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Caring for a Senior Dog

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Caring for a senior dog is very different than caring for a puppy. Senior dogs come with their unique challenges. If your dog is growing old or you are going to be taking in a senior dog, there are some things you may want to prepare for so that you will be ready to keep your senior dog comfortable.

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At What Age Is a Dog Considered Senior?

Every dog is different when it comes to aging. Large dog breeds typically age sooner than smaller dog breeds, however. For instance, Great Danes are considered to be seniors when they reach five or six years of age. Golden Retrievers are considered to be seniors when they reach somewhere between eight to ten years of age. Little Chihuahuas, on the other hand, are not considered to be seniors until they are approximately ten to eleven years old.

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What Are the Signs of Aging in Senior Dogs?

As your dog ages, he may develop foggy eyes, gray hair, a thinning coat, and lumps on his skin. It is normal for senior dogs to get a foggy, grayish tint to their eyes. If your dog’s eyes have a bluish-grayish tone, this is normal. However, if you start to notice the fogginess is white, he may be developing cataracts and will need to see the vet.

It is normal for older dogs to get gray hair, especially around their face. In addition to graying hair, your dog’s coat may become thin and lose some of its earlier glossiness.

Older dogs often develop fatty lumps that are most often harmless, but some could cause problems or even be a sign of cancer. For this reason, any lumps or changes in your dog’s skin should be checked out by a vet.

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Senior Dogs and Temperament

Aging dogs can become aggressive. Aggression in senior dogs often occurs because of pain from such conditions as arthritis, or from loss of sight or hearing that can cause older dogs to get startled easier. For this reason, you may want to avoid interactions between your senior dog and young children.

Even if you have an aging dog that has done well with kids in the past, he may not do as well with them as he gets older. Small children often make quick, unpredictable movements that can startle or overwhelm a senior dog.

Your Senior Dog’s Senses

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Senior dogs experience loss of senses just as senior humans do. When your aging dog starts losing his hearing or his sight, this can lead to frustration, aggression, and other behavior issues. If you begin to notice your dog losing his senses, there are some things you can do to make life easier on both of you.

If your dog is losing is vision or hearing, the first thing to do is get rid of any obstacles in your dog’s usual paths, and keep your floors clear of clutter. If your dog’s vision is diminishing, there are some things you can do to help. First, turn on lights for your dog so he can see where he is going better. You can also teach him words that you can use to let him know if he is close to the stairs or some other obstruction.

If your senior dog is losing his hearing, you may be able to tell because he won’t respond to your commands like he used to. Use more body language and make sure you are within sight of your dog when giving commands.

If your dog is losing his sense of taste, this may be one of the reasons he is becoming more of a picky eater. You can give him more flavorful foods, such as adding some tuna juice on his food.

If your senior dog is losing his sense of smell, he may have a difficult time finding his food, finding his humans, and getting around in general. Dogs use their sense of smell to help them find all of these things, unlike humans.

How to Care for Your Senior Dog

Just as people go through many changes as they age, so do dogs.

Your Senior Dog’s Mobility

As your dog ages, he will start to slow down. He will likely take longer naps and do less running around. Older dogs tend to have a hard time maneuvering up and downstairs. Your dog may have trouble getting up and down even just a few steps. If you have a senior dog that has to use the stairs to get to the yard where he usually goes to the bathroom, this can pose a stressful situation every time he has to go. This stress may result in him having accidents in unwanted places because he is avoiding the stairs.

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If your dog is struggling to get up and down the stairs, you may want to try a dog ramp. Dog ramps are super helpful in a lot of instances in addition to an alternative to stairs. Dog ramp will help your dog get in and out of cars more easily. Your dog can also get up and down from a couch or a bed with a well-placed dog ramp.

Another thing that may be helpful for your senior dog’s mobility is a lift harness. Lift harnesses give your dog extra assistance when trying to get in and out of cars and when trying to maneuver stairs.

Your dog may also have trouble lying down or getting up. If your dog is having a lot of difficulty with lying down or getting up, he may have arthritis. If you think your dog may be developing arthritis, you may want to take him to the vet to get him checked out. Your vet may prescribe arthritis medication.

As your dog ages, he may start to have trouble walking. If your dog is having a lot of difficulty walking and is sliding or slipping a lot when he tries to walk, you may want to get him checked out by a vet. Some senior dogs require a dog wheelchair at some point because their mobility has declined so dramatically.

Your senior dog will not be able to do the same level of exercise he once performed. However, it is still vital for your aging dog to get some exercise. Skip the run or a long walk in the park. Keep your dog’s walks and exercise short and light activity. A little activity will help to keep your dog’s joints limber and help increase his mobility. But, he will need more frequent breaks. Make sure to give your dog plenty of time to rest, and don’t overdo the activity.

Is It Normal for Senior Dogs to Sleep More?

Dogs tend to sleep a lot in general, but senior dogs really sleep a lot. Your older dog will likely take longer to wake up in the morning, take a lot of naps, and prefer to lounge around on the couch with you rather than going outside for extended periods of play.

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Your Senior Dog’s Diet

As dogs get older, they slow down and become more sedentary. When aging dogs become less active, it is common for them to gain weight. Dogs are more likely to get diabetes, heart disease, and cancer when they are overweight. For this reason, it is essential to help your aging dog to maintain a healthy weight.

If you are caring for an overweight dog, make sure to discuss his diet with your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to help you determine the best food for your dog to ensure he gets all the nutrients he needs while still being able to lose the excess weight.

Choose a diet that is high in L-carnitine and fewer calories to help your overweight dog lose weight. Give your dog the appropriate carbohydrate blend to help him feel satisfied with the lower calorie intake. In addition to discussing your dog’s diet with your vet, it is also a good idea to learn how to read the labels on your dog food.

