From CARE2: Alex A. Kecskes
If your dog is in his “senior years,” he’ll have special needs. Like people, old dogs want to be treated with dignity and respect when they get old. It’s no secret that older dogs will undergo physical and mental signs of aging. Their memory, their ability to learn and their sense of sight and hearing will slowly decline. So it’s up to you to show compassion and care for the loved companion that has stuck with you through good times and bad.
Signs of Aging Dogs
Older dogs need patience and understanding, for unlike us, they don’t understand the limitations that will affect their lives as they age. Some dogs suffer from insomnia and will become restless at night and sluggish or sleepy during the day. Most older dogs will slow down, often just staring at inanimate objects for long periods. Others will exhibit a reduced appetite for food and prefer to just wander from room to room or in the yard without any apparent rhyme or reason. And some will just whine and grunt more often than usual. As their mental abilities gradually decline, aging dogs may not remember all the hand and verbal cues they were taught as “youngsters.” Their social behaviors will change and they may begin to act differently around their owners, family members and especially other dogs. Dogs that were affectionate and who liked being petted and groomed will prefer these activities less and less in their senior years. These behavioral changes will often go hand in hand with a tendency to grow more clingy and overly dependent on their owners.
Symptoms of Aging Dogs
Your aging dog may lose his desire to exercise. Don’t write this off as simply a sign of old age. He may be suffering from osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia and may actually try to conceal the fact that he’s in pain. Older dogs that appear lethargic may be suffering from such serious diseases as Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, or other ailments. As dogs age, they may have problems urinating, a symptom of bladder stones and a urinary tract infection. Like humans, older dogs can also become disoriented and suffer from Cognitive dysfunction, a condition that affects over half of dogs 10 years of age. So be on the lookout for insomnia, tremors, pacing and restlessness. In general, you should look for the following symptoms experienced by dogs as they age:
- Gradual loss and/or thinning of hair
- Persistent cough that won’t get better
- Constant thirst, always drinking water
- Seeking out extra warmth when the room is comfortable
- Problems navigating stairs
- Bad breath
- Sudden weight change
- New lumps and bumps on skin
There are things you can do to ease your dog’s entry into old age. To keep your dog’s bones and joints from stiffening, feed him a senior formula with joint supplements. Consider Glucosamine and Chondroitin. These joint supplements are available as treats, tablets, powder and paste. You may also ask your vet about Adequan injections, which can protect the cartilage inside joints, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can quickly reduce pain and symptoms of arthritis. Keep your dog’s weight in check, and put him on a diet if he gains too much weight.
He May Need Professional Help
As we age, we tend to see our doctor with increasing frequency. The same should hold true for dogs. So take your aging dog to the vet when he begins to show signs of aging mentioned above. There are often things a vet can do to facilitate a dog’s transition into old age. A number of behavioral changes are often the result of medical disorders that a vet can treat to make older dogs more comfortable. This includes therapies that can keep dogs comfortable and manage their symptoms. In some cases, it may be prudent to seek the advice of a professional animal behavior expert — like a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist — who can help with certain age-related behavior issues.
Attentive, Less Demanding Play
Elderly people don’t want to be ignored and prefer to stay as active as they can. It’s the same with old dogs. So keep your older dog healthy by playing with him—just slow it down and make it less demanding. This continued activity will keep your dog mentally and physically healthy.