All Things Dog

Caring for elderly dogs

Elderly dogs have special dietary needs and need to stay at the right weight. This segment gives you all the details on what to feed your elderly dog, and how to make sure he stays in optimum health.

Older dogs, just like older people, have special health needs, so you may need to give them a little more attention and care than their juniors. But you'll be well rewarded for this extra care, because it will help support continuing good health for them, and more years of happy companionship for you.

Read this section to learn how you, with the help of your vet, can look after an elderly dog.

  • How old is elderly?
  • Why elderly dogs have special health needs
  • The dietary needs of elderly dogs
  • Caring for the health of elderly dogs
  • Helping your dog maintain proper weight
  • Kidney changes
  • Reduced appetite
  • Mineral and vitamin requirements
  • How old is elderly?
    This depends on the breed and the individual dog. Larger breeds tend to age more rapidly than smaller ones. In general, "elderly' means over eight years old for a medium-sized dog, and over five years old for a larger dog.

    Why elderly dogs have special health needs
    As dogs grow older, their organs may become less efficient, and they may be less able to resist infections and other diseases. As a responsible pet owner, you will want your dog to remain healthy and active for as long as possible. So you should be aware of any condition that might need your vet's attention.

    The dietary needs of elderly dogs
    he dietary needs of elderly dogs tend to vary from individual to individual. Some elderly dogs may need a special diet. There are several reasons for this. An elderly dog will naturally be less active than a younger animal, and so he may need less energy from his diet. Research has also shown that the body composition (the amount of muscle and fat tissue) tends to change in elderly dogs, and they may therefore need up to 20% fewer calories. An elderly dog's organs can become less efficient in dealing with food, meaning you may need to make adjustments to his diet, or feed a special diet recommended by your vet.

    Caring for the health of elderly dogs
    It's a good idea to regularly assess your dog to make sure his appearance and behavior are normal. If he refuses food, is abnormally reluctant to go out, is in obvious pain, or has problems urinating or defecating, you should ask your vet for advice. And there are some specific health problems you should watch for in an elderly dog.

    As your dog ages, arthritis may develop in his joints. This may mean he becomes less active and finds it hard to move. You should still take your dog out for controlled exercise, even if he has arthritis. Ask your vet about a suitable exercise program and possible medications to make him more comfortable if he has arthritis. And, your dog may need a diet containing fewer calories, to stop him from gaining weight.

    Hearing, sight and smell can all become dull with age, and you may need to make allowances for these changes. For instance, if you find your dog is not obeying you, maybe it's because he can't hear your command. Your dog can also suffer from eye problems such as infections, cataracts, decreased night vision, or even blindness. Watch for signs such as discharge from the eyes, or signs of impaired sight, such as bumping into furniture. (Note that lot of dogs with these problems do actually adjust very well to their environment.)

    Disease of the gums can not only lead to your dog losing his teeth, but may also cause a more serious problem if bacteria enter the bloodstream through his inflamed gums. Examine your dog's teeth and gums regularly, and ask your vet for advice if they don't look healthy. Also, brush your dog's teeth with a special dog toothbrush, and give him oral hygiene products.

    Urinary incontinence (not being able to control his urine) can be a problem in elderly animals, and even a dog who's been house-trained for years may suddenly start to urinate in an inappropriate place. This is sometimes due to problems with the part of the nervous system that controls the bladder, but it also can be due to disorders of the urinary tract, prostate, or other body systems. If a dog suddenly becomes incontinent, or starts to urinate more frequently than he did previously, consult your vet. Finally, don't forget that regular vaccination is just as important in older dogs as in younger ones.

    Helping your dog maintain proper weight
    Being overweight or underweight can be a problem for older dogs. A quick way to check your dog's weight is to feel his ribs with the flat of your palm. If it's hard for you to feel the ribs, your dog needs to lose weight. On the other hand, if his ribs feel very prominent, or if you can easily see them on a short-haired dog, he needs to put on some weight.

    As with humans, obesity can be a problem in elderly dogs. It may be due to the dog being less active and therefore burning up fewer calories. Extra body weight can cause or worsen many other health problems for your dog. If he's overweight, you can help him lose weight by feeding him a calorie-controlled diet and possibly by taking him out and giving him more exercise-although this is not always a good idea for older dogs.

    If your pet is too thin, have your vet check that there are no underlying health problems causing the weight loss. As a dog's senses of smell and taste lose their edge or sometimes his digestive tract becomes less efficient, you may need to feed him a very good-tasting, highly digestible diet.

    Kidney changes
    The kidney function of elderly dogs may decrease. Keep in mind that the kidneys process and eliminate body waste products, especially the products of protein metabolism, into the urine. Your vet can tell you if your pet should be on a special diet specially designed for kidney problems. These diets contain a low phosphorus level to slow down the progression of the disease, and a lower protein level to reduce the build-up of harmful waste products in the blood.

    Reduced appetite
    Elderly dogs sometimes have poor appetites, so you may need to coax them to eat. Here are some tips on how to entice your pet to eat:

  • Feed your dog small meals, often. Divide the daily allowance into two to four small meals.
  • Warm your dog's food gently, but only to body temperature.
  • Leave the food down for about 10-15 minutes, and then take it away. Your dog is more likely to eat fresh food.
  • Make sure your dog has a quiet, undisturbed place to eat his meals.
  • Mineral and vitamin requirements
    The vitamin and mineral needs of elderly dogs, particularly those with certain diseases, may be different from those of younger animals. Some of the special diets have their mineral and vitamin content carefully adjusted to help give the right balance for elderly pets who may have failing kidney or heart function.

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