All Things Dog

Special care of the older dog

Older dogs may be slower and less active, and they may develop a few problems such as deafness. But you can make your older dog's life comfortable and fun. Here are some tips on how to do this.

Older dogs have special needs. Their bodies are beginning to slow down, and the wear and tear of life has started to take its toll.

The life span of dogs can vary considerably, and partly depends on the individual breed, although many other factors are also involved. A good start in life--through proper care and nutrition as a puppy and young adult--goes a long way in supporting your dog's active life and seeing him through to old age.

Because you're with him every day, you may not notice the gradual onset of old age in your dog. By the time he's about six or seven years old, he'll likely start to age. Giant breeds may be considered old by the time they're about 8 years old, or even younger. Terriers and many mixed breed dogs can live 15 years or more.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to help make your older dog more comfortable and happy as he ages:

  • Slowing down
  • Exercise
  • Grooming
  • Making your dog comfortable
  • Feeding your old dog
  • Regular veterinary checkups
  • Slowing down
    As your dog ages, he's becoming less active, and his organs function less efficiently. Because his body is slowing down, he can't cope as easily with disease or other stresses, so these should be kept to a minimum.

    You need patience to cope with your old dog, since he's likely to be slower. He may not be able to hear or see you very well. When he doesn't respond, it doesn't mean he's deliberately trying to ignore you! He needs a little more help and company now. Be patient; he deserves it.

    Exercise
    As is often the case with their owners, many dogs become less active as they get older. Instead of running on ahead as he may have done in his youth, he's now content to walk sedately by your side. He tires more easily. His joints may stiffen, and he can get the same sort of muscular aches and pains that humans experience as they age.

    Older dogs may often have deteriorating eyesight, and their hearing and other senses, including smell, may also be impaired. They can easily become disoriented and lost if separated from their owner, so don't let your dog get too far away from you when you're out walking.

    Although he may be less active, it's still good for him to maintain a moderate level of exercise. This helps to improve his circulation, keeps his joints moving, and ensures he receives plenty of fresh air. It also gives him enough opportunity to relieve himself, and will help avoid accidents in the house.

    Take your older dog for shorter, more frequent walks, but never force him to go beyond his capabilities. If it's raining or snowing, make sure you thoroughly dry him off when you get home. If the ground is icy, or if there's salt or grit on the roads, make sure his paws are washed and dried well to avoid any irritation, which can lead to sores and infections.

    Don't take him out for walks when the temperature is extremely hot or extremely cold, because his body may not be able to cope. Wait until conditions are more comfortable, and don't stay out too long.

    Grooming
    Keep your old dog well groomed. This helps to make him feel more comfortable and healthy. Brushing keeps his coat shiny and free from tangles.

    Grooming your dog regularly means you can also check his coat for any abnormalities such as hair loss, wounds, irritations, and evidence of fleas or other parasites. You can also feel over his body for any lumps or bumps.

    Warts and benign fatty tumors (lipomas) are quite common in old dogs. They shouldn't cause any problems unless they're in a position where they can cause damage to other structures (on the eyelid, for example), or where they're causing discomfort or are easily traumatized. Get your vet to check any unusual swelling, especially if it's growing quickly.

    Check your dog's nails regularly. Pay special attention to the dewclaws. These are located on the side of the leg, and don't touch the ground, so they're not regularly worn. Sometimes these nails grow in a circle and back into the nail pad, which can be very painful. You can trim your dog's nails yourself, but if you aren't familiar with the procedure, ask your vet or a professional dog groomer to do this for you. Periodically examine your dog's mouth, and check his gums and teeth. Brown tartar deposits on the teeth lead to bad breath, gum disease and infections, and eventually cause the teeth to fall out. Your vet can scale the teeth to remove the tartar and remove any loose teeth. This usually requires a general anesthetic. It's far better to prevent or minimize the occurrence of gum disease by feeding your dog some hard foods as part of his diet throughout his life. You should also brush his teeth regularly, using a special dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste or a soft cloth or cotton swab dipped in baking soda.

    Making your dog comfortable
    Because your dog is less mobile at this stage of his life, he'll spend longer periods of time lying down in one place. Make sure he doesn't lie in a cold, damp spot or out in the hot sun for any length of time. Keep his bed in a warm, draft-free location, and make sure it's well padded. If he lies for long periods on a rough or hard surface, particularly if he's quite heavy, he may develop calluses of rough skin over the bony prominences of the body, such as the elbows and the hocks. These can become ulcerated and infected. Special orthopedically designed pads are now available from pet stores. These are great for making your dog more comfortable.

    Don't forget that because his eyesight, hearing and sense of direction may not be quite as good as they were, your dog may become disoriented easily. So keep changes in the home or in his normal routine to a minimum. Try not to leave him alone for long periods, particularly in a strange place.

    Feeding your old dog
    Because your dog gradually becomes less active as he grows older, he uses less energy. So it may be necessary to cut down his food ration to keep him at his optimum weight. This is especially important in the elderly dog, since a fat body will put more strain on the heart and lungs and also on the muscles and joints. Obese dogs may have a shorter life expectancy.

    Regular veterinary checkups
    Annual booster vaccinations are just as important, possibly even more so, in old dogs as in young dogs. Older dogs may be less resistant to disease and can't easily fight off infections.

    Appointments for boosters also give your vet the chance to examine your dog regularly (some dogs may need more frequent checkups) and assess the healthiness of important organs such as the skin, heart, kidneys and liver.

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