Generally speaking, a dog over the age of 8 is considered “old”. Depending on the breed, your dog’s lifespan will be anywhere from 7 to 17 years. A dog’s “middle age” is usually from age 4 to 8, anything after that is a bonus and your dog is in “old age”. Start your dog’s “senior” years off by having a vet exam once yearly, so that you can keep pace with any condition that might develop. None of this article is intended to replace good veterinary care, which is your best insurance that your dog will live to a ripe old age.
All through life keep your dog at its optimum weight and do not allow it to become fat. Obesity is the biggest cause of other major health concerns in the dog, such as kidney and liver malfunction, diabetes and arthritis. Don’t give too many treats – this will add pounds! If you do treat your dog a lot, give it pieces of its own kibble and deduct that amount from the amount you feed. Do not “self-feed”, this can lead to digestive problems. Feed twice daily or once daily and pick the food up that is not eaten. This is also the best way to regulate the amount your are feeding your dog.
Old dogs sometimes lose their teeth – you can ensure they eat their food by adding water to the kibble and pre-soaking it. Remember however that this will lead to more plaque on the teeth, and brushing the dogs teeth daily will help to take care of this problem.
Access to fresh water is absolutely necessary. Always be sure that your dog has plenty of fresh water available, and as it gets older make sure, too, that your dog can get up and get to the water. If not, then take the water to the dog!
Walk your older dog as much as possible. Even if it doesn’t walk too well, a short walk daily will keep its circulation going and provide some stimulation from the environment, besides which it gives the dog some quality time to be with you. Walking stimulates the blood circulation and keeps the heart muscles stronger.
Old dogs, even if they have had perfect joints often develop arthritis. Arthritis will be compounded by obesity… the BEST way to prevent this particular condition is to keep your dog skinny! A good way to prevent the severity of arthritis is to feed a food that is labelled “Senior” as most of these foods have the right combination of nutrients to prevent obesity, including chondroitin and sulfate. You can also find supplements which will contain these beneficial elements.
Old dogs do not move as easily. They may not be able to get up and move to a shady place if they are outdoors in the hot sun, and likewise to a warm place if they are outdoors in the cold. The best place to keep your old dog is inside. If you can’t do this, provide shelter and be sure to check in extreme weather conditions that your dog is protected from the elements or can get to protection. Wherever they are, the older dog suffers more from joint pain, and good bedding is important to provide comfort. Keep a good supply of old quilts and rugs for bedding, and wash these frequently to prevent flea infestation. If the dog is outdoors, provide clean straw, and change it regularly.
Old dogs generally do not see as well so make sure that you don’t introduce new or dangerous articles into the environment where your dog generally moves. If you do, then be sure to “introduce” the old dog to this new element, whether it be clothesline poles or new couches. Sometimes the old dog can’t see this new item and will stumble into it.
Old dogs also need extra coat care. Since they spend most of their time lying down, it is possible that the underbelly can get inflammations or a matted coat. Check often that the dog is clean and free from mats. If your old dog no longer wants to be brushed, and this is often true of longer coated dogs, then shave the parts of the body that become the most matted, (under the tail, the belly, under the elbows, etc.).
As your dog grows older, the best rule of thumb is to pay attention to details. Such things as irregular breathing, episodes of panting, episodes of crying or whining, weakness in the rear legs…all these things should be reported to your vet. Keep abreast of any changes and give your dog as much good home care and vet care as you can and it will live longer and remain happier.