Essentially, there are 4 stages of life for any canine:
- Young Adult
- Mature Adult
These categories should be used as a guide to determine the appropriate care necessary for your pet, for that particular stage. The age, size, lifestyle, health status, and breed of your dog all affect the care that is appropriate for them. The care they receive throughout their lives has a direct impact on their lifespan and energy levels.
The AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) The Canine Life Stage Checklist provides a checklist of items to discuss with each pet owner based on life stage. This table of additional resources offers suggestions to help predict longevity in various common breeds.
There is a saying in veterinary medicine: “Old age is not a disease.” Yes, your dog is now a senior, but that doesn’t mean that your canine companion has to stop living an enriched, healthy, and comfortable life. Senior dogs often develop many of the same age-related issues seen in older people, but good preventive healthcare can keep these years golden! Your dog should have a physical exam at least twice a year, including routine bloodwork and additional screening tests if needed.
Your veterinarian will continue to perform thorough physical exams on your dog. This includes taking your dog’s temperature and checking body and muscle condition, skin, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, heart, lungs, gastrointestinal system, urinary system, brain, nerves, bones, joints, and lymph nodes. Now that your dog is in the senior life stage, tell your veterinarian about their mobility and activity at home. This will help detect early signs of orthopedic disease and arthritis. Click below to learn about some topics you’ll want to discuss with your dog’s veterinary team.
Just like humans, your dog’s sense of awareness and ability to see, hear, and move may not be as good as it once was. Sometimes little changes in a senior dog’s environment go a long way. Your veterinarian may recommend making adaptations in your home, on walks, or getting into/out of the car. How you play with your dog may change, too, such as choosing to play in your yard, rather than going to dog parks. Talk to your veterinarian about daily exercise (both mental and physical) and ways to keep your dog safe and comfortable.
All dogs, regardless of their life stage, have to travel safely and with minimal stress. Call your veterinarian prior to your dog’s visit to learn how to acclimate them to travel and determine the most effective way to transport them for their visit.
Your veterinarian is the best resource for accurate and current information regarding your dog’s behavior. Discuss any changes you have noticed in your dog’s relationship with you, family members, other animals, and people. Does your dog seem antisocial or “grumpy”? Share any concerns you have about your dog’s cognition (i.e., mental awareness or attitude). Many issues can be addressed and corrected with early intervention of medical, dietary, or pain management.
The amount and type of food you feed your dog is important for many reasons. Excess calories lead to excess weight and poor muscle condition, which makes moving aging joints difficult. More than 50% of dogs suffer from obesity and obesity-related illnesses—don’t let your dog follow the crowd. Maintaining an ideal weight and body condition will help keep your dog active.
Also, your dog may have a medical condition that is effectively managed by food with specific nutrient levels. Many people have opinions about the best food to feed dogs, but your veterinarian has the most medical training when it comes to your dog’s nutrition, so let them help you. Together, you can choose a quality food with targeted nutrition and calories based on your dog’s needs.
Supplements can help senior dogs maintain a good quality of life. If you are thinking of or are already using supplements, like CBD, be sure to discuss this with your veterinary team so they can help you make the safest choices for your dog.
Given to keep a dog’s immune system strong to fight against infection, vaccinations are a crucial component to keeping your dog healthy. Several vaccines were likely administered routinely throughout your dog’s life as the primary defense against serious infectious illnesses. Depending on your dog’s vaccine history, lifestyle changes, and risk of exposure to disease, your veterinarian may adjust their vaccine schedule and/or recommend antibody titer testing to determine protection from a few specific viral infections. Your veterinarian will advise which vaccines are necessary to keep your dog healthy.
Even senior dogs can have healthy mouths and good breath! Periodontal disease can be prevented through regular dental examinations by your veterinarian, and proper home care. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to chronic pain, infection, and poor quality of life. Because so many dogs are affected by dental disease, your veterinarian will perform an oral exam during your visit. Based on the exam findings, a dental health plan can be designed and discussed. The plan may require anesthesia to obtain X-rays to further evaluate and treat periodontal disease. If you have concerns about anesthesia, tell the veterinary team. They will be happy to answer any questions.
It’s never too late to talk about home dental care. Maximize your dog’s health and ask your veterinary team about dental products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) that help keep your dog’s mouth in tip-top shape.
There may be breed-specific health concerns that can affect your dog’s quality of life. At your visit, your veterinarian will want to continue to screen for cancer and orthopedic, kidney, liver, heart, gland, and eye abnormalities that may be breed-related. Early detection is one of the most effective ways to keep your dog healthy!