Dogs have truly become members of the family over the years and are living longer lives now more than ever! This is mostly due to better and more routine veterinary care as well as excellent more individualized nutritional care. Caring for your senior dog is a lot different than your brand new puppy or even your middle-aged adult! So when does your dog become a senior? Well, it really depends on the size of your dog. Below is a chart from the American Veterinary Medical Association that breaks it down for us:
As you can see, the larger the dog the faster they age. The key to prolonging your best friend’s life is adjusting his/her care as the years go by.
Did you know senior pets should be evaluated by their veterinarians at least every 6 months versus the standard annual wellness check? This helps to catch any significant changes to their health early so that we are able to intervene to keep them happy and healthy. Our senior dogs are at risk for many of the same things senior humans are such as arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, dementia, and more. Your veterinarian may recommend more frequent lab work (blood panels and urinalysis), radiographs, or other diagnostic tests as your pet ages.
Our dogs’ nutritional needs change as well when they enter their senior years. Their calorie requirements will change as their energy levels decrease and they often need diets that are more readily digestible. Weight gain is something that tends to be more common in our senior pets and can be detrimental to their overall health. A healthy amount of age-appropriate exercise is extremely important to help maintain your dog’s mobility and muscle mass.
You may need to adjust your dog’s environment as they age, such as relocating your pet’s food or bed to an area more accessible to him/her. Consider the use of a doggie ramp to help your dog get in and out of the vehicle, on and off furniture, or up and down the stairs.
Be alert for behavior changes, changes in appetite or drinking, any pain or discomfort, decreased energy, or abnormal elimination such as accidents in the house, more frequent urination, changes in urine color or smell. If any of these symptoms develop, it is time for a trip to the veterinarian. Early intervention and treatment is so important for any disease process. We all want our dogs to live their best LONG lives! Be sure to speak to your veterinarian about how to care for your dog’s individual health care needs as they age!