What To Expect With Your Senior Dog
A Lot More Is Now Known About Aging In Pets
A generation or two ago, most folks wouldn't have given much thought to the needs of their aging pets. They got old and died, or they got old and incapacitated, and we put them to sleep. It's as if we resigned ourselves to the fact that "that's the way it is and nothing can be done about it."
Today, things are different. We've seen tremendous advances in animal health care, and in the amount of attention given to the aging aspect of pet ownership. Animals are living much longer now because of advances in nutrition and veterinary care, and because owners are taking a more active role in their dogs' lives.
Health problems of elderly pets are often similar to those of elderly humans. They're susceptible to heart and kidney disease, problems of the skeletal system, nutritional concerns, and certain kinds of cancers.
Researchers have even detected plaques (lesions) in the brains of elderly dogs that resemble those found in Alzheimer's disease in humans. Known as Canine Geriatric Cognitive Disorder or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, the disease is characterized by a variety of symptoms.
Owners of elderly dogs should watch for failure to respond to commands, disorientation, failure to recognize familiar faces and places, decreased awareness of surroundings, uncharacteristic vocalizations, compulsive behavior such as pacing and circling, and inappropriate elimination.
And today's geriatric companion animals have the benefit of owners who are increasingly aware of their pets' health and who seek treatment at the first sign of a problem. Identifying the first sign of a problem is no easy task, I might add.
Animals instinctively mask symptoms of illness or injury because in their world, if you're sick or injured, you're vulnerable to predation or domination. They don't always understand that they're among friends, so they often conceal signs.
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Be Proactive In Supporting Your Senior Pet
What can you do to support good health in your older dog? Well, certainly proper nutrition is the cornerstone. But don't be too quick to switch to a "senior" diet when your dog reaches six or seven years of age. There is no standardized definition of a "senior" diet, so it's whatever the food manufacturer says it is. And it may not be appropriate for your dog.
Make sure the diet fits the lifestyle and body condition of the animal, which goes hand in hand with weight maintenance. Some senior dogs are couch potatoes, others are still very active. Let that be your guide and select a food that fits those criteria.
Don't over-feed, be cautious about giving human food (some of it is toxic to animals), and provide plenty of opportunities for exercise.
It's important to make sure immunizations are up to date. Vaccination protocols vary among professionals, and many pet owners have developed issues with them, so it would be wise to discuss a vaccination program with your vet.
Keep an eye on your pet's dental health, too. Regular tooth brushing, dental checks, and proper diet will help prevent periodontal disease.
Several veterinary organizations consistently report that, by age three, 70% of dogs show signs of periodontal disease.
Left unchecked, periodontal disease has significant consequences including tooth loss and systemic problems of the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys.
Periodontal disease is irreversible, but it is also preventable.
Since pets age far quicker than humans, semi-annual check ups can detect problems earlier and facilitate more satisfactory outcomes.
And don't rely on the old "1 human year to 7 dog years" rule. The age comparison varies with the size of the dog.
For example, a 6 year old dog that weighs 20 pounds or less would be the approximate equivalent of a 40 year old human.
However, a 6 year old dog that weighs 90 pounds or more would be the approximate equivalent of a 49 year old human.
And don't forget mental stimulation, or what professionals refer to as environmental enrichment.
You can keep your pets mentally active by playing with them, teaching them new tricks, and providing interesting and challenging toys and treats.