Just like you, when your dog ages their health needs change. It’s important to know when your dog is reaching his senior years, and what to expect so your best friend can get the most out of his twilight.
When is a dog considered ‘senior’?
Different breeds age differently, so there is no single age that designates a dog as ‘senior.’ Rather, a senior dog is one who is entering the later stages of their body’s life cycle. In general, giant breed dogs age faster than smaller breed dogs. A Great Dane is considered ‘senior’ by about 5-6 years old, but a Chihuahua would likely only be middle-aged then (reaching ‘senior’-hood at 10-11 years). Large breed dogs fall somewhere in between. For example, a Golden Retriever might be considered senior by 8-10 years of age.
Caring for your dog’s mouth and teeth isn’t unique to the senior dog. Veterinarians find evidence of dental disease in many pets as early as 2-3 years of age. But dental disease can be more prominent in older dogs. If nothing is done to care for your dog’s mouth, by the time your dog is a senior he may even have lost some teeth. Dental disease can be painful, hindering the senior dog’s ability to not only eat, but to manipulate his world. With how dogs use their mouths, this is akin to you losing the use of a hand.
Prevent dental disease by regularly having your dog’s teeth cleaned by your veterinarian. Do this at home between visits with a toothbrush and dog-friendly toothpaste. Make sure you don’t share your toothpaste, as some ingredients would not be suitable for your dog. There are also a lot of toys available to help clean your dog’s teeth as he chews.
Prolonged use from a full and active life can cause cartilage surfaces in joints to thin, and the cartilage cells to die. The loss of cartilage in joints reduces, and in some cases eliminates the cushion between the bones at the joint, causing them to rub on one another and create pain. But you can support your dog’s joint health and prevent arthritis by supplementing his diet with glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in green-lipped mussel) and natural hemp oil.
It’s also critical to keep your senior dog’s weight in check, to avoid further damage to arthritic joints and undue stress on bodily systems. Feed your older dog a high-quality diet, with more natural ingredients that are easier for their aging systems to digest and make use of. Learn to read the dog food label and choose a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s age and lifestyle. Your veterinarian can also help you choose an appropriate diet for your dog, especially since overweight dogs must be fed carefully to ensure that all nutritional needs are met while still allowing for weight loss.
You can also support your senior dog’s weight with exercise – which has the added benefit of supporting joint health. However, tailor your dog’s exercise needs to his individual requirements and pain tolerances. For a large breed dog, walking around the block is probably just getting started but for a toy breed, a brisk walk around the block may be too strenuous. If your senior is not used to exercise, start slow and gradually increase the intensity — and only after you’ve consulted a veterinarian.
He may not be the puppy he once was, but with proper care and attention your senior dog can live a long, happy and active life!