The Elderly Dog: Care and Maintenance
Itís difficult to imagine the first time you are holding that irrepressibly cute little fur-ball that is your new puppy that one day he will be an older dog, a senior, with certain physical and mental needs. He wonít be as a quick as he once was; he might have a harder time hearing you come in the door; or he might take a few more minutes to get up off the floor, but there are special things you can do for your older dog to make his golden years comfortable and happy.
Depending on the size of your dog (larger dogs age faster), by the time he has reached 6 years of age, he will be medically classified as a senior dog. It is not always readily apparent, but his body will have already started to change before your eyes.
Prevention and additional care go a long way to caring for the senior dog and keeping his mind and body in good shape. Here are ten ways to keep your senior dog active and comfortable:
1. Make sure to schedule your veterinarian visits each year. In very geriatric animals, every six months might be appropriate. Just because he doesnít act sick doesnít mean he doesnít need to go. In addition to annual vaccinations, be sure to have a full examination and geriatric blood work panel done. Blood work reveals how well his body is aging and if there is any problems in organs like the kidneys.
2. Keep his teeth very clean with preventative brushing, chew toys, and professional cleanings when necessary. Plaque and tartar buildup allow a breeding ground for bacteria, which can damage organs as they move throughout the body.
3. Keep his body in a good weight and maintain his muscle tone through consistent exercise. He might not be able to go for as long a walk as he once did, but exercise should still be an important part of his daily regimen. Elderly dogs loose muscle mass and strength, so it is important to keep them fit.
4. Many senior dogs benefit from supplemental products like Cosequin or other joint care products with glucosamine and chondroitin. They help lubricate stiff joints, which are ripe for arthritis.
5. Donít forget to continue giving preventative medications like monthly heartworm pills, but if your dog is very old, sick, or disabled, you might want to ask your vet about giving monthly topical flea and tick preventatives. Many of them are not recommended for these kinds of dogs.
6. Make sure to provide plenty of warm sleeping locations in the home where he will not be disturbed. Older dogs sleep more as they age, so providing them an opportunity without high traffic for quality sleep is a good idea. A thick, soft pet bed provides them with joint support and extra warmth.
7. Donít forget about his mental health! Sometimes when a dog ages, people forget all about training and working with the dog. Old dogs still like to do their tricks and be active. For example, if youíve got an old hunting dog, let him do field work for an hour or two before switching off to the younger dog. He will still feel useful and part of the team.
8. Make grooming sessions special times by taking the extra time to brush and massage your dog. Not only does the grooming and massage feel great to the dog, but it also gives an owner a good opportunity to do body inspections: check his ears for odors, check his mouth and gums for growths or changes, and thoroughly inspect and feel his body. Many older dogs develop growths as they age, and some cancers start with just a simple bump.
9. Pay attention to your dogís personality and routine and take note of any changes. Some dogs are very stoic and donít show pain or illness easily. If you notice even the slightest change in your dogís eating, drinking, restroom usage, sleeping, or general personality, go to the vet. Trust your judgment, and if something doesnít seem right, follow your instincts.
10. Really think it through before getting a new puppy. A lot of people want to get a new puppy when a dog becomes older, but some older dogs might not want to put up with the nuisance of a brand new puppy that only wants to play.
An old dog still has a lot of life in him, and mostly they just ask for a little love and comfort in return for the unconditional companionship. With a little preventative work and extra care, you can keep your senior in great shape for many years to come!
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