By Jodi Hartley

Just like humans, dogs experience age-related changes in health and behavior. While larger breed dogs typically begin to age sooner than smaller breeds, most veterinarians generally consider a dog a senior around the 7-year mark.

In their senior years, graying of the face, loss of hearing, bad breath, a cloudy or bluish cast over eyes, slower movement/arthritis and slight loss of muscle mass are common for dogs. Dogs experience illness and diseases similar to us such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney/urinary tract infections and liver disease. While these are seen often in senior pets, they shouldn’t be ignored. Any noticeable change warrants a visit to the vet to make sure there isn’t something more going on. With the strides made in veterinary medicine, some of these afflictions can be treated to help your dog be healthier and more comfortable.

Changes in house training or sleep cycles, lack of appetite/changes in weight, increased water consumption, confusion or disorientation, increased hearing loss but greater reaction to sounds, increased barking or whining, increased irritability or aggression, desiring more time alone, lack of response to humans, decreased hygiene, hair loss/itching and more wandering or repetitive activities can be age-related but often indicate a medical issue and should be checked by your veterinarian.

As your dog ages, there are things you can do to help him be healthy and feeling good:

• Increase once-a-year veterinary exams to twice a year so your vet can detect any illnesses, infections or disease earlier and begin treatment if available. Since dogs age so much faster than humans, illnesses can advance much more quickly.

• Provide proper dental care. Dental hygiene is as important for dogs as it is for humans. Periodontal disease can lead to heart disease and other illnesses. Regular brushing at home and yearly veterinary dental cleanings help maintain good dental health.

• Make changes in your dog’s exercise routine. It’s important for senior dogs to continue getting exercise, but as they slow down with age, you may need to adjust the type and amount of his exercise. If your dog jogs with you, you may need to begin taking him for a brisk walk instead. Instead of one long walk each day take two or three shorter walks. Your dog may no longer be able to chase a ball as many times now, or he may only be able to go shorter distances.

• Examine your dog’s nutritional needs. If your dog is slowing down, he may need fewer calories so a change in the amount of food you’re feeding him may need to change. Keeping his weight in the healthy range is a big factor in keeping him healthy. Some food manufacturers offer food specially formulated for senior dogs. It’s still important for him to eat a high quality diet so be sure to check the ingredients of these foods before switching. Unless managing a disease or illness, your dog can typically eat his regular high-quality food, just at a lesser amount.

• Add any extras needed. Senior dogs can be more sensitive to the weather so your dog may need to be indoors more now. He may also require more frequent potty breaks throughout the day and sometimes during the night. For dogs with arthritis or other issues making it harder to get around or jump up on furniture, ramps, stairs and non-slip rugs make getting around easier. Having an orthopedic dog bed in places where your dog spends most of his time gives him a comfortable place to rest.

Article References:

American Veterinary Medical Association: Senior Pet Care (FAQ). Senior Dog Care