New Tricks For an Old Dog: Caring For a Senior Dog

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Despite the well-known benefits of vaccination, the practice of annual vaccination of senior dogs is controversial. Some veterinarians believe that annual revaccination is an important and critical part of preventative health care. There has been some research that indicates that the immune system of older dogs is not as effective as younger dogs. This suggests that older dogs may be more susceptible to diseases and therefore require annual vaccinations. Other veterinarians feel that many vaccines last in the body longer than one year, and annual vaccination is not worth the risk of allergic reaction or other immune diseases. Of course, some vaccines (rabies) are required by law and must be administered on a regular basis.

The one thing that many veterinarians agree on is that dogs should only be vaccinated against those diseases for which they are susceptible. For example, if you and your dog do not live in an area endemic for Lyme disease, vaccinating for that disease is not recommended.


As a dog ages, exercise tolerance and requirements generally change. Of course, if your pet is elderly when you adopt him, you may not know his complete health history and previous exercise routine. Always consult your veterinarian before you change an existing program or begin a new exercise program for your elderly dog. Your veterinarian will want to perform a complete physical exam on your pet and discuss exercises that are appropriate. Some types of activity may not be beneficial for a geriatric dog if physical limitations are present.

Exercise is important for your elderly dog for many reasons. First of all, exercise helps maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight may lead to a number of health problems. It places excess stress on your pet’s heart. When the heart doesn’t function properly, other organs may suffer including the brain, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Over time, these problems may become severe enough to cause life-threatening conditions.

Osteoarthritis is degeneration of joints. This problem may develop during a pet’s geriatric years causing pain and discomfort. Excess weight on these joints can speed up the disease. Believe it or not, moderate exercise can help to delay the continued degeneration of joints that are affected with osteoarthritis.

Your elderly dog’s mental health may also benefit from exercise. Activity keeps oxygen and other nutrients like glucose (blood sugar) at optimum levels in the brain. The brain is like every other organ in the body in that it requires good nutrition.





As your pet ages, taking an active role in grooming becomes even more important. Older pets often groom themselves less, may have trouble cleaning those “hard to reach places,” or may develop skin conditions that require extra attention. You will have to take a more active role in keeping your pet clean and monitoring for any changes in skin and coat that may signal medical problems.

A number of changes are possible in your pet’s skin as they reach their senior years. Skin that has been healthy may become dry and flaky. You may see dander on the surface of the coat. At the opposite end, skin may become excessively oily and feel greasy to the touch. These changes may reflect your pet’s inability to groom properly. Arthritis often makes it hard for some pets to reach certain places. Mental changes associated with aging may cause a lack of interest in normally fastidious pets. You may need to help out with more frequent brushings, bathings, or medicated shampoos.

As your pet ages, you may notice that you begin to see or feel lumps or bumps both on and underneath the surface of the skin. All new skin growths should be evaluated by your pet’s vet to determine if any further attention is needed. Some may only be a nuisance, aggravating your pet if they are located in sensitive areas, or may bleed from grooming or other activity. Some may be more serious, including tumors.

Most pets dislike nail trims. The bad news is that as your pet ages, it becomes even more important to trim them and even more difficult to do. Nails often become thick and brittle with age. Pets may resent having their paws handled, further delaying the chore. Nails and nail beds may become overgrown. They can grow into the pads and be quite painful, and make walking a chore. Make it a habit to trim a small amount of nail on your dog or cat every two weeks to prevent overgrowth and make walking easier.

Resources for Caring For Your Senior Dog

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