As tough as watching a friend or family member age, it can be just as challenging to watch your dog get old too, but it’s a reality that every pet owner has to face. While you’re powerless against time, what you do have is some control over your dog’s quality of life as they get older.
Depending on the breed, a dog can be considered a senior when they are between six to ten years old. Some dogs have an average life expectancy of 14 years, while others typically live to just six or seven years.
While nothing can take away from the pain you’ll experience at the end of your dog’s life, understanding their expected lifespan and how to best care for them as they get older can help you enjoy the time you get to spend with them while they’re here.
Signs Your Dog is Aging
Between the ages of six to ten years, as your dog enters the senior phase of life, you’ll begin to notice some physical and behavioral signs of aging. These include:
- Weight changes
- Difficulty passing urine or stool, or incontinence
- Difficulty seeing/cloudy eyes
- Difficulty getting around/slower movements
- Bad breath
- Lumps and bumps
- Increased anxiety/fear of familiar objects or people
- Confusion or disorientation
- Changes in sleep cycle/pacing or restlessness at night
- Increased barking/vocalization
- Compulsive or repetitive behaviors
- Forgetting regular commands and cues
The more in tune you are with their physical signs of aging, the better you’ll be able to keep them happy and healthy as they get older.
5 Tips on Caring for an Older Dog
As your dog ages, there are subtle changes you can make to their routine, home environment, and veterinary care that can help them live out their final years in good health and comfort. Here are the top five tips on caring for an older dog.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
An honest mistake that many pet owners make, with good intentions, is feeding their four-legged friend table scraps or human food. While you think you’re making your pet happy by sharing your meals with them, the truth is that most of the food you serve on your table can have negative effects on your dog.
It can even make them sick. The best thing you can do to prevent unnecessary weight gain, inflammation, and other health issues is to feed your dog a portion-controlled senior dog food mixed with canned wet food.
If your dog is missing teeth or has trouble chewing, switching to softer canned food can make eating easier and more pleasant for them.
Keep Them Active
As it goes with humans, if you don’t move your muscles, you lose them. The same is true for dogs, especially when they enter their twilight years. It is important to make sure they get plenty of exercise.
Since muscle mass is one of the main things that drives metabolism in the body, when dogs lose theirs, they can develop a condition called frailty syndrome, which will accelerate the aging process.
While it’s natural for an aging pup to slow down a little, more often than not, slowing down is indicative of untreated pain, which is typically caused by inactivity. It’s critical to adjust your senior dog’s activity routine to include longer walks or more playtime.
Invest in an Orthopedic Bed
As we age, we tend to place more importance on investing in a comfortable and supportive bed to sleep on to keep our bodies from hurting. If you want to make your senior dog as comfortable as possible, one of the best things you can do is invest in an orthopedic or heated dog bed.
This is especially important for dogs that are suffering from joint pain or arthritis. In addition to helping reduce pain and provide a more restful sleep for older dogs, these beds can also help improve their mobility and overall quality of life.
Upgrade Their Environment
You can make several minor upgrades to your home and your dog’s environment to make everyday activities easier and more comfortable for them as they age.
Laying carpeting or rugs around your house will make it less likely for your dog to slip on tiles or hardwood floors and make it easier for them to get up from sitting or laying down. If you can’t accommodate that, consider dressing your dog’s feet in dog socks that have rubberized, non-slip soles.
Dog ramps help older dogs get into and out of cars, onto and off of furniture, and up and downstairs. You can also install nightlights throughout your home as night vision is one of the first senses to disappear in senior dogs.
Visit the Vet Regularly
It’s crucial for owners of senior dogs to visit the veterinarian regularly for annual or biannual exams, as per their recommendation. Senior pets should also get blood work done yearly.
Yearly blood work will test your dog’s liver and kidney functions as well as red and white blood cell counts to ensure they’re healthy and detect certain diseases early on. With periodontal disease affecting more than 80 percent of dogs over the age of two years, it’s especially important for owners of senior dogs to brush their teeth for at least 30 seconds three times a week and keep an eye out for gum disease.
Pet insurance will help cover the costs for prescription medication, unexpected expenses, emergency care, and other issues.
How to Honor Your Dog’s Life
No matter how well you care for your dog, the day will inevitably come when they will pass on. Pet memorials offer a time-honored way to solidify your reflection of the beautiful memories you shared with your four-legged companion.
Consider putting together things like pet memorial jewelry, keepsakes, urns, and other pet memorial products as a way to honor your dog’s life. Most importantly, be grateful for the time you got to spend together.
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