He takes longer getting up; he can’t make it as far on your nightly walks; his face has become peppered with white hairs.  As much as you wish it weren’t so, your dog is aging .  But how do we ensure our dog’s health, comfort and happiness once they’ve reached the milestone of old age? What important facts do we need to know about senior dog health?

Your dog needs and deserves your love, consideration, compassion and extra care during this important time in his life.  With the right knowledge and protection, your elderly dog can live out the senior years in happiness and comfort.

Diet and Nutrition for Senior Dogs

One of the most important changes you will make in caring for your senior  dog is in his diet.  Look around for a good, high-quality senior dog food.  Try to find a brand whose main ingredients are meat and one source of carbohydrates, such as rice.  Corn-based foods can cause issues in the stomachs of elderly dogs?»¿?»¿, leading to diarrhea and objectionable gas.  Likewise, as they age many dogs develop an intolerance for wheat products which can result in gas and bloating.  These ingredients can cause irritation for your dog as well as you.  

Dog foods for senior dogs should have fewer calories per serving than the commonplace adult or puppy varieties.  The reason for this is the lowered activity levels of senior dogs.  While they may have been able to run and jump like athletes in their prime, many older dogs need to get more sleep and do less activity as they age.  It is extremely important that you keep track of your senior dog’s weight.  Being overweight puts a painful amount of stress on those old joints and bones.  If you look at your dog from above , your senior dog’s waist should tuck in behind his ribcage, making his waist and hip area a great deal more trim than his rib area.  From the side , you should be able to glimpse a hint of rib when he is moving, but no ribs when he is standing still.  Not only is a slim and trim elderly dog healthier, but his joints be less likely to ache and his quality of life will vastly improve .

Arthritis in Elderly Dogs

Most senior dogs suffer from bone and joint problems or other painful conditions as they age .  You can decide if this is the case with your elderly dog by watching him as he gets up, lies down, and walks.  Pay special attention to the hips, knees, and elbows.  Does your dog bend his knees normally, or does he hold his leg straighter or more stiffly than usual?  When your pet lies down or stands up does he come to his feet without problems , or does it take him a little longer than before?  A dog with knee and elbow problems will move gingerly and carefully.  He is more likely to choose not to get up readily forpeople he is unfamiliar with and barking his head off at people walking past your home may no longer hold interest for him .  He’ll probably climb or descend the stairs with trepidation, pausing at the top or bottom to decide if he can make it .

If you notice these changes in your senior dog, he may need your help.  Many dietary supplements can help with joint pain; Chondroitin and glucosamine can help joints to stay healthy, and your veterinarian can prescribe Rimadyl or another painkiller to help him with his discomfort.  A word of warning here: Medicating an older dog with a painkiller often causes them to forget that their joints ever hurt.  They will run harder, jump more easily, and by and large act like they are much younger.  This can cause serious damage to their joints as well as causing them severe pain later, when their original aches are compounded by the punishing exercise they have done that day.  If you choose to give your dog medicine for his aches and pains , it is your obligation to keep him from overdoing it in spite of the fact that he feels fine.

Whether medicated or not, a senior dog with joint problems should never be permitted to jump up or down from a bed, couch or vehicle and activity should be limited .  Walks and recreation are fine, but pay close attention to your dog’s comfort level.  If he loved five-mile runs in his prime, he will probably still want to run them now, but a responsible owner will know he can’t.  Instead, make your walks slower-paced and shorter .  Let him do some serious sniffing and peeing on trees , and go home when he starts to show signs that he is running out of steam, such as lagging behind or wanting to sit down .

Growths in Aging Dogs

Many owners are very anxious when they start to bumps and growths on their senior dogs.  Depending on the dog breed, you may never see a lump or your dog may be completely covered in them.  Some breeds that are more susceptible are cocker spaniels, labradors, and golden retrievers.  Usually these lumps are benign tumors and are not a threat to your dog’s health.  For the most part they do not affect your dog’s activity or appetite.  Some, like histiocytomas, will actually eventually fall off.  Your veterinarian can verify the nature of any suspicious lumps your dog may develop. 

Senior Dogs Skin and Hair

Older dogs usually show their age in their coat; it can become less glossy, and show gray or white hairs, especially around the eyes and snout. They also suffer from drier skinand more dandruff than puppies and younger dogs.  With these problems comes increased itching and possible rashes if the dog licks or worries his paws or belly due to the dry condition of his skin.  One solution to this problem is salmon oil or fatty acid supplements, which will increase the overall condition and shine of the coat.  However, don’t think that a simple fatty acid pill will solve the problem if your dog’s overall diet is of poor quality.  The best way to avoid skin problems is to feed your dog a high-quality food.  In addition, canned salmon and raw eggs can add healthy proteins and fats to your senior dog’s diet.

If your dog has upset his skin to the point of redness or swelling, it’s time to intervene.  You may need an e-collar from your veterinarian for a week or two so that his sores can heal.  You can also treat him with hydrocortisone and neosporin, as long as he can’t lick the medication off.  Treat him every day for up to two weeks while he’s wearing the collar, and then watch him closely him afterward.  Some allergens such as grass can increase his discomfort, so be careful how much time you allow him to be outside if he is having skin problems.

Vision and Hearing Loss in Older Dogs

Many older dogs can experience age related hearling loss and have problems seeing, which can make communicating with them more difficult, and they can become confused in different surroundings .  You might notice your dog fails to come when you call, or he may develop cloudy areas in his eyes.  If this happens, routine is your friend.  Dogs still retain their amazing sense of smell, and they know their own homes and yards (as well as their usual walk routes.)  Just because some of their senses are weaker doesn’t mean they can’t have a fulfilled life.  You will need to be close to them in new situations to reassure them, and have patience with them as they navigate their world.

Senior Dogs and Children

While many senior dogs have been very good with children for years, for the sake of your elderly dog, you need to make sure they are not put in a painful or unpleasant situation with toddlers .  Of course, supervised and respectful children can be a wonderful experience for your dog.  But an elderly dog suffering the aches and pains that go along with age , who can’t hear , or who has vision problem is much more likely to snap at a child. Your dog may have always been great with kids , but at this stage in your dog’s life, it’s better to be safe than sorry .  Their curiosity and clumsiness can be very unsettling for an older dog.  Instead, consider this his golden years .  He’s been a faithful family dog, reward him for his faithful service by sparing him the noise and chaos and reserving him a peaceful placewherever he can sleep undisturbed.

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