When you’re preparing to bring a new puppy home, advice abounds.
When that puppy becomes a senior dog or when you bring a new senior dog home, however, advice can be harder to come by.
So today, I wanted to share 10 things you need to know about having senior dogs.
- Exercise is crucial. As a dog ages, they naturally lose muscle mass and consequently, strength. A regular exercise routine will help to keep up strength and maintain muscle. Just keep in mind that your senior dog may require a different exercise routine in their older years.
- Pain may become a part of your senior dog’s life due to injury, arthritis, or other age-related conditions. Most dogs will do their best to hide their pain, but if you have known your dog for a while then you will likely notice a change in their demeanor. Other subtle signs of pain might include:
– A change in gait: they may “throw a leg” when walking, walk wide-legged (think of a child with a large diaper on,) or hold their back end lower down as if crouching.
– Tucking their tail between their legs.
– Panting when not overheated, hot, or thirsty.
– A decrease in physical activity.
– A decrease in appetite.
– Bloodshot eyes (this often happens as a result of excessive panting.) You may also notice dilated or constricted pupils.
– A change in breathing pattern (fast breathing or shallow breathing.)
- Digestive systems change. Just as people experience changes in their digestive systems as they age, so too do dogs. This can result in changes in potty habits, changes in food tolerances, and the development of digestive symptoms like acid reflux. If you notice these changes, talk to your vet and try some changes in diet to cater to the changes your dog is experiencing.
- Sleeping. Older dogs sleep more. Remember how much your new puppy slept? You can expect a similar habit of sleeping as your dog gets into their senior years.
- Diminishing senses. Not all dogs will experience changes in hearing or sight, but some will. You may notice that your dog begins to bump into things, they respond less to your voice, they don’t respond to loud or startling noises, they are apprehensive about anything that relies on their sight, and they seem disoriented.
- Supplements will become a necessity. Depending upon your dog’s health, you will want to invest in supplements to improve their quality of life. These supplements may be as simple as fish oil for heart and joint health, or your vet may recommend more supplementation to address health concerns that may arise with your dog’s age.
- Mobility may become an issue. Due to arthritis and the muscle mass loss I have already mentioned, your senior dog may have trouble walking long distances, climbing stairs, getting up onto furniture, or getting up from a prone position. You can help your dog with these problems by supplementing for joint support, considering medications like Adequan, utilizing pain medication as necessary, and purchasing a full support harness like the Help Em Up Harness.
- You will get to know your vet well. As your dog gets older, your visits to your vet will increase in frequency. This will begin with twice a year annual visits, but if you are like many first-time senior pet parents, you will want to consult your vet for most age-related changes in your dog’s health as well.
- Incontinence. Not all senior dogs will experience incontinence, but some will. Incontinence can be urinary or fecal or both and is usually the result of weakened muscles in the hind end. Incontinence concerns can be addressed with your veterinarian and you can make changes to your schedule to accommodate your dog’s new bathroom needs.
- Your awareness of your dog’s needs will increase. As your dog ages, they will rely on you more for various things that they once did independently, this includes tracking their health. As your dog gets older, you will become more aware of their mental and physical needs and you will notice when something changes. Always pay attention to your gut. If you feel that something is “off” with your dog’s behavior or overall health, pay your veterinarian a visit.
The needs of a senior dog are different from the needs of a younger dog and as a pet parent, you may sometimes become overwhelmed. It is perfectly normal to be overwhelmed by the needs of an aging loved one whether they have two legs or four. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, reach out to your vet and consider joining an online community for support as well as for ideas to support your aging dog’s health.