Large breed dogs move into the senior category sooner than small dogs, primarily because the big breeds have shorter lifespans than the little breeds. Big breed dogs will become seniors at around 10 years old, although this can vary by breed and the health of the dog.
Just like humans, dogs often get sicker as they get older. There are several different diseases that dogs get as they age. Keep an eye out for these and work with your vet to address them if and when they come up.
- Arthritis: Most senior dogs get arthritis as they age. If your dog has arthritis it will be less playful, have reduced activity levels, and often be in pain.
- Dental problems: Preventative dentistry throughout your dog’s life can help to keep dental problems at bay. But older dogs are prone to dental problems which can cause strokes and poor appetite.
- Thyroid disease: If your dog suddenly starts gaining weight it may have thyroid problems.
- Kidney disease: As your dog ages it may start to drink more and pee in the house. This can be a sign of kidney disease.
- Heart disease: This is less common in big breeds, but can still happen as a dog gets older.
- Liver problems: Liver problems can cause weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Vision changes: Senior dogs can develop cataracts just like humans.
- Cognitive dysfunction: Just like humans dogs can develop behavioral changes as they get older. They can lose their housetraining, they can pace, or they can sleep at weird times.
As your dog ages, you may notice that they have reduced energy to do things and need to be fed less. They also may need special help with conditions like arthritis or less robust immune systems.
It’s important to make accommodations for your dog so that it can live the best life possible for as long as possible.
It’s important to observe your dog carefully as they age. Dogs can’t talk and they don’t always show obvious symptoms of aging.
But if you can detect an age-related problem early you can treat them more effectively.
Keep an eye on your dog’s energy levels. Track how long they can walk. Daily walks are important to a dog’s health, and often this is the first place you will notice your dog slow down.
If you see a significant decline in how your dog is functioning during walks it can be the sign of a more serious problem.
Make sure that you are ‘grooming your senior dog daily. Keeping it’s coat well groomed will increase comfort levels and keeping it’s nails short will help it to walk without any unnecessary pain.
You should be brushing your dog’s teeth regularly. If you aren’t now and your dog is a senior it’s a good time to start. Gradually introduce your dog to the teeth brushing process so that it gets used to it and doesn’t get upset. This can take a few weeks, so be patient.
Teach your old dog new tricks. Keeping your dog’s brain active will help it stave off the worst effects of age-related cognitive decline. Use hand signals if vision is still good. Your dog can still follow the hand signals if it’s hearing fails.
Play with your dog. Your dog needs interaction time with their human. Play with puzzle toys or play hide and seek with your dog. Make sure to use treats to reward the behavior that you are looking for from your furry friend.
There are many life-stage foods on the market. These are for puppies, mature dogs, and senior dogs. Feeding your dog high-quality senior dog food can help them to stay healthy longer.
This is an area where you should work with your vet. The right food for your senior will depend on several factors including the medical conditions they may be experiencing. Dogs with diabetes or kidney disease will definitely need special diets.
As your dog ages, it will likely have more medical needs and will need to see the vet more frequently. This is especially true if your dog has a chronic disease like arthritis, kidney problems, or diabetes.
Your vet will run lab tests that include urine, fecal, and blood tests. Your senior dog should get these tests yearly to monitor their health and catch diseases before they show symptoms.
If you work closely with your vet you can help to detect diseases early while they are more treatable.
You should also take your dog – regardless of its age but especially if it is a senior – to the vet if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- A sustained increase in the amount of water your dog is drinking
- More urination than normal
- Rapid weight loss
- Not eating as much as usual or not eating at all for two days
- Eating a lot more than normal
- Vomiting repeatedly
- Three days or more of diarrhea
- Suddenly peeing or pooping in the house
- Lameness in one or more than one leg that lasts more than three days
- Not being able to see as well as they used to
- Masses on their body
- Bad breath that is new or different
- Increased belly size
- Spending more time than usual sleeping
- Loss of hair
- Panting more than usual
- Excessive weakness
- Losing the ability to chew dry food
By simply being observant of any of these signs, you may be able to catch health conditions early and extend the life of your senior best friend – or help ensure that they make it to their golden years!