Tips to Keep Your Dogs Healthy During Their Golden Years

calebs kindred senior dog rescue S. Nacer CO

Photo Courtesy Sophiane Nacer | Cayleb's Kindred Senior Dog Rescue

Dogs age at much faster rate than human beings do. The life span of a dog depends greatly upon his size. In general, the larger the breed or the size of the dog, the shorter the life span. Dogs are classified as senior dogs upon entering the last 25% of their life span. Smaller dogs generally reach their senior years around 10 to 12 years of age while the largest dogs reach this milestone around six to seven years of age.

As with people, obesity in dogs can lead to diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, and a shortened life span. Maintaining a healthy weight is probably the most important contributor to a long and healthy life for your dog.

The most common medical conditions from which senior dogs can suffer are dental disease, sensory loss, and osteoarthritis.

Dental disease can lead to not only pain, difficulty in eating, and stinky breath but will also affect the organs in the body, causing more health problems. Poor oral health can significantly decrease the quality of life for an elderly dog.

  • Daily brushing with flavored toothpaste, which, by and large, dogs like, is recommended.
  • Products for gum disease that can be added to your dog's food or water can be obtained from natural pet supply stores.
  • In addition, good chew toys such as raw carrots, edible bones meant for dental health, and chew ropes can help to remove dental plaque and to strengthen the gum tissue.
  • Your veterinarian can advise you regarding the necessity of a more in-depth cleaning and scaling for your dog.

Sensory perception describes the phenomenon by which our pets interpret the world around them - using smell, hearing, vision, taste, and touch. These sensory inputs allow a pet to understand the events that are occurring around him. A failure in these senses causes an alteration in the pet’s interpretation of the world that may affect quality of life. Oftentimes, when older dogs undergo a change in smell and taste, which is common, they are viewed as just having become picky eaters. Adding some soft food, broth, or water to their kibble can help. A loss in the touch sensation can often be seen as unsteadiness in the pet during walking and attempting quick movement. Make sure that good lighting is available for your older dog to overcome difficulties caused by diminished vision. Using a clicker or a deeper voice can be helpful for hearing loss.

It is important to understand your dog's body language and the signs and signals that he gives in response to pain. Overt indicators of pain include loss of appetite, weight loss, lip-licking, excessive licking of a body part, excessive drooling, averting their eyes, and yawning. Don't assume your dog is just tired when he yawns as dogs yawn when they feel anxious to help calm themselves down. Pain causes stress and can lead to uncharacteristic aggression in some dogs, which may be another sign that your dog is experiencing difficult physical changes and/or extreme pain. 

Tips for preserving a comfortable quality of life for your senior dog:

  • Keeping the excess weight off
  • A good quality diet designed for senior dogs
  • Regular dental care
  • Moderate exercise
  • More frequent visits to your veterinarian

Many good supplements exist that can support your older dog’s health, including Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate, MSM, and fish oil. Supplements should be discussed with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog. A little coconut oil can be mixed with food to improve dry skin and can be used while brushing the dog’s fur.

Remember to read the labels before purchasing dog food. When determining the presence of quality ingredients, take particular notice of the first five ingredients of the dog food, which should include chicken, fish, beef, and vegetables. Avoid by-products, artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, additives, and chemicals.

Jennifer Kachnic, President of The Grey Muzzle Organization and author of the award winning book Your Dog's Golden Years - Manual for Senior Dog Care.

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Positively Expert: Jennifer Kachnic

Jennifer Kachnic is president of The Grey Muzzle Organization, a nonprofit providing grants to animal shelters and rescues nationwide for senior dog programs. She is also author of a manual on senior dog care.


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