Have you noticed changes in your dog’s appearance, energy levels, and mobility over the past few months? If you’ve had your pooch for quite some time, it’s normal to see him slowing down as he gets older. However, it’s important to know that not all dogs hit the senior mark at the same time. Aside from his age in years, there are other factors to consider before you can call your dog a senior. This Waldo’s Friends article will reveal answers to the questions:
How old is a senior dog?
The word senior can be used to describe any aging pet, but the number of years actually vary for each dog. Your pooch may already be considered a senior when he is between five to 10 years old, but he officially enters the senior stage when he has reached the last quarter of his life expectancy. His life expectancy is highly dependent on his size and breed, with large dogs typically having shorter life spans and aging faster than small dogs. Additionally, the state of his organs can help determine if your canine has reached the senior phase.
How can I tell if my dog is aging?
As your dog begins to experience aging, changes in his physique, flexibility, and behaviour may manifest in subtle and obvious ways. (Side note: Thankfully, senior dogs are more vocal and demonstrative when dealing with their discomfort compared with senior cats.) As a dog pawrent, it is your responsibility to take note of these changes, and report your observations to your veterinarian.
Your dog may display signs of aging through:
1 Changes in brain function
When your canine spends more time asleep, is restless at night, or doesn’t sleep at all, it may point to a more serious problem: canine cognitive dysfunction or dog dementia. This condition is related to the aging of your dog’s brain, greatly affecting his awareness, learning, memory, and response to stimuli. Aside from altering in his sleep cycle, other symptoms of dog dementia are:
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Confusion or disorientation in surroundings
- Decreased desire to play
- Excessive barking
- Excessive licking
- Extreme irritability
- Fecal and urinary incontinence
- Inability to follow familiar routes or recognize people
- Lack of self-grooming
- Loss of appetite
- Seeming disregard for previously learned training or house rules
- Slow to learn new tasks
When your dog displays these signs, take him to the vet so the doctor can evaluate his overall health and cognitive functions, as well as rule out other diseases.
2 Changes in appearance and mobility
Grey or white hairs in the face and muzzle, an increased opacity over the eyes, and loss of muscle mass are some physical signs of old age. Additionally, if you notice that your dog moves slower, has a stiff gait that worsens during or after he exercises, suffers from occasional lameness, has a hard time positioning to pee or poop, and is no longer as active as before, he may be suffering from osteoarthritis.
3 Dental issues
Teeth and gum problems are also indicators of your dog’s overall health. If your pooch’s breath smells funky, his teeth have tartar, and his gums are red, inflamed, or bleeding, these may be symptoms of periodontal disease. The best way to avoid this uncomfortable illness is through regular oral checkups and dental cleaning with the veterinarian.
4 Changes in food intake and body weight
Your dog may be indirectly telling you that something is wrong when he abruptly gains or loses weight. He may be experiencing underlying medical issues (such as stomach or dental problems), causing a loss of appetite and a surprising drop in his weight. Similarly, older dogs that continue to eat their food but still lose weight could be experiencing malabsorption (difficulty absorbing nutrients from food), maldigestion (difficulty breaking down food), or other health issues such as diabetes, severe heart disease, chronic infection, and cancer.
Older pooches may need to switch to specially formulated senior dog food to help them process nutrients more effectively, and to prevent obesity, osteoarthritis, and diabetes. These diets usually have lower calorie content to match an older dog’s metabolism, and higher fiber content to improve gastrointestinal health.
5 Changes in drinking and toilet habits
A difference in the amount of water he drinks and how much he urinates can also tell you if something is ailing your older dog. An increase in water intake could be caused by illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, and hyperadrenocorticism. Inversely, a decrease in water intake could signify ailments such as oral or dental problems, kidney disease, pancreatitis, and gastroenteritis.
Urinary incontinence is also a common ailment in aging dogs, which may be caused by a variety of health conditions. It is described as the “involuntary leakage of urine,” so when it happens, your dog is unaware that he is peeing on your living room couch or on his favourite sleeping mattress. Common medical issues that cause incontinence include urinary tract infection, bladder stones, and weak bladder.
6 Lumps and bumps
Regular home grooming allows you to help keep your senior dog clean, take out ticks and fleas, and feel his body for abnormalities. The lumps and bumps you find may just be superficial ones caused by clogged oil glands or dead cells. However, others may be cancerous growths that need to be assessed and treated through surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Commonly diagnosed cancers in dogs include mammary gland tumors, mast cell tumors, cutaneous lymphosarcoma, malignant melanoma, and fibrosarcoma.
How can I care for a senior dog?
Caring for a senior dog involves working with your veterinarian closely, so you can provide your pooch with a pleasant lifestyle throughout his golden years. Twice a year visits to the veterinarian are highly recommended. A full body examination, a blood exam, and urine analysis should be administered with each appointment. More visits to the animal clinic increases the chances of your vet spotting a health issue earlier and preventing it from causing problems. Through regular veterinary and home care, proper nutrition, and the right amount of physical, mental, and emotional stimulation, your aging dog can continue to live life to the fullest!
Thinking of adopting a senior dog? Find out all the things you should know before bringing home one.