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New Tricks for Owners of Old Dogs

Our beloved dogs bring us joy throughout their lives, whether they’re adorable little puppies or wise seniors with distinguished gray coats. As our canine companions enter their golden years, they require special care and regular visits to the veterinarian. Here is essential information to help you provide the best care for your senior dog.

What are the risks faced by senior dogs?

As dogs age, they become more susceptible to various health issues. These may include skin and coat deterioration, muscle mass loss, increased intestinal problems, arthritis, reduced mobility, obesity, dental problems, and a decreased ability to fight infections. Senior dogs may not be as fast, agile, or energetic as they were in their youth.

It’s important to avoid stressful situations and sudden changes in their daily routines. If significant changes are unavoidable, introduce them gradually to minimize stress for your older pet.

When does a dog qualify as a senior?

Physical changes associated with aging can occur between seven and 12 years of age in dogs. Like people, dogs age at different rates, so some may remain active and spry well into their double digits. Mixed breeds and smaller dogs generally have longer lifespans. A small dog under 20 pounds may not show signs of aging until around 12, while a 50-pound dog might not appear “old” until about 10. Larger dogs tend to show signs of aging about eight or nine.

How should you exercise senior dogs?

Senior dogs are typically less active than younger dogs due to natural joint wear and tear. Obesity can exacerbate joint degeneration, and certain breeds are more prone to age-related issues such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis. Adjusting your playtime routine may be necessary to accommodate limited mobility caused by age or obesity.

Indoors, provide your senior dog with a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental engagement. Use treat toys like a Kong to dispense meals in smaller portions, improving cognitive function and promoting weight loss in heavier dogs. If you have stairs, consider using ramps to help your dog move around the house with less discomfort.

Regular outdoor walks throughout the week help keep your dog healthy. Multiple shorter walks may be more suitable for a senior dog, so find a comfortable distance for them to walk each day.

Swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise option to help older dogs stay active without straining their joints.

While dogs with physical limitations may still desire to play, chase balls, and jump as they did in their youth, seniors may lack stamina and become more sensitive to extreme temperatures.

Before implementing an exercise routine, consult your veterinarian to ensure safe physical activity and discuss any health issues your dog may have.

What should you feed senior dogs?

As dogs age, metabolic, immunological, and body composition changes occur. Dietary adjustments can help manage some of these changes. Specialized senior dog foods assist in maintaining overall health, optimal body weight, slowing the development of chronic diseases, and managing existing conditions.

It’s worth noting that the protein requirement for older dogs does not decrease with age. Feed your senior dog a diet that provides optimal levels of highly digestible protein to help maintain muscle mass.

Older dogs may gain body fat, even if they eat less, due to reduced energy expenditure or metabolic rate changes. Feed your senior dog a diet with fewer calories to prevent weight gain.

Your veterinarian may recommend increasing your senior dog’s Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) intake through food or supplements. GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid, contributes to healthy skin and coat maintenance.

Aging can impact a dog’s intestinal bacteria, leading to gastrointestinal issues. Senior dog diets should contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS) to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene help eliminate free radicals, which can damage body tissues and contribute to signs of aging. Senior dog diets should contain higher levels of these antioxidants.

Your veterinarian will consider your dog’s breed, size, and overall health to determine when to transition to senior dog food.

To keep your dog healthy, ensure they receive routine care and regular veterinary exams to monitor the presence or progression of any chronic diseases.

Source: Adapted from Zippivet.