Pet Tips

Dogs in their golden years – elderly dogs – pet tip 141

Congratulations! Your dog has reached its golden years! After all those years of romping around, giving you love and giving you a hard time, it is now time for your dog to slow down the pace a little bit. This may start as early as 7 years for small dogs (Lhasa Apsos, Yorkshire Terriers, etc.) or 5 years for large dogs (St. Bernards, Great Danes, etc.). As your dog mellows, there are other mental and physical changes happening, too. This article will introduce you to the changes you can expect in your elderly dog, and some signs of disease that you should pay special attention to.

It’s a given that your dog will be less active. It will want to lie down and rest more often. That means that a couple more blankets or a foam bed would be greatly appreciated. However, just because your dog has less energy and more arthritis, does not mean you should let it get lazy! Making sure your dog is getting the proper amount of exercise will help keep its muscles strong, blood circulating, and digestive tract working.

Like humans, dogs also experience a mental decline as they age. As your dog becomes more senile, you may notice that sometimes it appears disoriented or unresponsive to you. It may not do the normal things expected of it, and may need prompting to do simple tasks such as jumping in the car when you open the door. These lapses will demand a certain amount of patience and understanding on your part. There are drugs available to address severe canine senility. But keeping your dog mentally stimulated with exercises and training will go a long way toward maintaining a healthy mental state.

Although you may not notice, your dog will become more sensitive to heat and cold over time. Avoid leaving your dog in the car on even moderately hot days, or outside during hot summer days. Also, make sure your dog is not outside at night in the cold and is not exposed to drafts inside.

An elderly dog will also not be able to cope with stress as well as when it was younger. Changes in diet, environment, people, and other animals will not be as quickly accepted. Stress can make existing physical conditions worse, and can increase your dog’s chance of getting sick.

All of these changes will be gradual and it will take careful monitoring to notice changes in your dog, such as weight, mental status, and pain. If you make a specific effort to regularly check these things, changes should be easier to identify. Besides the normal, expected changes above, there are some other problems that may arise as your dog gets older.

There is a list of signs that you should look out for, and you should make an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice them. It includes, but is not limited to, increased thirst and urination, changes in bowl habits, vomiting, changes in breathing (including sneezing and coughing), pain, weight loss, lumps, and changes in fur quality.

Older dogs are prone to loss of their senses. You may notice your dog’s eyes getting cloudy; this is most likely the beginning of cataracts. Your dog will adapt very quickly to a loss of sight or hearing, and will not experience pain related to it. It will also most likely develop some degree of arthritis, which can be fairly successfully treated with pain and anti-inflammatory medicine. As dogs age, they are also more prone to a few hormone disorders. These include hypothyroid, Cushing’s disease (adrenal hormone problem), and diabetes. Hormone problems are usually first noticed as a change in energy level, weight, and/or drinking and urinating habits. Also, your dog could potentially develop heart failure. This is eventually fatal, but the process can be very successfully slowed down with drugs. The most important sign to look for is coughing or difficulty breathing.

If you know what to expect as your dog gets older, you can make the transition easier for both of you. By maintaining all the good habits of exercise, proper nutrition, and regular visits to you veterinarian, you will be able to help keep your dog happy and healthy into the later years of life!

By Ashley O’Driscoll – writer

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