Caring for Your Older Dog
There is a special kind of love that exists between a pet parent and an older dog. Whether you’ve had your dog since they were a puppy or you adopted them when they were already in their golden years, people with older dogs know just how great they are and how much joy they bring to our lives. Since our senior dogs do so much for us, it makes sense to return the favor by giving them the extra care and consideration they deserve. Older dogs do have some special needs that younger dogs might not, however, so it’s essential to keep that in mind. Here are some things to remember when it comes to caring for your senior dog.
When is a dog considered a senior?
Exactly when a dog becomes a senior depends on their breed, but most veterinarians consider a dog to be a senior somewhere between 7 and 10 years of age. Smaller breeds, who tend to live longer, might not be considered senior until they are 10, while larger or giant breeds tend to have shorter life spans and are considered senior when they are 7. No matter what size your dog is, as they approach the age of 7, it’s important to begin to think of the specific care they’ll require as they age.
Caring for your dog as they age
While you may not be ready to accept that your beloved dog is getting a “sugar face” because they're getting older, it’s important to recognize that their health care needs are changing. While that may mean a little extra work, being aware of issues that could arise—and proactively providing solutions—can help keep your pet feeling their best and enjoying their time with you as much as ever.
Help give your older dogs the best life possible by paying attention to some of the specific needs that your dog may require, including:
More frequent veterinary visits
Older dogs may be at a higher risk for certain medical issues, which is why it’s recommended that they begin to have twice-yearly veterinary checkups instead of the once-a-year visits they had when they were younger. Along with a routine physical exam, these checkups may also come with recommendations for dental cleanings or X-rays as well as a blood analysis.
Health concerns that are common within aging pets include (but are not limited to):
- Dental disease: Proper dental care remains important as your dog ages and plaque and tartar build up, particularly if you haven't been as proactive as you could have been with at-home care and professional cleanings at the vet. Periodontal disease can be painful and cause additional health issues, so continue to brush your senior dog’s teeth with the proper toothbrush and toothpaste and be sure to take them in for regular veterinarian visits that include dental cleanings as needed. Your veterinarian might suggest incorporating dental treats or water additives into their daily routine.
- Urinary and digestive concerns: As pets age, their internal systems may experience some upset. They may require a specialized food formula that focuses on digestive concerns or urinary function. Additionally, urinary incontinence may require the use of diapers or potty pads. Regular trips to your vet will also help determine if these issues could be mitigated with a prescription to address your pet’s exact diagnosis.
- Arthritis: Fairly common in dogs, this inflammation of the joints can result in a number of side effects also on this list, including decreased activity and weight gain. Working with your veterinarian will be essential to developing a treatment plan that will likely include diet modifications to incorporate chondroitin sulfate or omega fatty acids, low-impact exercise—like walking and hydrotherapy—and potentially some medical treatments. The latter might include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), dietary supplements or other over-the-counter treatments.
- Hip and joint pain: Decreased mobility and limping can be signs of joint stiffness or hip and joint pain. Work with your veterinarian to rule out major health concerns and discuss how nutritional supplements might be able to help your dog maintain their mobility. Some of these products promote cartilage health, while others can help with joint flexibility and support, like those containing chondroitin or glucosamine. A daily multivitamin may help prevent issues as your pet ages, but if they are suffering from pain, a trip to your vet may be required in order for a prescription pain medication to be prescribed.
- Reduced high-impact movements: Older dogs tend to be less energetic than puppies and might have trouble getting up and down from their favorite couches and beds due to arthritis or overall joint pain. To help your dog continue to reach the places they love to lounge on or visit, pick them up when and if you can and look into getting them a ramp (useful for getting in and out of cars, too). Steer them clear of stairs or slippery floors or consider adding rugs for additional traction. A towel on the bottom of the tub can help at bathtime. By helping your dog move about more safely, you can help prevent injuries and wear and tear on their joints.
- Weight gain: Often related to reduced energy level, metabolism and mobility, weight gain is common in older dogs. As movement becomes more difficult, or possibly painful, the amount of exercise your pet partakes in could decrease. This, along with many pet parents giving their older pups a few extra treats, can result in additional pounds found around your pup’s waist, which, in turn, can make exercise more challenging. To break this cycle, help your pet stick to their recommended caloric intake with a senior dog food formula and low-impact, age-appropriate exercise.
