Even at their absolute best, dogs do not live as long as we do. As much as we’d like for Rex or Spot to live forever, fifteen years is the average lifespan for most dog breeds. Some will live longer and, dare we say it, some will live shorter than that. Medium sized dogs are considered to be seniors when they’re around 7-8 years old. Larger breeds pass into senior status even younger than that. Genetically dogs age quite rapidly, reaching adulthood at only 2 to 2 ½ years of age.
As our beloved pets and best friends age they may begin to move slower, eat less, sleep more, retain weight and a whole slew of other things that happen as a product of old age. If you notice these changes in your dog, fear not. There are lots of things you can do to make sure Fido ages with grace and ease. The final years you get to spend together can bring a whole new set of experiences and memories. They can be great years with just a little bit of proactivity from you. These five steps can help you keep your dog(s) healthy as they age.
1) Make frequent trips to the vet for checkups.
- Make a point to take your dog to the vet twice a year. Some dogs may need up to 3 or 4 visits a year depending on the health history of their breed or their own personal health struggles.
- Vet visits every 6 months helps Veterinarians to be able to pinpoint physical and emotional changes in your dog. They can check for infections as well as test for a whole laundry list of things that can afflict older dogs.
- Some dogs may require medications for digestive issues and other illnesses. Pain medication may also be prescribed to dogs with severe joint and bone problems like hip dysplasia and arthritis.
- In between visits if you notice any changes in your dog such as limping, loss of appetite, excessive weight loss/gain, etc. DO NOT hesitate. Go to the vet immediately for further examination.
2) Make small changes to their diet and watch their weight.
- Elderly dogs are susceptible to a variety of ailments such as kidney disease, arthritis, blindness and even cognitive breakdown.
- Be sure to provide them with food that is designed to prevent certain signs of aging in dogs. You want food that has nutrients to help their bones, joints, eyes and ears.
- Some ailments are simply genetic, but many are not and can be held off with proper nutrition.
- Dogs can retain extra weight as they get older and become more sedentary. Even as weight gain as little as a few pounds can hinder mobility, cause pain and shorten your dog’s lifespan.
- Provide dogs with nutritious food and feed them less often as they become less active. Their bodies do not need the excess if they are not going to burn it off.
3) Take good care of their teeth.
- A healthy mouth means a healthy dog.
- The state of a dog’s teeth as they age can mean life or death for senior dogs. This is similar in humans, too. When we are sick one of the first places that starts to go is the mouth.
- You want to provide regular care and brushing for your dog. Tartar builds up on their teeth overtime and can turn into gingivitis. This gum disease can, in turn, cause serious heart problems in dogs.
4) Keep up a regular exercise routine and adjust their surroundings where needed.
- Older dogs do not have the same activity level or agility they did as puppies or younger dogs. However, they still maintain the puppy mentality and will want to play and get exercise.
- Older dogs need to keep their joints moving to keep them loose and limber. Daily walks or swimming are the best forms of exercise for older dogs and they are easy on the joints, but provide an adequate amount of motion. For dogs with arthritis, swimming is really the best.
- Keep tabs on how much your dog is able to do and accomplish. If you notice Trixie struggling to go up and down the stairs on your porch, consider adding a ramp for more ease of movement.
- Noticing and taking care of the little things can prolong the onset of many aging issues like arthritis or stiff muscles.
5) Create environments that can soothe anxiety.
- Dogs are pack animals and tend to suffer from various levels of separation anxiety. As our dogs age this anxiety can become heightened.
- Play soothing music for your dog and create a space solely for them where they can feel comfortable, safe and relaxed while you are not home. Some dogs do best when they are enclosed in a crate or small room. Large, empty spaces can cause stress for many breeds and individual temperaments.
- For more serious levels of anxiety your vet may want to prescribe a medication to help with the emotional stress on your dog.
- Pain from arthritis or other illnesses can cause your dog to stress out. Again, ask your vet for pet friendly and safe medicines to keep your seasoned pup out of pain.
Age does not have to stop your pet from enjoying their twilight years. Proper care can save you from crippling vet bills as well as keep you from losing your little buddy too soon.