Old Dogs: How To Care For Senior Dogs

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Thinking about your dog aging is difficult, but it's an unavoidable part of being a pet parent. Senior dogs require different types of care than young, healthy dogs. In addition, dogs age at different rates, with smaller dogs usually living longer than large breeds. In addition to their age, you can look for signs of aging since every dog ages differently, and some may have more serious health conditions than others. Senior dogs require proper care that will allow you to give them the best quality of life. Wondering how to care for old dogs? Keep reading to learn what happens as dogs age, signs your dog is reaching old age, and how to care for senior dogs. 

What Happens When Dogs Get Older?

The aging process is a natural part of every life. As dogs get older, they experience different stages of life; young puppies grow into adult dogs, and adult dogs become senior dogs. In general, older dogs become weaker and more vulnerable to infections.1 As your dog ages, they may become less active or excited for walks and playtime. Due to this and their slowing metabolism, senior dogs often gain weight.1

Many dogs lose their eyesight and hearing when they age, causing fear.1 Dogs that can't see or hear well may become easily startled when you pet them or try to pick them up. 

In addition to physical changes, some dogs can experience changes in their moods that lead to more anxiety. Other dogs don't experience any behavioral or mood changes but may become more independent and spend less time engaged in activities with their families. 

Signs Your Dog Is Reaching Old Age

Small dogs can live 15 to 17 years but big dogs can sometimes only live 8 to 10 years

While your dog's age can tell you when they're reaching their golden years, all dogs are different. Small dog breeds like chihuahuas can live up to 17 years or longer, while larger breeds often only live until the age of 10 years old.2 You can use our dog age calculator to learn how old your dog is in human years to gauge their age and help you prepare for the next stage of their life. Pet parents should know your dog's probable lifespan based on their breed, but they can also look for other signs of aging, including:

Behavioral signs of aging in dogs

Old dogs may change their behavior for a number of reasons. Since senior dogs are more prone to health conditions like blindness and joint issues like arthritis, they may become more solitary. Behavioral signs of dogs aging include: 

  • Fear of familiar objects and people because they don't see or hear them
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including restless behavior
  • Increased vocalization and barking
  • Compulsive behaviors due to nervousness
  • Forgetting commands they once knew
  • Accidents in the house
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Changes in activity levels3

Physical signs of aging in dogs

Older dogs display physical signs of aging at different rates, so you should know the age at which your dog may start experiencing them to ensure you're able to properly care for them. Physical signs of aging in dogs include:

  • Difficulty seeing/cloudy eyes
  • White fur on the face
  • Lower mobility due to joint problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Bad breath
  • New lumps and growths on the body
  • Difficulty passing feces/urine3

Physical signs your dog is aging

It's important to remember that many of these signs of aging in dogs may also indicate a serious health concern. For example, dogs in pain may experience changes in activity levels and difficulty urinating, depending on their condition. Therefore, you should always consult your vet if your dog starts to experience physical or behavioral changes to ensure there's not something more sinister happening to your pet. 

Tips For Taking Care Of A Senior Dog

Old dog care is simple, but pet parents should be prepared for it. Many senior dogs become needy in their old age. In addition, dogs who will soon pass away may hide or seek more affection than usual. Of course, if your dog is approaching old age, it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to pass away; many dogs live many years after they start turning gray or white in the face. Taking proper care of your elderly dog could prolong their lifespan while improving their quality of life. Here are some elderly dog care tips: 

Provide a high-quality age-appropriate diet

Your dog should always eat food for their specific life stage and needs. Senior dog food will provide your dog with all the nutrients they need. Since dog nutrition is a crucial part of their overall health, it can help prevent serious issues from arising. For example, senior dogs are at a higher risk of obesity and diabetes because they're less active than they were as healthy adults. Finding senior dog food can help prevent weight gain while ensuring your dog still gets all the vitamins and minerals they need. 

Maintain regular exercise

Regular exercise is also key to your dog's health and wellness, especially as they age. Unfortunately, senior dogs are less mobile than younger dogs because they may experience a lack of energy or joint pain. Most senior dogs will be able to go on walks as long as you allow them to take their time. However, if your dog is in pain due to a health condition, you should talk to your vet about the different types of exercise that may benefit your dog. For example, dogs with joint problems may benefit from swimming instead of going on walks because swimming is gentler on joints. 

Schedule periodic vet visits

Old dogs still need to visit their vet annually for checkups. However, as your dog gets older, they're more prone to infections due to a weakened immune system. Therefore, as your dog gets older, you may choose to schedule more physical examinations throughout the year to check on their overall health and treat ailments as they arise. 

Taking your senior dog to the vet every six months or more can give you the opportunity to determine if there are any health issues affecting your dog.

Stay up-to-date on vaccinations and parasite protection

It doesn't matter how old your dog is; they still need to be protected against fleas, ticks, and illnesses like heartworm. Ensuring your dog continues to get vaccinated will prevent them from getting sick. Since their immune systems are weaker, illnesses can have more detrimental effects on them, so prevention is key to their quality of life. 

Have routine grooming sessions

Senior dogs often suffer from dry, flaky skin that can easily become irritated. In addition, their once shiny coats can become dull and brittle. While your dog's coat isn't something you should worry about as they age, dry skin can cause discomfort. Grooming your dog regularly can prevent skin conditions by helping the skin and coat heal. In addition, regular hair cuts can prevent tangles that can cause discomfort. 

