Looking After a Senior Dog: Top Tips

Top Tips on Looking After a Senior Dog | Animed Direct

Just like humans, dogs change throughout their lives. As they approach their senior years, not only do their bodies slow down a little, but their behaviours often change too. These changes mean that senior dogs have different needs to those they had as puppies and adult dogs. It’s important that dog owners understand these changes, and can provide the right care for their senior companion. This blog looks at how age can affect dogs, and the things you can do at home to make their later years comfortable and happy.

When is a Dog Senior?

Broadly speaking, dogs can be considered senior from as early as 7 years old. This is when some dogs might start to notice changes associated with ageing. However, different breeds age at different rates. Small dogs may be considered senior at aged 12, while for medium-size dogs it’s aged 10, and large breeds are considered senior when they are 8 years old. The age that dogs start to develop age-related health problems can vary a lot.

It can sometimes be helpful to think about your dog’s age as it relates to human years to help make sense of the stage of life your dog is in. Take a look at our blog ‘Dog Years to Human Years: How to Convert Them’ to find out your dog’s age in human years.

The Effects of Ageing in Dogs

Age can impact dogs in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally. Some of the things affected include:

Weight: Senior dogs often put on weight as their metabolism slows down. However, others might lose weight as a result of digestive issues or an illness.

Coat health: Your senior dog’s coat might start to become peppered with white or grey as it loses its pigment. It might also lose its shine.

Senses: You may notice a decline in your senior dog’s sense of smell, hearing and vision as they get older. Just like humans, these get weaker with age. Senior dogs can also struggle to remember things as well as they used to.

Sleep patterns: Some dogs may become restless at night and struggle to sleep. Many will find they need more rest, and might sleep more during the day.

Mobility: As muscles weaken and joints become stiffer, many senior dogs have reduced mobility. This is particularly the case for dogs who suffer with arthritis, which is not uncommon.

Looking After a Senior Dog

It’s important that you adapt with your senior dog as they experience these changes. Each senior dog’s specific needs will be different, but most will benefit from extra support around the home, a diet formulated specifically for older dogs, and plenty of patience and understanding. Here are our top tips for looking after a senior dog.

Weigh Your Dog Regularly

Although weight doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about your dog’s health, if it changes quickly, it can be a good indicator that there’s a problem. Always seek advice from your vet if you notice changes in your dog’s weight – particularly if they are losing weight..

Older dogs do have the tendency to gain weight. You should try to prevent this as it can put further strain on their ageing joints and organs. Stick to the recommended meal portions unless told otherwise by a vet, and aim to weigh your dog every six weeks. Check out our blog, ‘Is My Cat or Dog Overweight?’ for more advice on this topic.

Feed Them Senior Dog Food

Senior dog food is specially formulated to contain everything an older dog needs, offering extra support where they need it, and cutting down on what they don’t.

Since senior dogs tend to be less active, they don’t need as much energy from their food. Too much can lead to them gaining weight, as discussed. Senior dog food contains the right amount of calories for these reduced activity levels.

Senior diets also look to support the functioning of vital organs, and overall health. Forthglade’s Senior Complete dog food, for example, includes ingredients to help support healthy digestion, joints and bones, as well as maintain cognitive function.

You might notice that your senior dog’s appetite starts to wane. This can happen as a result of having a reduced sense of taste and smell. If this happens, you can experiment with different foods to find something your pup finds more appetising. You can try wet and dry varieties, a mix of the two, or experiment with toppers. Check out our blog on ‘How to Make Dry Food More Appealing’ for more ideas on changing up your dog’s dinner.

Keep Your Senior Dog Active

Though older dogs can often be lethargic, it is important to keep them active. You may need to reduce the length of your walks and go at a slower pace, but make sure you continue to go out little and often.

Keeping walks regular and moderate is the best way to maintain mobility. As well as keeping your senior dog fit, regular activity can also help with joint health.

Senior dogs are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, so be mindful of this. A breathable, waterproof dog coat is a good idea for walks in the winter.

Senior dogs also benefit from plenty of mental stimulation too. They will get some of this from their daily walks, but playtime is also important. Interactive toys like KONGs and other food dispenser toys are a great way to engage your dog, stimulating their mind and promoting good mental health.

Check Their Teeth

You should always keep an eye on your dog’s dental health, but this is especially important in their later years. Senior dogs are more susceptible to gum disease and tooth decay. Ideally, you should try to brush your dog’s teeth on a regular basis. However, this can take a lot of time and patience, so dental chews, gels and oral rinses can also help.

Be on the lookout for signs of dental health issues, including excessive salivation, bad breath, and difficulty eating. Take your dog to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms.

Grooming

Senior dogs don’t tend to groom themselves as much as younger dogs, which can lead to a buildup of dirt and debris in their paws and fur.

Giving them a helping hand on a regular basis will not only keep your pup’s coat in good condition, but it will also give you the chance to check for any lumps. While lumps and bumps can often be harmless, they can be an indication of cancer. Early detection and intervention is very helpful in these cases. Use a soft brush and be gentle when grooming your senior dog.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the length of your dog’s nails. They can get overgrown if they are not being worn down through exercise as much, and can become painful if left unclipped.

Prepare for Toilet Accidents

Just as some humans suffer from incontinence as they age, so can dogs. While the main cause of this is simply a lack of bladder control, it can also be a sign of more serious health problems, so you should report it to your vet. Some causes of incontinence can be treated with medication.

To help prevent accidents, encourage your dog to go outside more regularly. You can also get them a machine washable dog bed to make clean-ups easier. Take a look at our blog on How to Wash a Dog Bed for more advice.

It’s very important that you are patient and avoid becoming angry if your dog has accidents in the house. Punishing your dog won’t help them to stop, and may end up causing further behavioural issues.

Home Adjustments

Making sure your senior dog is happy and comfortable is really important. Make sure they have a bed that they find comfortable. Memory foam beds can be a good option if your dog suffers with painful joints, and some dogs benefit from raised beds.

Whichever kind of bed they prefer, make sure that it’s positioned somewhere in the house where your dog feels secure and calm. It should be warm, with no draughts, and away from noise, children and other pets. You can always have more than one bed in different places in the house so that your dog has the choice to snooze with the family, or take themselves off alone if they need to.

Read our blog about choosing beds for arthritic dogs for more advice.

Thing to Look Out for in Senior Dogs

Although lots of changes are inevitable as your dog reaches their senior years, it’s important not to ignore symptoms and write them off as ‘old age’ as they could be a sign of a health problem. Take your dog to the vet if you notice any of the following, or anything else that doesn’t seem quite right.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Trouble going to the toilet, or accidents indoors
  • Bad breath
  • Stiffness or difficulty moving around and jumping onto things
  • Limping
  • Lumps
  • Excessive tiredness or not wanting to exercise
  • Coughing
  • Balance issues

Wrapping Up

In many ways, looking after an ageing dog is similar to looking after a puppy with the extra care and monitoring they require. It is important that you remain calm and patient as your dog becomes less able. Be receptive to their needs, paying close attention to them, and be sure to report any worrying changes to your vet. With patience and care, your senior dog will be able to enjoy their twilight years with you and make plenty more happy memories.

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