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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy

By: Joan Paylo

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Your dog's breed and size determine when he enters his senior years. Although you can't hold back the clock, there are many things you can do to help keep him healthy and active as long as possible.

Monitor Your Dog's Health

  • Visit your veterinarian frequently. Most vets recommend a check-up once every 6 months when your dog reaches his senior years. Blood tests, X-rays, electrocardiograms, ultrasound, CAT scans or MRIs might be necessary. Be prepared to tell your vet about any changes in your pet's stamina, appetite or behavior, when it began and what might have triggered it.

  • Have hearing and eyesight checked. It's not unusual for an elderly dog's eyes to look cloudy, and the condition may not signal illness. Like humans, however, they can develop cataracts and glaucoma, and can experience hearing loss. If your pet seems surprised when you come close to him, bumps into things or doesn't come when you call him, the culprit may be failing faculties.

    Groom Your Dog Often

  • Brush your dog's teeth daily. This staves off tooth decay and helps prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Brushing regularly will also allow you to notice mouth and tongue ulcers early on.

  • Note any increase in "doggy breath." Dogs have their natural smells and dog food can linger on their breath, but a change in breath to the point that it becomes strong or offensive can signal various illnesses.

  • Bathe and groom him at least once a week. It's more important than ever to spare your dog the annoyance of fleas and other parasites: At this age, he won't be able to groom himself as easily as he used to. As you brush him, take note of any bumps, skin lesions or unusual hair loss. And remember that his skin is less elastic than it used to be, so be careful not to scrape or pull it. Be sure to clip his nails to help give him sure footing.

  • Massage his joints and limbs. If your dog isn't able to exercise routinely, improve his flexibility and circulation by gently massaging his muscles and joints.

    Keep Your Dog Active

  • Provide moderate exercise. The old adage "use it or lose it" is as true for dogs as it is for humans. Exercise helps your dog maintain muscle tone, keeps his heart and digestion healthy and even improves his attitude. Walking is great. Gentle games of fetch and other play not only keep him in shape, but keep him mentally alert and interacting positively with you. Swimming is particularly good for arthritic dogs.

  • Give him frequent "bathroom" breaks. His digestion may be irregular and his bladder may lose elasticity and capacity.

  • Stick to a regular schedule. Your dog always liked a routine; he'll appreciate it more now. Feed him and walk him at the same times each day.

  • Minimize stress. As he ages, even the most social dog may not welcome strange animals or people, or even tolerate familiar children. Due to his failing senses, arthritis or forgetfulness, your dog may shy away from previously welcomed travel or other social situations.

  • Train him with both word and hand commands. This will help to prepare for the day when either sight or hearing dims.

    Help Your Dog Eat and Sleep Comfortably

  • Don't leave him outside alone. Keep your dog indoors and minimize his time outside. As a dog ages, he'll be sensitive to changes in temperature - aging hearts and lungs don't adjust as well to extremes of hot and cold. Since his senses, reflexes and thinking aren't as sharp, the dog is likely to be more prone to accidents, injury from other animals or even getting lost.

  • Give him a soft bed. Arthritis, elbow calluses and other conditions will make it harder for your dog to sleep soundly. Orthopedic dog beds are available.

  • Feed him properly. An aging dog gains weight more easily because his metabolism is slowing. Your vet can recommend food that is high in fiber and lower in fat, so that your dog is eating his accustomed amount of food, but fewer calories. As digestion worsens, he might do better with smaller, more frequent meals. Conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart or liver problems also call for special nutritional plans.

  • Always provide fresh, cool water. This is a good policy for creatures of all ages, but especially important for an older dog.

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