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home : columns : columns May 26, 2016

7/29/2014 12:51:00 PM
Senior citizen dogs
Buddy is 8 and loves to play, but you can already see his white muzzle showing as a senior dog. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
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Buddy is 8 and loves to play, but you can already see his white muzzle showing as a senior dog. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

You've noticed lately that your furry friend doesn't want to walk those two miles with you anymore, he's slowing down and you've tried hard not to notice that the black fur around his muzzle is turning white. He's been your constant companion, and it's hard to accept that at 9 years old he has become a senior.

Many pet parents struggle with the realization that their furry friend is getting older. It's important to recognize the signs of aging and take measures to ensure that your dog's quality of life doesn't change. Senior dogs have different care requirements than those of a younger dog. But how do you know when your furry family member is considered to be a senior?

Most dogs enter their golden years between seven and 10 years of age, with large/giant breeds becoming seniors earlier then small breeds - but it really depends on the individual dog.

It is important that your pooch has an annual wellness visit with his vet; this is even more important as they age. Just as with aging humans, regular health checkups become increasingly important. Most experts agree that senior dogs should be seen at least once every six months. Your veterinarian will be able to detect any illnesses or the onset of vision or hearing loss at its earliest stages.

What are some things to expect as your pooch ages?

One of the most common changes seen in senior pets is dental disease. Regular dental care is important throughout your dog's life, but especially for seniors. Older dogs with neglected teeth are ticking time-bombs for gum disease. Dental disease can be painful, causing your dog to have difficulty eating his meals. A great way to contribute to your senior pooch's good heath is to keep his teeth and gums in tip-top shape with regular at-home brushing and yearly professional cleanings. You can also try dental treats and toys that can help keep his teeth clean.

Fido may be slowing down, but that doesn't mean he should spend his days curled up on the couch. Exercise is critical in every stage of a dog's life to keep him healthy, both physically and mentally. However, with your senior furry friend you may need to adjust the frequency and intensity of the exercise. Remember, if your senior dog doesn't use his muscles, he will lose muscle mass and tone and it will become even harder to move around.

Because there are many more health issues in aging dogs, such as arthritis and kidney disease, nutrition is extra important. The food you feed your senior dog should be lower in fat, but not in protein. Extra pounds on your older pooch mean extra stress on his body, including joints and internal organs. Talk to your veterinarian about the right diet for your aging dog.

Has Fido been harder to wake up when you call his name, or is he easily startled if you approach from behind? Hearing loss or deafness may be a reason for this. If your dog does have hearing loss, take care to protect him from any hazards such as cars and kids that he may not hear. Dogs can learn and adapt well to hand signals to come, sit, and stay etc. That is why it's a good idea to cross-train him early on, that is, teach both verbal and visual cues for basic commands so that you can still communicate should one sense diminish completely.

As your dog ages, his eyes may show a bluish transparent haze in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of aging, and medical term for this is lenticular sclerosis. This is not the same as cataracts, and cataracts do affect vision. Consult your veterinarian for an exam if you see any difference in your senior furry friend's eyes.

Arthritis can slow Fido down; it is a progressive condition that involves the breakdown of cartilage, and inflammation of a joint that has pain and swelling. Since it can be very painful, remember to prevent your dog from being overweight. One thing you can do is to provide your aging friend with an orthopedic bed, it will help distribute his weight evenly and reduce pressure on joints.

In healthy dogs, all these changes will occur slowly, over time at a gradual pace that you might not even notice. As your dog ages keep a closer eye on his movements, behavior, and habits. Look for signs such as loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, and changes in his gait, weakness and incontinence. If your pet shows these signs, have him checked by your veterinarian.

In a nutshell; like any aging family member, be prepared to treat your furry friend with a little more love and care than ever before.

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