Even though dogs are much more quickly than people, they experience many of the same changes with the passing years. They move a little more slowly than they used to. And they’re a little more susceptible to certain conditions, such as arthritis, kidney disease and hear disease.
Your dog might experience some behavioral problems; too, similar to those caused by senility in people, explains Gary Landsberg, D.V.M., an animal behaviorist in private practice in Thornhill, Ontario, and co-editor of Dog Behavior and Training. You might notice that your older dog becomes less attentive or playful, for example, or that she’s forgotten commands that she used to know by heart. Her quick responses to sights and sounds may not be all they once were, and she may even surprise you with puddles inside the house as she loses her good toilet habits.
But with you and your vet around to see that she’s comfortable and to take care of special needs, she’ll be more than happy to kick back and relax and share the years of companionship still to come with you.
Caring for Your Senior Dog:
It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether changes you notice in your pet are due to a medical problem, a behavioral problem or a combination of the two. But while you can’t turn back the clock, there is a lot you can do to help your dog enjoy her senior years.
Anticipate some changes:
It’s not unusual for other dogs to become less responsive or to forget their training. So don’t assume your dog is deliberately ignoring you when she doesn’t respond to your call or she just stands there when you tell her “Sit.” Those surprise puddles in the house could be because she’s lost muscle tone, has an infection or other medical problem. Or maybe she just forgot she had to go outside. Extra toilet training isn’t going to help here. Stay calm, clean up the mess, and think about visiting your vet real soon.
Keeping in contact with your vet. Most dogs will have a veterinary checkup once a year, but now that she’s getting up in years, you might want to make your visits little more frequent, especially if you notice something different that you’re concerned about. Report any unusual changes to your vet right away, recommends Dr. Landsberg. That includes behavioral as well as physical changes. “One study showed that fewer than 10 percent of pet owners advised their veterinarians of behavior problems in their older dog, yet more than 60 percent of dogs were exhibiting problems when the same owners were asked to fill out a questionnaire,” says Dr. Landsberg. It’s important that you don’t take changes in your dog for granted or dismiss them with, “Oh well, it’s just old age.” There may be things that can be done to help her.
Your vet will give your dog a complete physical examination and run tests to check for any disorders common in elderly dogs. If there is a medical cause for the problem, he will treat her for this. If the problem turns out to be partly or purely behavioral, don’t give up hope. There are new drugs that can help to slow some of these changes or even lead to an improvement in her behavior. Drugs such as L-deprenyl (Anipryl) or nicergoline, combined with a retraining program. Can often help improve the quality of life for many dogs and their owners, explains Dr. Landsberg. Your vet will also advise you on what you can do to help your dog at home.
Be sympathetic to aging sense. Your dog may lose some of her sharpness of her senses. Her eyesight may fade, she may not her as well as she once did, and even her sense of smell may be somewhat impaired. Your dog will accommodate and adjust to this gradual process, so much so that you may not even notice at first. But do try always to be considerate of your older pet and her set routines.
Any sudden changes could be stressful or downright confusing, so they’re nest avoided. If you have to move the furniture or do a major remodeling and your dog’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be, take her on a tour of the new layout rather than spring it as a surprise.
When she’s sleeping peacefully, don’t startle her with hand contact, even if you think she must have heard your approach. Announce your presence by kneeling close to her and gently calling her name perhaps clapping your hand softly as you walk up to where she is resting.
Keeping her walking. Your dog will benefit from regular exercise and enjoy it as much as she always has, although the pace will probably be slower. After all, while she might be old in years, you want to keep her feeling young in spirit and exercise is a great way to keep her alert and interested in what’s going on around her.
If she doesn’t have the old stamina, just change her schedule to include more outings of shorter distances. This will also provide her with extra opportunities to go to the toiler, and dog that has lost some of her toilet training will appreciate this. And if she gets sore after exercising, a nice massage or a warm bath will do wonders for aging joint. Exercise will keep your dog’s joint mobile and supple, her heart pumping and her body in shape so she doesn’t start piling on the pounds. There is nothing like a walk followed by some gentle games to sustain your dog’s joy in life.
Feed her right. A healthful, balanced diet will work wonders for your older dog. But be careful not to overfeed her, especially since she may not be as active as she once was. It’s important that you watch she doesn’t become too weighty, as this can lead to a number of health problems.
There’s no need to switch her to a special diet, however, unless your vet specifically says to do so. While some dogs benefit from low protein, high-fiber diets, others do much better eating food with high – quality protein, low fiber and lots of water soluble vitamins. In some cases, vets may switch more mature dogs to highly digestible puppy foods.
Most elderly dogs will benefit from supplements rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, which help combat some of the deterioration that aging can bring. An older dog also needs more B vitamins to help kidneys work more efficiently.
Your dog will have her own individual health needs, so if you pay close attention to her and how she’s getting along and plan her activities and meals with this in mind, she will enjoy a long, happy and healthy retirement.