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Father Time spares no one, not even your dog.
As a dog ages, he inevitably begins to slow down. His youthful exuberance gradually transitions into elderly wisdom, and his energetic nature converts to much-appreciated mellowness.
Humans are taught to respect their elders, and we must extend this same courtesy to our canine companions. When receiving proper treatment and dignity, an aging dog can enjoy some of his best years as a senior citizen.
Thanks to improved nutrition and veterinary care, dogs are living longer than ever before. But just how can you succeed at teaching your old dog news tricks, or at least achieve conservation of his remaining tricks? Here’s our guide to enhancing your dog’s golden years by providing proper care.
What to Expect as Your Dog Ages
Like the advent of a new season, change is in store as your dog transitions from puppy to adolescent to adult to senior. Unless the science community suddenly discovers the secret to age reversal, it’s best to embrace your dog’s aging and prepare yourself for the accompanying challenges.
While you may appreciate the reduced activity level and subdued personality associated with the arrival of senior citizenship within your dog, many of the changes your aging canine endures require your attention and monitoring, including:
- Loss of hearing and vision: Your dog’s senses may diminish with age, necessitating a reduced level of independence and greater care level.
- Weight gain: Because they are less active, older dogs are often susceptible to obesity unless their caloric intake is reduced.
- Loss or whitening of hair: The advance of years causes hair to lose its normal pigment, turning white, and hair loss also proves common.
- Housetraining changes: As a dog becomes senile, his housetraining capability may weaken, requiring the owner to devote extra effort to reinforcing this skill and being more tolerant of occasional accidents.
When is a Dog Considered Senior?
In a perfect world, your dog would awaken one day wearing a sign reading, “I am now a senior citizen – treat me as such.” Unfortunately, it’s never so clearly outlined for concerned dog owners. In fact, the anticipated lifespan and age of senior citizenship for a dog varies based on breed and size.
Depending on these two factors, the life expectancy for a dog typically can range anywhere from 8 to 16 years. Generally-speaking, a dog is considered senior when he enters the last quarter of his anticipated lifespan. Our alphabetized list will help you assess a ballpark timeframe for when your particular pooch will reach his golden years.
Feeding Your Senior Dog
As dogs accumulate years, their health, metabolism, and stamina slowly decline. Consequently, a senior dog’s diet must be reevaluated and revamped to ensure he receives the right mix of nutrients to optimize the remainder of his life.
Many varieties of dog foods are available that cater specifically to the dietary needs of senior dogs. Offering old-age nutritional benefits ranging from increased vitamins to reduced protein and sodium, these products strive to provide nutrition that will aid an aging dog’s organ functions.
It’s best to consult your veterinarian in order to determine the specific dietary needs of your senior dog. At the very least, a reduced-calorie diet is likely necessary to accommodate your dog’s adjusted activity level and lowered metabolism. Your vet may also recommend a particular dog food or nutritional supplement to combat arthritis or slow the onset of age-related diseases.
The Importance of Exercise for Senior Dogs
Although regular exercise affords numerous health benefits to any dog, it proves especially important for aging pooches. In addition to helping a senior dog maintain a healthy body weight, a proper exercise routine can delay the gradual degeneration of joints associated with old age.
Of course, your senior dog is no longer a spring chicken. Since his exercise tolerance and needs have altered with age, it’s worthwhile to consult your veterinarian when establishing an activity routine. Your elderly dog may not realize his age-related physical limitations, so it’s necessary for you, as the dog owner, to moderate his exercise and ensure he does not play outside for extended periods in hot and humid conditions.
Common Disorders of Senior Dogs
Similar to a vehicle with extended mileage, your elderly dog is at risk of “breaking down” over time without proper care. During the last quarter of a dog’s life, routine veterinary care becomes particularly essential.
There are a number of commonly diagnosed illnesses known to afflict older dogs. These include:
- Dental disease: Without proper treatment, this can result in tooth loss and the development of infection that can spread to other parts of the body.
- Arthritis: Degenerative joint disease may be inevitable for many senior dogs, but effective treatment can improve their comfort level.
- Heart disease: The most common heart disease in the senior dog is chronic valvular heart disease, caused by thickening and irregularities with the heart’s valves. Early detection and proper therapy can slow this disease’s progression.
- Cancer: While cancer poses a significant risk for senior dogs, a number of treatment options exist, including surgery and chemotherapy. As a result, not all dog cancers prove fatal.
Ultimately, the dog owner plays a vital role in ensuring a senior canine’s health and well-being. Take the proper steps now to help your dog age gracefully and happily for years to come.
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