Age is not a disease, however throughout the aging process many physical, metabolic and psychological changes take place that affect the health and mental state of older dogs. Their immune system decreases, as well as other organ systems, and as a result older dogs are more susceptible to various diseases and ailments. However, this is not a reason to exclude our oldie from active and social life.
Read our 5 tips how to help our senior dogs to enjoy a long and quality life with proper care and adapted lifestyle.
When is my dog considered old?
- Small breeds (up to 10 kg): 11.5 years
- Medium-sized breeds (up to 25 kg): 10 years
- Large breeds (up to 45 kg): 9 years
- Giant breeds (over 45 kg): 7.5 years
5 Tips for Senior Dog Owners:
1. Regular check-ups
As life's functions begin to decline, the organism becomes weaker and less resistant to various diseases. With regular check-ups by a veterinarian, they can be detected in a timely manner and begin treatment in the early stages when the chances of success are greater. In dogs that are already on therapy, the course of treatment is monitored in this way and the therapeutic plan adjusted, if necessary.
Preventive checkups are very important.
When do we get started with preventive checkups and how often?
Annual check-ups are recommended for dogs of all age groups, but especially for older dogs - after the age of 7 or depending on the breed (smaller breeds later). Preventive check-ups are performed at least once a year, and more often if necessary or with the advice of a veterinarian.
Tery, our 16-years old Westie
2. Daily exercise
Exercise is essential for maintaining vitality even in older years. With aging, bone, muscle, and cartilage mass begins to decline, and the proportion of adipose tissue increases. This is a natural process that cannot be completely prevented, but can be slowed down. Exercise and proper nutrition play a key role in this.
Maintaining an active lifestyle therefore helps to slow down the onset of ailments such as arthritis and muscle atrophy, keeps the dog's joints moving, helps maintain proper body weight, and mentally challenges them.
For older dogs, we choose low-impact activities that do not overload the joints. Walking is an excellent and often highly underrated activity for maintaining mobility and vitality. For senior dogs we choose flat paths, and we need to adjust the pace of walking to their abilities. Avoid steep slopes and take into account the outside temperatures - older dogs are more sensitive to temperature changes (heat, cold). Break up the exercise into several shorter walks instead of a one long walk.
Chasing balls, jumps and explosive activities are not suitable for older dogs. To maintain muscle mass rather choose to do simple strengthening exercises. In your daily activity include also proprioceptive exercises to improve body awareness (cavalettis, walking on different surfaces, stepping on balance objects, etc.), which worsens with age.
Swimming and (even better) underwater treadmill hydrotherapy are low-impact activities that do not burden the joints and as such, great choice for older dogs - assuming our senior has no heart or lung problems.
Regardless of your dog's medical condition and limitations, there can always be found an activity appropriate to his abilities. Talk to a vet specialized in rehabilitation and physical therapy about appropriate activities for you dog.
3. Mental stimulation
Mental stimulation is an important part of senior dog care. In particular dogs who are no longerable to be physically as active as before need to be provided with other forms of activity. It keeps their brains stimulated and enriches their day.
Here are some suggestions for enrichment:
- Hiding food (or toys) around the house for the dog to search for
- Snuffle matts
- Interactive dog toys
- Learning new tricks (It's never too late to learn)
- Self control exercises
4. Social bond
Dogs are social beings and get very attached to their owner. If you think of your dog, most of the time you're home, he is probably somewhere around you. They rarely let us out of their sight. This is in the dog's nature and social contacts mean a lot to them. In older dogs, daily physical activity is reduced, which in turn also reduces the time we actively spend with our oldie. Let's not forget that some seniors have difficulty climbing stairs and all of a sudden they can no longer follow us everywhere, even if only around the house. Older animals are more prone to stress and lack of social contact is definitely stressful for them. Keep that in mind and give your oldie the same or even more attention than before.
Dogs are social beings and get very attached to their owner.
5. Environmental adaptations
Older dogs often have ambulation difficulties, poor orientation, or poor eyesight. In order to be safe in their own environment, certain adjustments are needed to help them improve their quality of life.
- Proper bed: older dogs need more sleep and rest. Provide them with soft comfortable bed to rest on. Keep the bed in a suitable place.
- Suitable flooring: non-slipping floors to prevent slips and falls. Older dogs with orthopedic problems have troubles getting up - on slippery floors this is almost impossible for them, and certainly dangerous. Carpets, exercise mats, etc. are a good solution.
- Use of ramps to get in and out of the car.
- Reduce climbing stairs by arranging dog's space in the ground floor. If stairs are unavoidable, use the ramp or help them with harness by supporting them while walking up and down stairs.
- Lifted bowls: dogs with neck or spine problems and dogs with joint arthritis tend to bend harder. Help them by raising water and food bowls to a suitable height.
Author: Eva Čepin, DVM, CCRP, Jana Gams