Senior Dog Facts That Pet Owners Should Be Aware Of

From puppyhood to seniorhood, owning a dog can be quite a treat. A vital part of being a successful dog owner is understanding their needs at each stage of life. Depending on the breed, canines can become seniors as young as six-years-old. Increased dental needs, a lowered immune system, and temperature sensitivity are just a few of the changes your aging dog may experience. To help ensure that your furry friend thrives as a senior, here are a few things to keep in mind.

They Aren’t As Active As They Were

Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Though it seems obvious that aging dogs won’t be as active, it can be easy to forget this fact when playing a game of fetch or going on a hike. Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist Barbara Butler states that senior dogs often lose strength in their hind legs.

She adds that some can even lose the ability to know where their feet are. That’s why it’s important to be sure that your dog is performing age-appropriate activities that keep them in shape without exceeding their limits.

Massages Can Soothe Their Aching Joints

Agency-Animal-Picture/Getty Images
Agency-Animal-Picture/Getty Images

The American Kennel Club promotes dog massage as a way to soothe sore muscles and joints, especially for canines with arthritis. Rubbing and kneading can increase circulation, but it’s important to be gentle and to pay attention to your pet’s reactions.

Avoid applying too much pressure, evident if your dog flinches, yelps, nips at you, or pulls away. The massage should be deeply relaxing, and may even help pets with anxiety. It can also be given pre- and post-activity to help prevent injury.

They Greatly Benefit From Mental Games

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Since senior dogs are generally less active, this can result in many hours spent lounging around doing nothing. To be sure that your older dog is both entertained and challenged, be sure you play mentally-stimulating games with them.

One prime example is a game of hide-and-go-treat. Hide treats all around the house while commanding your dog to stay. When you’re ready, say “find” and watch as your canine uses their sense of smell to locate the treats. Games like these help keep your pet sharp without overly exerting them.

They May Need Semi-Annual Wellness Checks

PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/AFP via Getty Images
PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/AFP via Getty Images

Since aging dogs become increasingly susceptible to health problems, it’s vital to take them in for a wellness checkup at least once a year. Some experts, like the American Animal Hospital Association, recommends taking in senior dogs every six months.

These semi-annual wellness checks consist of a thorough examination of everything from your dog’s temperature to their gastrointestinal functioning. AAHA encourages pet owners to inform the vet of their pet’s activity levels and mobility habits so that they can properly screen for conditions such as arthritis.

They May Start Having Bathroom Difficulties

senior-dog-5
John Balson / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
John Balson / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The American Kennel Club warns that there are many reasons why aging dogs can suddenly start having changes in bathroom behavior. These causes range from neurological dysfunctions to physical loss of muscle tone.

Whether your dog hasn’t been going or can’t seem to hold it, the best course of action starts with a trip to the vet. Identifying the underlying cause will inform the best course of action, be it changing their diet or returning to the days of doggie pads.

They May Need Increased Grooming

Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Integrative veterinarian Judy Morgan explained to Chewy why grooming becomes increasingly important as a dog ages. For one, they may not be as flexible as they once were, meaning they cannot reach all of the same areas when they try to groom themselves.

Furthermore, a dog experiencing incontinence may need their fur kept short in certain areas for hygiene purposes. Finally, more frequent grooming gives the owner an opportunity to take notice of any lumps that could be cause for concern.

They Still Love Outings

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Photo Media/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Though senior dogs may not be as active as they once were, that doesn’t mean that they don’t love getting out of the house. Canines have individual preferences when it comes to being around other humans and dogs, so it’s important to honor their comfort levels.

Whether they are social butterflies or naturally wary, it’s essential to keep their social habits as stable as possible despite any age-related challenges. Doing so helps keep them happy and reinforces their value.

Take Notice Of Behavioral Changes

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Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The American Animal Hospital Association encourages pet owners to take notice of their dog’s behavioral changes and bring the topic up at their next wellness check. If your pet seems uncharacteristically grumpy, then there is a reason why.

Your vet can help you uncover what may be causing these behaviors and can suggest a plan of action. Your dog’s change in attitude may stem from pain or discomfort that can be alleviated with early intervention.

They May Need More Dental Attention

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

The American Veterinary Dental College estimates that most dogs exhibit signs of canine periodontal disease by the time they’re three. Without proper preventative care, your senior dog can become highly prone to oral diseases, infection, and pain.

Furthermore, the American Kennel Club warns that untreated dental disease can result in tooth loss, jaw damage, and even heart disease. In addition to professional teeth cleanings, AKC suggests trying dental dog wipes, chews, and brushing their teeth with dog toothpaste.