Take care of their teeth and gums

Many dogs have poor oral health based on their breed, chewing habits, and whether or not they get their teeth brushed regularly. However, you shouldn't neglect your dog's oral health, no matter how old they are. Senior dogs are at an increased risk of periodontal disease and broken teeth, which can cause pain, drooling, and bad breath. 

Unfortunately, many pet parents are afraid to have their senior dogs put under anesthesia to have their teeth professionally cleaned. Therefore, it's up to you to brush your dog's teeth at home with dog toothpaste and a toothbrush. Otherwise, your dog will eventually need some of their teeth pulled to prevent the risk of serious infection. 

Show your senior dog affection

All dogs need love, but senior dogs may not be as active as they once were, but they still want the attention of their human companions. Since old dogs can experience a range of symptoms, including loss of vision and hearing, anxiety, and even depression, they may become needy. However, showing them affection can help them feel better, no matter what symptoms of aging they're experiencing. 

Spending time with your dog can give them reassurance that you love them and will take care of them. Don't ignore your senior dog's needs because they can indicate a serious illness. Your dog spends their whole life with you if you raised them from a puppy, so you're their whole world and want to spend their last few years by your side. 

Other Ways To Accommodate Your Aging Pup

Taking care of your aging dog's health is important, but you must know how to properly care for them at home. Since dogs may experience anxiety, fear, and pain, your goal should be to make them as comfortable as possible. Here are a few ways to accommodate your senior dog: 

Environmental

  • Put down more carpet: Carpet offers more cushioning and prevents slips on hardwood flooring that can cause injury or make it difficult for your dog to walk. 
  • Place stairs and ramps for easy access to their favorite places: Stairs and ramps can give dogs with joint and mobility issues the opportunity to access the couch and bed without jumping and causing further injury to themselves. 
  • Night lights: Dogs with impaired vision will have difficulty seeing in the dark, which can make it difficult for them to find their water bowl in the middle of the night. You can help your dog find their way around the home when it's dark by strategically placing night lights. 
  • Heated dog bed/orthopedic dog bed off the ground: A heated dog bed or orthopedic dog bed can help those with joint issues get better sleep without causing more pain.

Mobility aids/equipment

  • Support sling: A support sling allows you to hold your dog around their waist to take the pressure off their feet, legs, and knees if they have joint problems. 
  • Shoes/socks with traction: Shoes can help prevent slips that occur in the home. 
  • Dog stroller: A dog stroller can help you go for a walk with your dog without requiring them to walk. Since dogs love spending time outdoors, it can give you the opportunity to let your dog take in all the smells without tiring them out. 
  • Mobility harness: Mobility harnesses are ideal for dogs that can still go on walks because they're better than leashes and collars as they're easier to wear and can support your dog's entire body. 

Mobility aids for an aging dog

How To Care For Senior Dogs: FAQs

How long can senior dogs be left alone?

Senior dogs shouldn't be left alone for more than 4-6 hours, depending on their health. Since senior dogs experience incontinence or lose bladder control, they're not able to hold their urine for as long as healthy adult dogs. In addition, senior dogs with health problems may need more constant care, and those with sight or hearing issues may not be able to be left alone at all because they can get hurt. 

How much exercise should an older dog get?

How much exercise an older dog should have depends on several factors, including their health status. Some senior dogs are very active and can continue to go on thirty-minute walks every day. However, older dogs may have joint issues that prevent them from engaging in their favorite activities, including going on walks or hikes. Talk to your vet if you're unsure how much exercise your senior dog needs.

How do I know if my senior dog is suffering?

No one wants to think about their dog suffering, but you must be prepared for them to pass away. Signs an older dog is suffering include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to move much
  • Fatigue
  • GI issues
  • Incontinence
  • Seizures
  • Vocalization

Part of being a pet parent is knowing when you can prevent their suffering through euthanasia. Discuss what to expect when the time comes with your vet as your dog gets older. 

Senior dog walking through the grass

Final Notes

As senior dogs get older, they'll start to experience physical, mental, and behavioral changes. While you should know your dog breed's lifespan to help you prepare for their golden years, every dog is different. Knowing the signs your dog is aging can help you determine when to consult your vet. Since many of the signs of aging can also indicate serious health issues, you should never assume your dog is experiencing these symptoms because of their age. 

Taking care of a senior dog isn't difficult. Still, all pet parents should be prepared to take care of their dogs as they become less mobile and begin to experience health issues. Wondering how to take care of your senior dog and their health issues? Consult Dutch. We give your dog the care they need in the comfort of your own home. Try Dutch's online vet care

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References

  1. “Senior Dogs.” The Kennel Club, https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health-and-dog-care/health/health-and-care/a-z-of-health-and-care-issues/senior-dogs/.

  2. Burke, Anna. “How Long Do Dogs Live?” American Kennel Club, 27 May 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-long-do-dogs-live.

  3. Reisen, Jan. “Physical and Mental Signs That Your Dog Is Aging.” American Kennel Club, 8 Nov. 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/physical-mental-signs-dog-aging/.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

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During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

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