Caring for Senior Pets: Understanding Health Issues, Behavioral Changes, and Home Adaption
Lily was briskly walking down the street one day after digging under the backyard fence, minding her own business, not a worry in the world- all the while I am chasing her down from behind, yelling her name and throwing things trying to get her to stop and turn around- but she never heard me.
I’m thinking to myself, “what in the world is she doing? Can she not hear me?”.
Then it hit me. No. She can’t hear me. I bet she’s going deaf. But she’s so young!
….only she isn’t. Lily is 10 year’s old. She’s entering her senior years.
When is a Dog Considered A “Senior”?
This chart is a great visual for determining what life stage your best friend might be at. For Lily, at 10 years and around 30lbs, she is sitting right at 60 human years old, which qualifies her for the senior category.
You couldn’t really tell by just looking at her since she ages so well, but my girl is old.
She’s not quite as spunky as she had been prior to her senior years. But she still has tons of energy, and aside from her hearing, she’s sharp as a knife. I don’t think a lot of us realize just how quickly our dogs can reach their senior years.
Caring for Senior Dogs vs. Younger Dogs
Caring for senior dogs is a bit different than caring for younger dogs.
Our older friends can’t get around as easily as they did before, they have new pains that they have trouble hiding now, their appetite is different and their energy level is much lower than it was a few years ago.
Things like arthritis can start at a young age but you’ll really start to notice the symptoms when they reach their senior years. Their bodies need different nutrients than they did when they were young. They will need accommodations around the house to make every day life comfortable and you’ll have to find that patience you had when he was a puppy and learning the ropes because potty accidents may happen.
This is why it is important to learn and understand how to properly care for your senior dog.
Understanding Aging Pet Health
As mentioned above, caring for senior pets is different than caring for younger pets. Our seniors need extra attention and sometimes more extensive care. It is important to know your pet and be capable of recognizing what behaviors are normal and which are abnormal.
Physical and Mental Changes in Senior Pets
Diseases such as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can set in, which is typically compared to human dementia. If your senior dog is plagued CCD, you’ll want to take the extra time to talk with your vet about home adaptions that will need to be made, signs of progression, and eventually quality of life. Fortunately, there are support groups for owners of dogs who suffer with CCD. A quick Facebook search will yield a few resources for you.
Physical changes in senior pets can range from a change in appearance to behavior and energy to ability to perform as well as they did in their younger years.
Now, more than ever, it is important to keep a close eye on your senior pet and watch for signs of illness and pain.
Common Health Issues in Senior Pets
Common health issues in senior pets include things like:
- Gastrointestinal trouble
- Hearing and/or vision loss
- Incontinence or increased potty accidents
- Kidney and/or heart complications
- Joint problems
Just to name a few. Personally, having a home full of seniors, I have dealt with all of the above. I just lost Addie to kidney failure and Cocoa was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Seniors are special. I don’t want to turn anyone away from adopting a senior pet because seniors are the least likely to be adopted solely due to their age. I am a firm believe that they should have the same opportunities as a younger dog and they deserve a family just as much.
However, there is a chance that their health will decline and potential adopter should be aware of this and ready to take action if need be.
Senior pets will need regular vet check-ups and preventative care to keep them in tip-top shape. Preventative medicine is the best medicine and when it comes to a senior dog, prevention is important.
Senior Dog Nutrition
Believe it or not, dog food is sold in “life stages” categories for a reason.
I know, I know. I always thought it was a marketing gimmick, too. But after much research, I have learned that they, in fact, require different things.
For instance, protein is an important nutrient that dogs of all ages require, however, it is extremely important to make sure your senior dog is getting enough to support his muscle mass. As dogs age, they lose muscle mass. This is why they tend to look thinner and weak. You want to make sure their food will help to support them in this way.
Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA from fish oil are also important nutrients that you want to find in their food. These help to control inflammation which is common in an older dog due to arthritis and obesity.
Now, switching foods isn’t always necessary. If your dog is thriving on their food and not having any issues, stick with the original plan.
Considerations will need to be made for dogs with problems in the jaw or with worn down and sore teeth, like Addie. I switched her over to canned dog food to make eating less of a chore for her and more enjoyable.
As always, talk with your vet before switching to make sure your dog is getting everything he needs.
Hydration is important at all life stages, but it is very important to pay attention to your senior dog and their drinking habits.
Older dogs tend to make fewer trips over to the water bowl due to fatigue or arthritic pain. Moving your dogs water bowl closer to them makes it a little easier for them to hobble over and take a drink.
Adding water to your dogs kibble is also a good way to increase water intake. He will think he’s hit the lottery with his new food and gravy.
Water intake can also be an indication of health issues. For instance, excessive drinking and urinating can be a sign of kidney disease. This was a sign we noticed with Addie before we got her diagnosis.
Weight gain in senior dogs is a pretty important health concern. As dogs age, they become less active meaning they burn fewer calories. Making sure that your dog is getting the adequate amount of food they need to maintain a healthy weight is important.
Also your dogs exercise level will play a vital role in weight control. Encourage exercise with frequent short walks or swimming.
Talk with your vet about your dogs personal dietary needs.
Dental care is an important aspect in your dogs life, however, it becomes even more important as your dog ages. Things like gum disease and brittle teeth are more likely to occur in a senior dog. Pay close attention to your dogs teeth and keep up with regular dental cleanings with your vet.
There are plenty of ways you can keep your dogs teeth clean at home, too. Certain chew toys and tooth brushes are readily available at almost every pet store.
Adapting Your Home for Senior Pets
As your dog gets older, things as simple as standing up may become difficult. Making a few alterations to your home can be beneficial and make your dog’s last years more comfortable.
Adding carpet or rugs to your dogs area will make it easier for your dog to get up from a laying position and walk around by providing a surface that isn’t quite so slick.
Using things like ramps and stairs made to reach furniture or your bed (if your dog sleeps with you) can give your dog ease when trying to get up to cuddle with you.
Orthopedic dog beds are also helpful for dogs who are suffering with joint pain by helping to support their joints and keep their body properly aligned while sleeping the day away.
Using a stand to hold their food and water bowl can help ease the stress of leaning forward while your dog eats and drinks.
Quality Time With Your Senior
The most important thing, in my experience, is to spend quality time with your senior dog. A dogs health can deteriorate quickly. Dogs are very good at hiding their ailments and by the time they start to show signs of discomfort it is often too late.
Spend extra time with him and remind him how much you love him. Take him on extra car rides and let him cuddle with you on the couch just a bit longer.
Senior dogs are my favorite dogs. They’ve lived their life supporting and loving you, now it is time for you to love and support them.