Senior Dog Care: Tips To Keep An Older Dog Happy
The golden years ✨💛
Is your older pup getting some grays on his cute little face?
While it seems to be an unwritten rule to avoid talking to a dog owner about their pup’s old age, it’s actually one of the most important topics to think about.
Knowing how to care for your senior dog will ensure that you have him for as long as possible — and, more importantly, that he's happy, comfortable and healthy well into his golden years.
The Dodo spoke to Lovelia Horn, a professional dog trainer and owner of Every Creature Counts in Illinois, and Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and a veterinary consultant for FiveBarks, to find out how to care for your senior dog.
When is a dog considered a senior?
This age differs from one dog to the other, depending on things like his breed and size.
“Large and giant breeds age quicker than smaller dogs,” Dr. Simon told The Dodo. “When a dog is classed as senior depends on their breed.”
So while a Chihuahua may be called senior from the age of 12, Dr. Simon said that Great Danes are seniors at about 5 or 6 years old.
Your best bet here is to check with your veterinarian to see at what age your individual dog would be considered a sweet, old senior.
Signs of old age in dogs
While aging is a totally normal thing, that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest thing to watch.
“As dogs get older, several things will happen to their mind and body,” Dr. Simon said. “These changes are slow and insidious, so [they] can happen without an owner really noticing.”
Common signs of old age in your dog include the following.
He’s less active
You’ll probably notice your older dog’s starting to slow down. He might be less eager to play or run around like he used to, and he might also be sleeping more than usual.
Make sure you bring your dog in to get evaluated by a veterinarian if you start noticing him slowing down, as this can also be a sign that he’s developing arthritis.
Loss of appetite
It’s not uncommon for an older dog to not want to eat as much as he once did. Because of this, it’s important you chat with your veterinarian to make sure he’s on an appropriate senior diet.
These diets help to ensure that he gets the right amount of nutrients even if he isn’t eating the same volume of food as he once did.
Due to a loss of appetite, you might also notice weight loss in your older dog.
His senses aren’t what they once were
Just like in humans, your dog’s senses will slowly fade the older he gets. “Their senses deteriorate, so they are less able to hear high-pitched noise, see far in the distance and smell mild scents,” Dr. Simon said.
There are changes in his coat
Dogs' fur ages very similarly to how human hair does. A telltale sign of your dog getting older is if his coat starts to lose its shine. “Their coat may become duller and, for some, their fur will start to turn gray,” Dr. Simon said.
He might get confused easily
“Some experience mental decline and may take longer to learn new commands and may forget things they used to know,” Dr. Simon said.
Dogs can also get senile dementia, which is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans.
“Senile dogs often spend time lying down on the cool floor — this is an old instinct that dates back to their ancestral days, when wild dogs would lay down in the cool grass after hunting all day,” Horn told The Dodo.
How to take care of a senior dog
Age-related changes in dogs are inevitable, but there are many things you can do to help your older dog continue living a comfortable, happy life.
Some senior dog care tips include:
Make sure he’s eating a senior diet
Once your dog reaches a certain age, it’s important to make sure he gets the right balance of nutrients to maintain his health.
Feed your dog a high-quality, low-calorie diet to ensure he gets the nutrition he needs without gaining weight.
“There are also many senior dog foods on the market that have been formulated to improve a dog's health once they reach a certain age,” Horn said.
Make sure he’s getting exercise
Although your senior dog will be slower than he once was, it’s still important to make sure he gets enough exercise to keep him healthy and happy!
Taking your senior dog for a walk a few times a day is a great low-impact way to keep him active, for example.
Be mindful, though, that he probably can’t walk as fast — or as far — as he once did, so make sure you’re checking in and heading home before he gets too exhausted.
Consider using supplements
There are tons of supplements on the market that cater to senior dogs. They can support a variety of bodily functions in your dog, like mobility, the immune system and his vision.
Before trying any new supplement, be sure to consult with your veterinarian to make sure it’s the right move for your pup.
Give him special accommodations
As your dog ages, he may have trouble seeing, hearing, walking around and may even get confused as to where things are in the house.
If you can, try to make sure he can avoid stairs (and if you can’t, consider getting a ramp to help make the impact less … impactful).
If his bed is in a place that he needs to jump to get to, consider moving it so that he doesn’t have to put any extra effort into snuggling up.
If you notice your dog is slipping around on the wood floor, consider getting a rug to help him get his footing and make moving around the house way less stressful.
Additionally, since many dogs get arthritis or joint issues as they age, it’s important to provide yours with additional support if he develops these issues.
Should you get pet insurance for older dogs?
Pet insurance ensures owners can pay for unexpected vet bills when their dogs become seriously unwell or injured. “Most policies will cover the bulk of the bill, though you may need to pay a ... copayment,” Dr. Simon said. “There is usually also an excess fee of between $80–$300 that must be covered per condition.”
When dogs get into their golden years, medical issues are much more common for them. “Osteoarthritis, cancers, dental disease, liver disease and kidney failure are all seen with more frequency in the older dog,” Dr. Simon said.
Because of this, many dog owners find that they use their pet insurance more in the second half of their dog’s life. “Ensuring you take out the policy before your dog becomes unwell means their medical issues should be covered for their lifetime,” Dr. Simon said.
Horn agrees that pet insurance is your best bet to cover the costs of an aging pup. “As your dog ages, he will inevitably develop some form of medical problem that we just talked about that could cost a lot of money,” Horn said. “Pet insurance is a good idea because it will cover most, if not all, of those veterinary costs.”
(If you're looking for pet insurance, you’ll want to check out Fetch by The Dodo since it's made by and for adoring pet parents, and because it's the most comprehensive coverage in the US and Canada, covering things that other providers don't or charge extra for.)
When you get pet insurance matters
Keep in mind that when you get pet insurance matters. For instance, if your dog is diagnosed with cancer, but you don’t have insurance yet and you decide to get a policy after this, you probably won’t be able to get help for any testing or medications related to his condition.
“If we wait until they are old and already have health problems, you may find your policy excludes these pre-existing conditions, and you end up paying for them,” Dr. Simon said.
So having insurance for your dog when he’s still healthy is the most ideal way to be able to know he’ll be covered if anything unexpected were to arise down the line.
Some owners who have uninsured older dogs may choose to ‘self cover.’ This means they put money aside each month and use this as their own insurance fund. “While this can work out well, it means you are taking a risk,” Dr. Simon said. “If your dog becomes unwell early on in the process, you may not have enough savings to cover costs.”
Your dog getting older is completely natural. The best thing you can do as he ages is to make sure he’s as happy and healthy as possible.
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