Your dog is now 7 years old (or older). So what does that mean?
With improvements to veterinary care and dietary habits, our dogs are living longer than they ever have before. But now we’re faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. Extensive research on the problems facing older pets and how to best handle their special needs.
Q: When does a pet become “old”?
A: It varies, but cats and small dogs are generally considered geriatric at the age of 7. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans and are considered geriatric when they are approximately 6 years of age. Owners tend to want to think of their pet’s age in human terms. While it is not as simple as “1 human year = X cat/dog years”, there are calculations that can help put a pet’s age in human terms.
Dental hygiene is crucial, as your dog ages. Regular dental care, such as brushing and professional cleaning can prevent dental disease and decay, which can be very painful for dogs. If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his/her teeth brushed, consider dental treats and toys instead, in between professional cleanings..
Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well-being. Take your dog on short, gentle walks and monitor his/her breathing and gait to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise as well. Stimulating toys such as food puzzles help keep your dog sharp.
Bring your dog in for a checkup at least twice a year. Just as elderly people need to be aware of health issues and visit their doctors more often, aging pets benefit from more frequent visits. Older pets may need additional blood tests, dental care and examinations. Additionally, many breeds have predispositions toward certain ailments, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer, diabetes and bladder stones. Early detection can help catch these before they become major problems.
Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you now need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For dogs with hip dysplasia or joint issues, consider a special ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or join you on the bed. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision-impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints, particularly if you live in a colder climate. Finally, non-slip surfaces will prevent falls and help your older pet maintain traction when rising.
As your pet ages, monitor changes in behavior, appetite, weight loss or gain, dental issues, and any lumps, bumps or lesions your pet may be getting. Keep a journal to show your pet’s veterinarian.
Taking care of an older dog may involve a little more work than you’re used to doing, but caring for a lifetime companion is a deeply rewarding experience. Your dog has been good to you (and for you) for years—now’s the time to return the favor!