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Senior Dog Care Sheet

Senior Dog Care

There is a special kind of love that exists between a pet parent and an older dog. Whether you’ve had your senior dog since they were a pup or you adopted them when they were already in their golden years, people with older dogs know 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, so it’s essential to keep that in mind. The following are some things to remember when it comes to giving our senior dogs the best life possible.

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 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 breeds with shorter lifespans can be considered senior when they are 7.

Senior dog care

Pet parents can help give their senior dogs the best life possible by paying attention to some of the specific issues that their dog might be facing, including:

Health issues

Older dogs may be at a higher risk for certain medical issues, including (but not limited to):

  • Arthritis: Fairly common in dogs, this inflammation of the joints ican have a number of side effects, 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 discuss how nutritional supplements might be able to help improve your dog’s 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 can also help.
  • Dental disease: Proper tooth care will continue to be important into your dog’s senior years. Dental 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 cleanings as needed.
  • 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, which should happen at least twice yearly for older pets.

Along with the twice-yearly checkups and blood analysis that is recommended for senior pets, be on the lookout for the following changes in your pet that may indicate an illness:

  • Drinking less or drinking more than usual

  • Lethargy

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty getting up

  • Lumps

  • Weight loss

  • Shortness of breath

  • Bad breath

  • Limping

  • Difficulty walking

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

Reduced activity

Senior dogs tend to be less energetic than their puppy counterparts, and they might start having trouble getting up and down. Try to keep your dog from jumping off couches or beds and, if you can, pick them up, or use a ramp, to get them in the car when necessary, rather than letting them jump themselves. If your dog still enjoys lounging on the bed or couch, consider using a ramp or pet step for easier access. Steer them clear of stairs or slippery floors or consider adding rugs to add additional traction. Keep an eye on symptoms such as sudden onset of lethargy, difficulty breathing, difficulty moving or apparent pain, and always consult with your veterinarian if an issue becomes particularly worrisome.

Activities for older dogs

Since your senior dog may develop issues with movement (if they have not 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 dogs—but you will need to slow things down as your pet ages to avoid creating 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 (more on this later)
  • Swimming

Most of all, it’s important to resist the urge to always carry your older pet as it’s important for them to stretch and use their muscles.

Senior pet 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 less mobility. Some important things to keep on hand might include:

  • Medications: Consult your veterinarian about what specific medications and/or supplements your dog should be on to support their specific needs. These might include arthritis medication, other prescription or nonprescription pain medications and relievers, and supplements and vitamins.
  • Products for easy access: Remember that mobility will likely become challenging for your older dog, so consider ramps or steps to help them reach higher places like a bed or car and heated or orthopedic beds for comfort. Additionally, since they may have to go out more often, consider a pet door if that’s an option in your home.
  • The proper food: A senior dog may require a specific diet for a number of reasons. Consult your veterinarian to ensure you are meeting your dog’s specific needs.
  • Appropriate senior dog toys: Your senior dog might not be able to play with the same gusto they used to, but that doesn't mean they can’t still enjoy the occasional bout of play with a favorite toy.

Toys for older 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 take on with your senior dog 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 be sure to leave steep hills and slippery surfaces alone.

As far as toys for senior dogs go, interactive toys that have treats inside are a great way to keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated. Toys with bright, contrasting colors will be easier for a dog with older eyes to see. Also look for materials that are gentle on sensitive teeth and gums. On the subject of teeth, since dental disease is common in older dogs, dog dental toys—like rubber and rope toys that help fight plaque and tartar buildup—are good options as well.

What to feed older dogs

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 also be an easy way to help ease digestive issues.
  • As your dog gets older, they may benefit from an age-related senior diet that is specifically formulated to provide the nutrients an older dog needs to remain healthy without unnecessary extra calories.
  • From time to time, an older dog may require a special prescription diet for more specific needs. Your veterinarian will let you know if this is the case.

A senior dog may show signs of physically slowing down, but we know their love remains abundant. Help keep them as healthy and happy as possible by ensuring your house is senior-dog friendly, keeping up with routine veterinary appointments and shopping at Petco for senior pet products to help keep them happy and active.

Download our Senior Dog Care Guide as a resource.