
- Family interactions
- Exercise and changes in movement
In addition, during a full physical examination for aging dogs we can look at:
- Weight and Body Condition
- Skin and Coat Quality
- Mouth, Gums and Teeth
- Ears and Eyes
- Thyroid Gland
- Heart and Circulatory System
- Lungs and Nose
- Joints and Muscles
- Any condition changes since the last visit
Body Condition Evaluations For Senior Dogs
Body condition evaluations are important parts of a senior dog care program. They can be crucial in determining whether your senior dog is overweight, underweight, or at an ideal body weight. Carrying extra weight is especially difficult for a senior dog and will impact the quality of its life. Any reduction in weight may be a sign of illness. We can also show you how to monitor your dog's body condition at home which may aid in assessing its condition between visits.
Making Good Food Choices For Senior Dogs
Canine nutrition is extremely important throughout the entirety of a dog's life. However, making sound senior dog food choices is an especially important facet of senior dog care. Because of decreased physical activity and slowed metabolism, aging dogs may need 20% fewer total calories than middle-aged adult dogs. However, some older dogs may not be able to assimilate proteins as well and may require additions in protein or change in the type of protein. Generally, aging dogs tend to gain weight, and as they do, senior dogs become at risk for possible health complications that did not plague them in adolescence. For example, it may take obese dogs longer for their blood glucose concentrations to return to normal.
This is why it is important to consult your veterinarian about the best senior dog food option for your canine companion. Specially formulated senior dog food is easier to digest, might also address liver, kidney or urinary issues, as well as the general nutritional needs specific to senior dogs.
Dental Care For Senior Dogs
Dental disease is especially common in senior dogs because it progresses gradually and can easily go unnoticed. Senior dogs simply adapt to living with discomfort. However, adapting to discomfort doesn't mean that they are not in pain. Just as in humans, dental issues can be very painful for dogs. Unfortunately for your dog, they are not able to express themselves to you in a way that will help you understand.
It is our goal to diagnose and treat all dental disease in senior pets to allow them to live comfortably in their senior years. Some senior pets will have other illnesses that will affect the recommended course of treatment. Therefore, we will work together with you to determine the safest and best outcome for your dog.
How Much Exercise Should A Senior Dog Get?
Although your senior dog cannot jump as high or run as fast as he or she could in their prime, exercise is still an essential component of any senior dog care regimen. Dogs tend to age better both physically and mentally when daily exercise, such as a short walk, is a part of their routine. However, an important rule of thumb is to keep their exercise both regular and moderate. Keep up with daily or every other day walks and limit the duration according to the dog's level of fitness and fatigue. Just as in humans, exercise can also:
- Help maintain a healthy body weight
- Slow the progression of old-age arthritis
- Stimulate cognitive capacity
- Heighten motor skills and coordination faculties
Of course, the physical condition of your senior dog will ultimately determine exercise duration and frequency, and we recommend consulting your veterinarian about the most appropriate and effective exercise routine for your canine companion.
Vaccines For Senior Dogs
In general, senior dogs tolerate vaccinations the same as younger dogs. Nonetheless, we evaluate each dog individually when deciding upon a vaccine protocol. Because vaccination schedules are unique to every dog, we recommend discussing vaccinations with your veterinarian to choose the options that are right for your elderly canine companion. In some circumstances, your veterinarian may suggest splitting up vaccines to allow your senior dog's body time to assimilate the vaccine without too much stress on the immune system.
Controlling Parasites In Senior Dogs
Senior pets are as vulnerable to parasites as younger dogs and in some cases even more so. Unfortunately, they may not be able to groom and care for themselves as well as they once could and therefore may not show clear signs of distress when infected by fleas and ticks. Therefore, it is very important to maintain consistency with flea/tick and intestinal parasite control programs for aging dogs. Your veterinarian can help determine if any changes should be made to an existing senior dog care parasite control program.
Schedule A Wellness Checkup For Your Senior Dog Today!
As a dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic team of dog people, we love seeing wagging tails, feeling cold noses and hearing about how our senior dog services have bettered the lives of our elderly canine patients. Our canine veterinary staff loves caring for older dogs and pledges a commitment to the health, wellness and happiness of your elderly canine companion. We have been here for many aging dogs and their owners over the years, and we will be here for you and yours each and every step of the way.
Give us a call or fill out a form here on our website to schedule a wellness checkup for your senior dog today!