Caring for Senior dogs – Are You Following These Five Guidelines?

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day” — these are the words of John Grogan, author of the bestselling book ‘Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog.” Those of us who have been lucky to have had pets touch our lives will indeed relate to this statement.

It feels like it was just yesterday that our new furry dog friend entered our lives, bringing joy, excitement, and a wee bit of anxiety about the ease of adapting to the disruption in routine and lifestyle. But adapt we did, and hand in paw with our best pal, we crossed several milestones together. New jobs, marriage, birth of a child, crises, death of loved ones — whatever the moment, our dogs have been there with us as the innocent, trusting, dependable friends we could turn to for support and love. Amidst all this hustle, it is easy to forget that pets age too and that our once brisk, naughty and hyperactive fur kid is now ten years old. “A senior dog,” the vets call her. Does that seem like a scary term? It needn’t be. Ageing is a natural aspect of our pet’s life and by following a few guidelines and precautions, we can ensure a high quality of life in her later years.

First, let us consider when a dog will be considered a senior. There’s no definite answer to that. It varies with the type fo breed. Larger breed dogs age faster than smaller ones. In general, though, vets consider a dog senior when she has crossed 75% of her estimated average lifespan, and 7 to 9 years is the thumb rule for dogs.

When compared to younger dogs, senior dogs are more lethargic, take longer to respond, sleep more, and prone to certain health conditions. Entering senior age is not all bad news though. The physiological changes are usually gradual, just like with people, that you would typically not even notice them. Further, as is the case with humans, times have changed. Nutrition science has improved, better veterinary care is available and senior dogs have significantly higher opportunities to remain fit and active into their later years. For your part, ensure that you take the following steps to contribute to the well being of your senior dog:

Do not neglect exercise – As dogs’ joints become less flexible with age, senior dogs may not be as thrilled about play time. However, exercise is crucial for dogs of all ages. It helps lubricate the joints, maintain a healthy weight, and improve circulation. Further, middle age weight gain is a common phenomenon due to declining metabolism and exercise keeps this in check. Rather than skipping days of exercise, be mindful of how your dog responds to different activities by watching for signs of discomfort. Avoid straining your dog’s joints with vigorous exercise and favour low-intensity activities.

Watch her appetite – Many older dogs tend to eat less. A gradual decrease in the quantity of food consumed is okay. However, if the change in appetite seems fairly sudden or is accompanied by symptoms of illness, do take the dog to your vet immediately. As dogs age, they become more prone to thyroid issues, dental problems, kidney diseases and cancer. A sudden change in appetite is often, though not always, one of the symptoms of these conditions and ensuring early care increases the probability of quick recovery.

Favour a high-quality diet – Stores have several options today that promise enhanced nutrition for senior dogs. Nevertheless, it is still important to do a little homework before picking a packet that seems the most attractive or is from a reputed brand. This is because each senior dog will still have her own unique weight requirements, health concerns and activity level. Contrary to popular opinion, most senior dogs do not need a low-fat or low-calorie diet unless they are extremely overweight. The key here is to look for easily-digestible ingredients such as eggs, lean meat, whole grains and vegetables.

Yearly vet visits – Yearly vet visits are a must-do for a pet of any age. However, it becomes a bigger priority with age as older dogs are susceptible to many diseases. Most vets recommend a bi-yearly blood and urine analysis for senior dogs. Thyroid testing is advisable too. Routine blood work can reveal vital information about the onset of liver disease, infection, cancer and diabetes.

Emphasise dental care – Bad teeth might not seem like the biggest disaster that can happen, but dental care is an essential check box to be mindful of as a dog ages. Dental diseases are prevalent in senior dogs. It is estimated that up to 80% of dogs will suffer a gum infection in their lifetime. An infection in the gum can spread to various other organs and damage health. Hence, get your dog’s gums checked during the vet visit. Chewable toys and toothbrushes are good follow-up aids. Discuss with your vet the possibility of having a complete dental examination. This is highly recommended and is to be done under anaesthesia.

The later years of your dog is a time when you and the pet share a more precious bond than before  — you know each other’s routine, temperament and have settled into a sweet spot of the relationship. Ensuring good health in these years will take this journey a long way ahead with more memories.

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