We all know how age can creep up on us, and that is certainly true for our dogs. The old adage “one human year equals seven dog years” is a good starting point, but in fact, small to medium breeds are considered a senior at 9 to 11 years, large dogs at 8 to 10 years, and giant breed dogs at 6 to 8 years.
Each dog, like each human, is different. Some signs of aging are obvious – others, not so much. However, being aware of the changes in your dog could help you catch health issues early. With diet, supplements, and extra care, many of these conditions can be prevented, delayed or managed, to give your dog the best possible quality of life. Here are some general things to watch for:
What is usually considered “slowing down” or “a little stiff” may be a sign of arthritis. Extra weight makes arthritis even worse, so consider a high protein diet to help protect lean muscle mass while shedding fat. Proper weight and moderate exercise are the keys to comfort. Also consider joint support supplements and antioxidants for dogs, which offer good anti-inflammatory action and pain relief. And don’t forget a new dog bed for more comfortable sleep.
Older dogs can put on weight due to less activity, slowing metabolism, thyroid issues, etc. And we know that overweight and obese dogs have a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Your senior dog needs more and higher quality protein and reduced calories and an age-appropriate exercise routine.
Not Responding To You
Has your dog stopped coming when you call? Is he hard to wake up after sleeping? Or does she get startled easily if you approach from behind? Hearing loss or deafness may be a reason for this. Take care to protect him from hazards such as cars and consider teaching hand signals for basic commands. Both dogs and cats can develop cognitive (learning and memory) problems as they get older, which are increasingly recognized as a form of dementia. Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids for dogs (krill & cod liver oil is best for this condition) are valuable in keeping your pet’s brain functioning at its best.
As they age, dog’s eyes often show a bluish transparent “haze” in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of aging and the medical term for this is nuclear sclerosis or lenticular sclerosis. A white opaque cloudiness in the eye can also be a sign of cataracts, which will need treatment. Check with your vet if you notice any cloudiness or have questions about eye care.
More Bathroom Breaks & Accidents
As your dog ages, he will need to go to the bathroom more often. In older dogs, lower levels of hormones and slower nerve responses contribute to incontinence. If he starts having accidents in the house, increase your number of potty breaks throughout the day. Also consider a bladder control supplement to support your dog’s bladder muscle function and maintain bladder health in senior dogs.
Your worst fear – finding a lump. Dogs often develop spongy lumps, called lipomas, as they age. These lumps are usually fatty tumors and no reason to worry. However, you should have your vet check out all lumps you discover. You should be checking for lumps frequently. On short-haired dogs they will eventually be noticeable by sight, but it’s better if you detect them early. On long-haired dogs, regular checks are vital, since they may not be visible even when they get larger.
This sign of aging will probably be the first you encounter. Most dogs don’t have minty-fresh breath, but if it starts to smell funkier than usual, don’t ignore it. Dogs as young as three develop this and it’s usually a sign of dental disease. The longer the teeth are allowed to decay, the worse it will be for your dog and your pocketbook. The good news is that you can help prevent your pet from suffering through a good oral care regimen. Brush her teeth regularly, and in between brushes, natural dental chews will help keep them clean.
Deteriorating Coat Condition
Your dog may encounter skin and coat issues at any age, but he is more susceptible to them as he gets older. Look for dry coat, itching, flakiness, rashes or hair loss. Quality skin and coat care products can alleviate some of these issues, but talk to your vet to determine if there is a medical cause of the issue.
Enjoy your pets in their senior years. For more information on supporting your aging pet, please see our articles on aging pets in our Holistic Healthcare Library, and in particular the article, “Supporting Your Aging Companion” and video Celebrating Your Pet’s Golden Years.