Even if your older dog is not overweight, he still may need a special diet. Sometimes the organs of aging dogs do not work as well as they used to, and older dogs may have a difficult time digesting certain foods and absorbing the nutrients. If you have a dog that has heart disease, you may want to give him a diet that is low in sodium. If your dog has kidney disease, you may want to try a food that controls calcium, phosphorus, and electrolytes. 

Look for a dog food that is formulated for senior dogs to keep your aging dog healthy. A lot of senior dog foods will be low in fat and contain the specific nutrients your senior dog needs. In addition to your dog’s needing a specialized diet to keep him healthy as he ages, your dog may also become a picky eater as he gets older too. For this reason, you will likely need to try out different foods until you find the one that your dog likes. 

Be aware, if you notice your dog is underweight and having trouble maintaining or gaining weight. If this sounds like your dog, he may have other medical problems causing weight loss, and you should see your vet.  

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How Often Should Senior Dogs Go to the Vet?

Every dog is different when it comes to the frequency in which you should take them to the vet. When dogs get older, it is important to take them to the vet for regular checkups. Your veterinarian will let you know how often you need to bring your senior dog in depending on his age and health. Aging dogs in good health will likely not need to go to the vet as frequently, while dogs with health issues will need to see the vet more often.

Typically, your aging dog should see the vet twice a year. Your vet should do a thorough exam each time and check your dog’s lung and heart health each time as these are common organs to begin having issues in senior dogs.

Senior Dogs are More Sensitive to Changes in Temperature

Older dogs, like senior humans, have more trouble regulating their body temperature. For this reason, it is recommended to keep your dog in a warm, dry area indoors. If you live in a hot and humid climate, you may want to be extra careful to make sure your dog does not get overheated. If you live in a colder climate, you may want to try to give your senior dog extra blankets and a heated bed.

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How to Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable

Your senior dog may require some extra supplies to keep him comfortable. Orthopedic dog beds, ramps, potty pads, and harnesses are all useful supplies for aging dogs.

Dog Beds for Senior Dogs

There are a lot of dog beds on the market for aging dogs. Look for an orthopedic dog bed with memory foam to support your senior dog while he is sleeping. Orthopedic dog beds are especially helpful for keeping arthritic dogs comfortable. 

Ramps and Stairs for Senior Dogs

Senior dogs often have trouble getting up and downstairs as well as getting in and out of cars. Dog ramps are a useful tool to help your aging dog so that he will not have to jump in and out of vehicles, or maneuver stairs. There are also stairs from dogs. These stairs are helpful for dogs that like to sleep on anything elevated like the couch or your bed. Dog stairs will help your dog get up and down from elevated places without having to jump. Minimizing the necessity for your dog to jump is essential. Jumping can make arthritis and joint pain worse.

Potty Pads for Senior Dogs

As your dog gets older, he may lose bladder control. If your dog is having to go more often or having a lot of accidents, you may want to give potty pads a try. Depending on your situation, an aging dog’s bladder control issues may mean more frequent trips outside, but if this is not an option for you, a doggy potty pad may be the best solution. Your dog can go to the bathroom indoors. Some doggy potty pads have real grass that dogs prefer. Pet parents tend to like these grassy pads too because they absorb any smells.

Harnesses for Senior Dogs

Dog harnesses strap underneath the dog and give you a handle so you can give your dog added support to help him get up the stairs, on rough terrain, or to get him in and out of the car.

Senior Dogs and Behavior

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Older dogs can become more anxious and get more stressed than younger dogs. Separation anxiety is one of the most common forms of stress senior dogs can develop. If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, he will get very anxious anytime he senses you are getting ready to leave. After you go, a dog with separation anxiety may act out, bark excessively, salivate profusely, or have accidents.

If your dog is exhibiting any of these behaviors, consult your vet. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the cause of the behavior and will be able to make recommendations for treatments. Your dog may have cognitive dysfunction syndrome, and this may require medication and training to resolve.

Some senior dogs may benefit from stress-relieving products. Thunder shirts and essential oils are often calming to your older dog. It is also a good idea to learn your dog’s stress signals so you can be more in tune with what specific situations are causing your dog’s stress and anxiety. You can then make more informed decisions on how to remove the stressors or reduce them.

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Senior Dogs and Mental Deterioration

One of the most important and most challenging things you will have to deal with when you are caring for an older dog is mental deterioration. Your senior dog may develop canine cognitive dysfunction, which often includes confusion or disorientation. 

Your senior dog may also become senile, exhibiting unusual behavior, barking, and whining for what seems like no reason at all. Senility may also cause your older dog to become anxious or distressed for no apparent reason.  

When your dog is disoriented, he may get lost in a familiar area, like his own backyard and may also forget house training abilities and have accidents in unwanted places. Your dog may also not recognize friends or family members. 

Your senior dog may demonstrate pacing, insomnia, or changes in sleeping patterns and become exceptionally lethargic. Your dog may also experience a phenomenon called “sundowners” in which he gets increasingly agitated and anxious at dusk. Being able to detect these signs of cognitive deterioration and working with your vet to develop a plan of action for how to deal with them will make life a little easier for you and your dog.

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Continue Making Memories with Your Senior Dog

Watching your dog get older and all of the difficulties that come with aging can be hard for pet parents. The best thing you can do for your senior dog is to continue to make treasured memories with him, while you do what you can to help make him more comfortable. Small things you can do, like giving him an orthopedic bed or making sure he is getting an appropriate diet, can help his comfort level as he ages so you can continue to enjoy your time together and make more memories.

Sarah Nishimoto

The author Sarah Nishimoto

Sarah is not only a pet owner but loves animals of all shapes and sizes.

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