- Additional medical issues: Senior dogs can also be at increased risk for health issues such as cancer, thyroid irregularity, hearing loss, heart disease, urinary tract disease, diabetes and kidney disease. Be on the lookout for any unusual or unexpected behaviors and stay on top of your dog’s regular veterinary checkups.
Along with these concerns, it’s important to be on the lookout for any of the symptoms below, which could indicate your pet is experiencing an illness or health issue. Contact your vet immediately if you notice a change in the following:
- Drinking less or drinking more than usual
- Difficulty getting up
- Poor skin & coat health
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Bad breath
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of appetite
Exercise for older dogs
Since your senior dog may develop issues with movement (if they haven’t already), it’s important to keep that in mind when it comes to activities. Of course, exercise is still important—especially since senior dogs are more prone to obesity than younger ones—but you will need to slow things down as your pet ages to help avoid causing more pain later on. Avoid anything that could overexert your older pup and keep any specific medical issues, like arthritis or sore joints, in mind. Ideas for activities with senior dogs include:
- Multiple short, easy walks
- Gentle play with items specifically made for senior dogs
- Adjusting the activities they enjoyed previously to be shorter or less strenuous
Resist the urge to always carry your older pet as it’s important for them to stretch and use their muscles.
Senior dog supplies
Although your older dog may be slowing down, they will still require a number of supplies, both to keep them happy and healthy and to make life easier for them as they navigate your home with reduced mobility. Some important things to keep on hand might include:
Consult your veterinarian about medications and/or supplements to support your dog’s specific needs. These might include:
- Supplements and vitamins that may proactively support your pet’s physical wellbeing
- Arthritis medication prescribed by your vet to aid mobility
- Nonprescription or prescription pain medications and relievers that can ease joint pain
- Vet diets that are authorized based on a specific need your pet may have
Products for easy movement
Remember that mobility may become challenging for your older dog, so consider items that will help them move around more comfortably.
- Ramps or steps to help your dog reach higher places like a bed, couch or car without requiring them to jump
- Heated or orthopedic beds to help ease achy joints and make getting into bed more comfortable
- A pet door (or potty pads) to help pets who may have to go more frequently (or urgently) make it to the right destination on time
Toys for senior dogs
As a dog ages, they may find some of their old favorite games and toys more challenging, but you can still have a lot of engaging fun with your older dog. Just be sure that whatever activity you choose takes their age and physical status into consideration. For example, if your dog loved playing fetch as a pup, they likely will still enjoy that activity—just in shorter bouts (both in distance and duration)—and without jumping, steep hills or slippery surfaces.
As far as toys for senior dogs go, try some of the following:
- Interactive toys that use treats to help keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated
- Toys with bright, contrasting colors that may be easier for a dog with older eyes to see
- Toys specifically made with senior dogs in mind, made with materials that are gentle on sensitive teeth and gums
Senior dog food
Your senior dog has a specific set of health and nutritional needs, and it’s important that you work with your veterinarian to ensure they are getting everything they require. For example:
- Age-related changes in metabolism may cause your dog to gain weight, and a dog food specifically formulated for weight management—particularly those with fewer calories and less protein—may help them avoid obesity and other weight-related issues. Feeding your dog smaller meals throughout the day might help them feel full longer.
- As your dog gets older, they may benefit from an age-related senior diet that is specifically formulated to provide the nutrients they need without unnecessary extra calories.
- Your older dog may eventually require a vet diet for more specific needs. Your veterinarian will let you know if this is the case and write you a prescription.
While we may be hesitant to admit it, our dogs may eventually show signs of physically slowing down.But we know their love remains abundant. By setting them up with the right products and services early on, you can help your dog remain as healthy and happy as possible so you can keep doing the things you’ve always loved to do with each other. If you have any questions about your pup’s specific needs as they age, be sure to ask your veterinarian and then visit your local Petco store for a Whole Health Check to receive a list of personalized recommendations for your dog.