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Caring for Aging Dogs

Veterinarian Reviewed on April 3, 2013 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Overview

Thanks to advances in medical technology, our dogs are living longer and healthier lives. As a result, there is growing interest among dog owners as to how to properly care for their aging pets. There are many preventative measures to ensure a long, healthy and pain free life for your pet.

Signs Your Dog is Aging

There are a number of aging signs that will alert you to the special health needs of your dog. Some general signs of aging include a decreased activity level, increased sleep, and less enthusiasm for play and walks.

Some other signs include sensitivity to extreme temperature. Older dogs will try to avoid very hot or cold weather. You will notice you dog will prefer areas with moderate temperature, avoiding the outdoors during summer or winter, and lying on a carpeted area rather than bare floors. Many dogs will be stiff upon rising and have difficulty with going up stairs or jumping onto the couch.

As with humans, hearing loss can become a problem for older dogs. They will seem distant and disobedient but in reality, they are having difficulty hearing you. Their skin and coat will also change. They’ll lose the ability to produce natural oils and wounds will not heal as quickly. Finally, with advancing age, kidney, heart, and liver function will diminish. Your dog may also lose bladder control and his immune system will not be as effective for fighting disease. For these reasons, it is important to have more regular veterinary visits and to pay close attention to changes in your dog’s habits and health.

Dealing with Old Age

The best way to help your dog transition into old age is to make that transition as easy and comfortable as possible. You want to make sure that you don’t allow your dog to become lethargic and lazy while remembering that he won’t be as energetic as he once was.

You’ll notice your dog may wake up with more stiffness in the mornings. Give him a chance to walk it off rather than pestering him to get up and get going. If this is a common problem it can indicate pain and that should be addressed. No pet should have to live with pain. Be sure to alert your veterinarian to these signs. Most dogs do not cry out in pain, but simply live with it until it becomes unbearable. There are safe and effect natural and pharmaceutical pain medications.

You may also notice that your dog’s skin has become drier. You’ll want to brush more frequently and switch to a moisturizing/gentle shampoo. Keep in mind that bathing too often will actually worsen dry skin so you don’t want to be too obsessive about bathing. Regular flea and tick checks are very important also. With diminished immune responses, an older dog is more susceptible to the effects of a tick bite.

Your dog’s diet should also change as he gets older. Because he is likely to be exercising less, your dog will also need to eat less. If you continue feeding your dog the same diet as when he was active and exercising frequently, he may become fat. Speak to a veterinarian about the best diet for your aging dog.

See also; Dog Cognitive Dysfunction

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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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