Tips for senior dog care


Keep an eye on your senior dog at home and report any changes in its behaviour to your vet. Photo: TNS/Dreamstime

Although it usually depends on the size and breed of dog, most dogs are considered senior when they reach seven years of age.

Genetics primarily affects how a dog ages, but environmental factors, such as obesity, can also play a role in how a dog shows signs of ageing.

Dogs breeds that are giant age more rapidly than small breeds. An Irish Wolfhound could be considered a senior by the age of six or seven, while a Toy Poodle may not be considered senior until eight or nine. Once a dog starts to show signs of age-related health issues, they can be considered a senior dog regardless of their true age.

Here are common health problems in senior dogs:

> Hearing and vision loss. Just like in people, ageing can cause tissue degeneration in the eyes and ears, which can cause varying degrees of deafness and blindness in older dogs.

Some types of dogs, as well as senior dogs, may also be prone to developing cataracts, a cloudy layer that forms over the lens of the eye that can cause partial or total blindness.

Prompt diagnosis by your veterinarian can often help find ways of dealing with cataract development.

Glaucoma is another eye issue seen in some dogs, especially as they become older.

Anything from genetics to chronic ear infections can cause hearing loss and deafness.

Owners of deaf dogs need to be aware of the situation and find ways to help their dog in day-to-day living. While deaf dogs may not be able to hear you talking, they will be able to feel vibrations on the floor when you approach, and you can use hand signals to communicate with them.

Always take precautions when you are outside with a dog who cannot hear or see well.

> Joint issues and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a progressive degenerative disease, which means that the condition will continue to progress, and is the most common cause of joint disease in dogs.

Osteoarthritis causes erosion and loss of lubrication and the wearing away of cartilage in the joints.

Although there is no cure except joint replacement surgery, there are several treatments that can help reduce pain and slow the progression of this disease. Keeping a dog at a good weight can be a huge boost to the elderly arthritic dog compared with the dog who is very obese. Nutrition, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can play a strong role in supporting dogs with joint issues. Ask your veterinarian about foods and supplements available to support joint health.

> Dementia/Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). Like people, dogs commonly can lose mental or cognitive function as they age, resulting in symptoms like those of senility or Alzheimer’s in people.

Confusion and disorientation, disruption of normal sleeping patterns, whining or barking for no apparent reason, appearing to get lost in familiar surroundings, and housebreaking accidents can all be signs of cognitive dysfunction.

Though there is no cure for dementia, its progress can often be slowed using certain prescription medications and antioxidant enriched foods.

> Cancer. Many dogs get occasional lumps and bumps throughout their lives, but older dogs are prone to getting more of them, some external and others internally.

Though not all growths are cancerous, the risk of them being cancerous is often greater when a dog becomes older.

Because you cannot tell whether a growth is cancerous or not just by looking at or feeling it, it’s important to get any strange lumps checked out as soon as possible.

Regular checkups and cancer screenings can help catch tumours, especially internally.

> Heart problems. Heart disease can affect dogs at any age. Congestive heart failure is common in older dogs and occurs when the heart can’t pump blood efficiently and fluid backs up in the heart, lungs, and chest cavity.

Coughing, laboured breathing, exercise intolerance, pale or cyanotic (bluish) gums, distended abdomen, or collapse can all be signs of heart disease and should be checked out by a vet right away.

> Obesity. Obesity is the number one preventable health issue in dogs today, and a dog’s weight can have a significant impact on their health, especially as they age and become less active.

Older dogs carrying excess weight are more prone to illnesses, such as diabetes. Obesity can contribute to and complicate the treatment of heart disease and joint problems.

In addition to providing as much exercise as your older dog can safely tolerate, it’s important to feed your dog the right balance of nutrition and correct number of daily calories.

Over-snacking and under-walking/ moving are the common reasons most dogs become obese.

Talk to your vet about your dog’s weight when you go in for your dog’s health exam, and if needed, ask them to help you find a proper weight loss programme.

Also, consider switching high-calorie snacks to healthier low-calorie and high-fibre snacks, like raw carrots and string beans.

> Kidney issues. Ageing dogs often tend to lose optimal function of their kidneys. Increased thirst, increased urination, and weight loss can all be signs of a dog losing normal kidney function.

Routine, regular blood work and urine evaluation of a senior pet is imperative in detecting changes in kidney function.

While chronic kidney disease can’t be cured, it can be managed with proper diet and treatment if detected in the earlier stages and a plan can be made with your vet.

Getting older is natural and will affect your senior dog just as much as it affects you.

One of the best things you can do for your ageing dog is to take them to your veterinarian for regular wellness checks every six months.

As an owner, you know your dog better than anyone. Keep an eye on them at home and report any changes in their behaviours to your vet.

This can help catch these illnesses early, improving your dog’s chance at a long and healthy life. They may not be a puppy anymore, but they will always be your pup! – Tribune News Service/American Kennel Club/Dr Jerry Klein

For more information on responsible dog ownership, visit the AKC at

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