Watch Out For Changes In Their Physique

Mike Thomas/Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Mike Thomas/Express Newspapers/Getty Images

As your dog becomes less active, it’s normal for them to gain a little bit of weight. However, if they gain too much weight it can begin to exacerbate other issues and put a lot of strain on their aging joints.

On the other hand, canines who have suddenly lost a lot of weight may be exhibiting signs of kidney or thyroid disease. In addition to their weight, take notice of any lumps or skin growths that have developed recently and show them to your vet.

Their Diet May Need Adjustments

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SuperpowerDogs/Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

With all of the changes that senior dogs can experience, it should come as no surprise that you may need to alter what they eat. AAHA notes that certain canine medical conditions can be managed by simply feeding your dog a nutrient-specific diet.

Since your vet has both medical training and an awareness of your dog’s unique background, they will be able to advise what to feed your dog. Changing their diet can be an arduous process, but it’s worth it.

They Can Benefit From Supplements

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If changes in your dog’s diet prove to be too much of a feat, your vet may suggest adding some supplements to their routine to balance out any nutritional needs. Fish oil is a popular choice for aging dogs since it aids in heart and joint health.

For dogs experiencing bathroom problems, digestive enzymes and probiotics may help restore their GI function. It’s best to discuss these options with your vet to ensure that your canine has the highest quality of life possible.

They May Become More Susceptible To Infections

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Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

If you’ve noticed that your senior dog seems to be getting infections more often than they used to, it could be related to their immune system. As with humans, older canines may not have as robust an immune system as they once did.

This makes it all the more vital to keep them up to date on their vaccinations and other preventative treatments, such as heartworm and flea medications. Supplements and a high quality diet are other ways to keep your dog’s immune system up and running.

Keep An Eye On Their Wounds

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Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to the Merch Veterinary Manual, there are a variety of factors that can slow down your pet’s wound healing. A few examples include malnutrition, anemia, and obesity. Since senior dogs can be more likely to develop certain illnesses and/or a compromised immune system, it’s important to keep an eye on their wounds.

If you notice that they are not healing as would be expected, be sure to contact your vet and let them know. They may want to do some tests to rule out the possibility of an underlying illness.

They May Become More Sensitive To Temperature

jacket in the cold
Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

According to PetMD, older dogs are not able to regulate their temperature as well as younger ones. This means that they are at higher risk of things like heat stroke and hypothermia.

To ensure that your senior dog isn’t just healthy, but is also comfortable, be sure to keep them in a cool environment on hot days and bundle them up in the cold. Keep in mind that the temperature tolerance they had a few years ago may not be the same today.

They Will Likely Have Weakened Eyesight

David Will/Pixabay
David Will/Pixabay

Many dogs suffer from impaired vision as they age, but it may not be as easy to tell as you would think. One of the more common causes for dog blindness is cataracts, which appears as cloudiness in their eyes.

Other possibilities include tumors, hypertension, untreated infections, and more. The AKC warns that symptoms of your dog going blind may be as subtle as becoming reluctant to jump on the couch. Pay close attention to your pet’s behaviors and be sure to modify activities if they do become vision-impaired.

They May Not Hear Your Commands As Well

dcmx252/Pixabay
dcmx252/Pixabay

The AKC writes that hearing loss in senior dogs is often caused by degenerative changes in the ear nerves. The first thing you may notice is that your furry friend seems to be ignoring your commands.

Another sign is when noises no longer capture their attention. If these signs arise, it’s important to mention them to your vet. If your dog is losing their hearing, you may become more reliant on hand signals as a form of communication.

They May Become More Easily Confused

Yaroslava Eff/Unsplash
Yaroslava Eff/Unsplash

With all of the changes senior dogs may be going through, it’s no wonder they can become confused. From loss of mobility, eyesight, and hearing to cognitive illnesses, canines can become unsure of themselves and their surroundings.

That’s why it’s especially important to keep a close eye on your dog when they are getting old. Additionally, avoid rearranging furniture and consider blocking off the stairwell to prevent your pet from running into something or falling.

Normal Tasks May Become Challenging

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Previously simple tasks like hopping onto a bed can become near impossible for senior dogs. To accommodate your aging pet, consider getting dog steps or a ramp to help them get around more easily.

Also, be sure that you and guests are extra aware of your dog since they may not hear or see you, making it harder for them to stay out of the way. Lastly, be sure that items like blankets or dog toys are easy for them to retrieve.

They Love Your Love!

FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP via Getty Images
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP via Getty Images

Last but not least, remember that your senior dog still loves your affection as much as they did when they were a puppy. As their abilities gradually fade, they one thing they’ll want to know has remained the same is your love and appreciation.

Include them in as many activities as you can, even if that just means snuggling on the couch every evening. Dogs will stick by your side to the bitter end, so be sure to return the favor.