The Challenges Of Owning An Older Dog
If you’re lucky, your dog is aging so gracefully, you hardly notice it happening. Inevitably, though, she will reach a point when it becomes painfully obvious that she is starting to slow down. Then what? This post is meant to provide general guidelines to help you distinguish between aging dog behavior that is normal versus behavior that is cause for concern.
Of course, if you’re not sure, consult your veterinarian. It is important to diagnose problems early to increase the chances of a positive outcome through medical intervention. Make a list of your dog’s changing behaviors to discuss with your vet during regular visits to be sure you’re not missing anything.
Changes In Your Older Dog’s Coat And Skin
The classic sign of aging in dogs is a graying muzzle along with gray around the eyes. Your dog’s coat may thin and become coarse and dry; supplements may help. More frequent grooming may help her stay fresh and feel loved. Skin tumors are not unusual in older dogs but should be checked out by the vet.
Behavior Changes In Your Older Dog
Gradual changes in behavior as dogs age are normal. However, watch for behaviors that might signal a problem, such as unusual aggression, fearfulness, startling easily and having accidents in the house. These might be signs of illness or another problem that would benefit from medical intervention.
Some dogs, particularly large breeds, may also develop neurological problems such as dementia as they age. If your dog seems to be forgetting commands, seems confused about her surroundings or is starting to wander, you should contact your vet, who might be able to prescribe medication to help.
Age-Related Changes In Your Dog’s Movement And Stamina
Similar to humans, dogs’ joints suffer a lot of wear and tear during the course of a lifetime, often developing arthritis. In order to prevent your dog from becoming completely debilitated, your vet may prescribe medication and supplements. In addition, certain accommodations in your home might help, such as an orthopedic dog bed and a ramp to help with steps.
In addition, you will notice your dog’s energy level decreasing and fatigue setting in more quickly than before. She’ll still enjoy her daily walk but she may start slowing down the further she goes, particularly in the heat or going up hills; shorten the walk accordingly to avoid causing her undue stress.
Regular physical activity is important throughout your dog’s life and will keep her spry longer. Keep an eye out for stiffness, limping, excessive panting or labored breathing, which might be signs of a problem.
Sensitivity To Temperature Fluctuations
Your elderly dog is more sensitive to changes in temperature than she used to be, due to changes in her metabolism. Her body can’t self-regulate and adapt to temperature changes the way it used to. This means you need to be vigilant about making sure she stays warm in winter and cool in summer. And, of course, be sure she stays hydrated year round.
Eyesight & Hearing Changes In Your Older Dog
You may notice your dog is not responding as readily to your commands as she once did, which may be a sign that her hearing is deteriorating. Or, she may startle when you touch her because she didn’t hear you coming. Similarly, she may show signs of vision problems. These are not unusual conditions for an aged dog, particularly one that is, say, over 12 years old, which is roughly the equivalent of 90 in human years. Make accommodations in your house and her routine to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself, and be patient with her—she can’t help it.
Your Older Dog’s Changing Appetite
You may notice your older dog is eating less than before, which is normal. Her metabolism is slowing down as is her need for calories. Even if her appetite remains unchanged, reducing her portions will keep her lean. Obesity is a common problem in senior dogs and should be avoided because it hastens their demise.
One of the biggest problems associated with obesity is undue stress on joints and ligaments. In addition, an overweight dog’s heart has to work harder to compensate for her additional bulk which is particularly dangerous for an older dog. Prevention is easier than forcing your old dog to lose weight. Your vet can provide guidance about how to help her avoid old-age weight gain.
Digestive Disorders In Your Older Dog
Although dogs of all ages can suffer from digestive problems, they are more pronounced and can escalate quickly in older dogs. Constipation, gas, bad breath, and belching are normal; other conditions are not. In addition to obvious symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms such as bloating, lethargy and extreme restlessness can signal a potentially serious problem and warrant a call to the vet.
Your Older Dog’s Sleep Habits
Not only do elderly dogs sleep more than they did when they were younger, it’s more difficult to rouse them from slumber. Your dog may seem confused when she first wakes up but then should seem normal within a few moments.
In addition, your older dog may snore — A LOT — when she sleeps, which is a problem at night if she sleeps in your room. Snoring may result from your dog being congested, overweight or simply sleeping on her back. A vet can prescribe medication to clear up congestion. Obesity is to be avoided as described above. If her sleeping position is a recurring problem, replace her bed with a more compact one that encourages curling up and prevents sprawling out on her back.
Dental Problems In Your Older Dog
If your dog tries to eat and can’t, that’s a red flag. Dental problems are common among senior dogs, which may prevent them from being able to chew their food. Sadly, teeth deteriorate along with everything else. While your vet should be able to help, prevention is paramount. It’s important to take care of your dog’s teeth throughout her life so dental problems don’t sideline her when she’s older.
Maintaining Your Aging Dog’s Quality Of Life
Depending on your dog’s breed, changes and potential problems related to getting older can occur at different ages. Small dogs tend to live longer, with an average life expectancy of 12-14 years, and show signs of aging later in life. Large breeds, with a life expectancy of 8-10 years, age relatively quickly. Your vet can provide guidance and help ensure your dog lives as long as possible with an enduring high quality of life.