What is “Old Age” in Dogs?

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What is “Old Age” in Dogs?

Old age is that time in our beloved pets lives when, much like aging humans, their bodies and minds are changing – slowing down.  They will still be your loyal companions and protectors but not as lively as before. This is the time when they will depend on you more than ever to be kept healthy and comfortable.

It is a known fact that dogs’ lifespans differ greatly depending on their size and breed differences. A small breed miniature poodle, as an example, can only be considered a senior until well into its teens, whereas a Great Dane is already a senior at 6 or 7 years of age.

See the article, Life Expectancy of Dogs, for more detail on the average lifespans of the most popular breeds of dogs.

Pet owners are usually advised to consult with their vets once their dog is 7 years old in order to determine the best health care maintenance programme for their dog. Naturally a smaller breed dog will not need to go as soon as a larger breed
dog. When families own several dogs of differing sizes, the symptoms of old age may be overlooked in some cases.

How can I tell if my dog is getting old?

Although aging is an inevitable and gradual process, there are some general signs to watch out for as our pets age.

Slowing down – Your dog does not always follow the other dogs outside and has to be called to come and play with them. He also plays only for a short time and then returns indoors. He has developed a routine of sleeping much of the day or spends more time indoors than was the case in the past.

You may notice a stiffness or greater effort when getting up after sleeping for some time or a hesitation when jumping into the LDV or car. There is a reluctance to use the stairs and on walks he does not run ahead as in the past.

Arthritis is very common in large breed dogs and can occur in any joint which makes it very difficult to establish without
an examination by a vet. In one of my German Shepherds I was sure the problem was in the hind legs, when in fact the front joints needed to be treated. There are many different medications available to help ease the discomfort of arthritis, so you need to see your vet as soon as you notice your dog slowing down!

Greying around the muzzle – Most dogs begin to show greying around 5-6 years. Some dogs start greying prematurely as young as 2 years of age. When people see your dog do they refer to him as, “Old”? Does he look sad?

Hearing loss – Does your dog get a fright when you suddenly come around the corner or approach him from behind? Is it getting hard to wake him up after sleeping? Has greetings and response to commands become less enthusiastic? This could be due to hearing loss which is part of the normal aging process. Your vet must be consulted to first rule out other
medical problems affecting the ears.

Dogs adapt to hearing loss quite well and training need not be curtailed. There are a number of excellent blogs dedicated to Deaf dogs that I have used quite regularly. Using hand signals during the day and lights in the dark can work well. Hand signals should form part of basic obedience training – you may need it again when your dog’s hearing is reduced.

Cloudy or “bluish” eyes – As dogs age one sometimes may begin to notice the eyes showing a bluish, transparent  haze” in the pupil area. It is regarded as a normal effect of aging called lenticular sclerosis. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque and can affect vision so your vet must be consulted. Dogs are very good at adapting to limited visual ability. By making use of their excellent sense of smell blind dogs will find open doors and avoid obstacles.

What can I do for my aging dog? Points to remember about the needs of an older dog.

Have your dog examined by your veterinarian at least once a year.

An older dog does not need as much food to maintain his weight but because of dehydration must always have access to plenty of clean water.

Despite the fact that he is slowing down, he still needs some exercise every day.

His nails must be kept short. Ask your vet to cut it on a visit. Lay down mats or carpets on smooth floors to reduce the risk of the dog slipping or falling.

Older dogs need to relieve themselves more frequently. Make sure to remind them to “Go Pee” (a command my dogs respond to) after eating and last thing at night. Should incontinence become a problem, you need to lay a plastic sheet or a
washable pad over his bed or mat.

Try not to allow a younger dog or children to irritate your older pet. They can become less tolerant and more aggressive with aging.

Keep up the activities he loved as a young dog. Trips to his favourite field, games of tug, fetch, swimming and spending time together.

His love for you has been unconditional from the time you brought him home as a puppy. Now is the time for you to repay that love with care and attention during the remaining years of his life.

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