Aging is not a disease it is a natural normal life process. It is however, accompanied by wear and tear on the body. Today with the advances in Veterinary medicine, improvements in nutrition, vaccination and our own understanding of excellence in pet ownership and medical care, our dogs are living longer.
When is my dog considered to be elderly?
Life expectancy in dogs ranges from breed to breed and surprisingly; we should start to manage the aging process in our dogs earlier than we once thought. As described above, wear and tear and the bodies deceasing ability to repair itself, accompany aging. (See below to help you understand how old your dog is compared to human years.) However, it is not all bad news, because we now understand when the aging process starts to affect our dog’s health, we can start to minimise the progressive deterioration and maintain or improve our dog’s quality of life.
What can I do to help my aging dog?
Fortunately, we can assist our dog through his golden years in many ways, and it is much easier to care for the older dog than the older human. Below is a list of tips you may wish to follow for your older dog:
- Respect by all members of the family including other pets and children, do not allow them to bother your older dog, his patience may be wearing thin, and he could become less tolerant as he gets older.
- If your dog's sight and hearing is deteriorating, do stick to his normal routine, do not move furniture around and keep his walks to a regular time and distance each day.
- Regular exercise is important to maintain bone strength and muscle tone, however your dog may have a locomotive problem such as arthritis, degenerative joint disease or just have difficulty on standing up, if this is the case you may have to adjust his exercise routine. Speak to your vet, who will advise you.
- Be understanding of them if they do fail to respond to you, hear you, or have little accidents (depending on the reason, we might be able to help with urinary accidents).
- Keep their bedding comfortable or warm, if they are used to sleeping on hard surfaces offer them softer bedding, they are more prone to developing sores, or hard callous on their joints such as elbows or hocks, these can become extremely painful or ulcerated.
- Keep them clean and groomed more regularly, as they may have difficulties in grooming themselves. It is also an ideal time to notice any changes or abnormalities.
- Keep their nails; trimmed short, you may have to have them clipped more regularly.
Preventative health care programmes
You have the opportunity to work with your vet and vet nurse, to establish a preventative health care programme for your dog. Properly applied, a preventative health care program can lessen existing problems of aging, slow or prevent disease processes and add high-quality years to your dog's life.
Preventative Health care measures
Measures we can take ourselves to support our dogs in their older years are:
- Take him or her for a regular check up at the Veterinary Practice, at least twice a year.
- Keep their vaccinations up to date, their immune response starts to decline in later years, so up keep of vaccinations are just as important as early on in their lives
It is also useful to use the following checklist to monitor any changes in your dog’s health status. Take this along to the Veterinary Surgeon with a urine sample when you attend any appointment, to assist them in the programme.
Nutrition for the older dog
Nutrition plays a vital part of the process of preventative health and commercially produced foods contain more than the adequate levels of all of the essential nutrients needed by normal dogs. In fact dogs, fed commercial foods are consuming anywhere between three to five times their daily protein requirement, three times the daily calcium requirement and phosphorus requirement and ten times the daily requirement of salt. The older dog, on the other hand would benefit from a diet with reduced levels of protein, calcium, phosphorus and sodium. This kind of diet may be helpful in the onset of clinical diseases common in older pets.
Also keep a close eye on your dogs weight, as dogs grow older they are more prone to weight gain due to a reduction in exercise and their ability to metabolise energy is reduced. Speak to the Vet who will advise you on the correct food for your dog at her stage of life.