recognising the signs of dog ageing

There is no greater feeling than adopting your first pet and coming home to find them waiting for you by the door full of energy, jumping on you and licking your feet, and trying to tackle you to the ground. It is difficult to imagine a time where your energetic little puppy becomes old and fragile. Admittedly, many pet owners are in denial that one day their puppy will start to age, but it happens a lot quicker than some may think. Until obvious physical signs start to appear on your pet, many owners find it hard to tell whether their dog is ageing or not. Luckily, with a little bit of research into the breed of your dog, you will be able to quickly determine roughly when your dog will be considered a senior. Here’s how to recognise the signs of ageing and what you can do to monitor your dog’s overall health to ensure your dog ages in the most comfortable way.

an older less active dog

To learn how to cater for a senior dog, we need to first establish the definition of a senior dog. A senior dog cannot be one specific age as it varies depending on many different factors. Size is one of the most obvious ones. Take into consideration that extremely large breed dogs age a lot faster than smaller breed dogs. A Great Dane for example is considered a senior dog by roughly 5-6 years old, whereas a smaller breed dog such as a Chihuahua is not considered a senior dog until about 10-11 years old. Medium or large breed dogs fall somewhere in between, with breeds such as the Labrador Retriever being considered a senior by the age of 8-10 years old. Where size is a huge indication of whether your dog will age quicker or not, genetics, nutrition, the environment your dog is situated in, diet, exercise and medical history are a few other key factors.

There are many signs to look for to determine whether your dog has begun ageing. The first one and most common one is lowered activity. With old age comes many medical conditions just like the human body. Older dogs tend to lay down a lot more, start walking at a slower pace, have stiffness when getting up and overall stop participating in regular exercises outside or around the house. If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet seek medical advice immediately. Arthritis is one of the most common diseases found in senior dogs and is incredibly painful and debilitating. Luckily it is something that can be managed through medication and lifestyle changes as long as it is monitored and found early.

Lack of physical activity is not the only symptom to look for in a senior dog, with changes in skin, coat and nails being a few other important indicators. Senior dogs get grey hairs particularly around the eyes or on the muzzle. Their coats may become rougher and thinner with bald patches scattered along their body, and their skin may become thicker or less pliable. You may also notice any warts, fatty lumps, benign tumours, or any other potentially troublesome bumps, which should be visible through grooming. While all these symptoms are fairly common with older age, any suspicious or relatively new bumps should be examined by the veterinarian as soon as possible. When your dog begins to age, it is incredibly vital that you have them regularly groomed and familiarise yourself with their body to be able to spot any sudden changes. The earlier something is caught the more beneficial it is for both you and your pet.

Dental disease is another common symptom of ageing. Watch your dog for any increases in salivation or if they are struggling to chew food properly. Gum disease in dogs can be incredibly detrimental to their overall health by increasing their risks of heart disease, lung disease or kidney failure as well as other life-threatening complications in numerous organs. Proper oral hygiene will not only protect your senior dog from gum disease, it will give you the opportunity to keep a lookout for anything dubious.

Other signs you could look for are excessive thirst, confusion or failure to recognise their surroundings, frequent or uncontrolled urination, depression, disobedience, occasional destructive behaviour or deafness revealed by a failure to respond to their name or commands. Do not panic when you start to notice any of these signs in your pet. There are still many ways to make sure they live the next few years in the most comfortable and uplifting manner. There are a variety of things you can do to ensure this. One of them being making sure the area where they frequent is what we call ‘senior proof’. If your dog is unable to walk as it did back in their earlier years, avoid leaving an open area of stairs, help carry your dog if needed, make sure the couch is easily accessible, keep food and water in a close proximity and provide your dog with proper medical care and exercise; as older dogs tend to exercise a lot less and become more inactive, it is still important to take your older dog for walks that meet their individual preferences. Furthermore, a change in diet is necessary to ensure your dog is receiving all the important nutrients. For the maintenance of dental hygiene aside from regularly brushing their teeth, food such as Royal Canin Dental Diet, Advance Dog Dental and Hill’s TD is highly recommended. If you are unable to brush your dogs teeth, have them checked by a vet frequently and consider purchasing a dental chew toy such as the Gumi Dental 360 that will be able to clean their mouth for them. As well as foods that are beneficial for your dog's teeth, there are several foods that help with joint and muscle pain for senior dogs suffering from arthritis. You could consider purchasing the Royal Canin mobility support or the Hill’s JD just to name a few. In addition to altering their diet to better suit their age, certain anti-inflammatory prescribed medications will also help relieve the pain of your dog’s arthritis. Always speak with a medical professional to discuss your options.

We have established the importance of taking your dog for walks as often as they can, but we understand there are circumstances where this is not quite possible. Through older age your dogs metabolism will slow down, and with a lack of physical activity your dog is prone to becoming obese. Obesity in dogs can lead to many illnesses such as heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes or increase joint pain in dogs that are already suffering from arthritis. The Eukanuba Senior Dog, the Applaws It’s All Good Dry Senior Food, or the Hill’s RD Weight Reduction food are essential for your dog to remain their ideal body weight.

Moreover, regular vet check ups – at least twice a year – as well as annual examinations and vaccinations are highly encouraged. Familiarise yourself with what your pets’ habits and keep a record of any changes that seem to appear. Additionally you can speak with your veterinarian about special geriatric screenings so you can ensure you have ruled out any possible hidden diseases your dog might have.

It’s so important to keep your dog physically stimulated at all life stages, so we must not forget that the same rules apply to keeping your dog mentally stimulated. A good trick is to talk to your dog often so they can listen to you. Your dog may reach a point where they simply lay down and choose not to interact with you, however don’t take that as an opportunity to let them stay isolated. Make sure you’re constantly calling out their name, keeping them alert, patting them and showing them the emotional support that they deserve. During feeding time, hide some biscuits around the house and let your dog wander around to try and find them, not only will this keep their brain awake, it will help them exercise their legs too.

a senior dog

Older dogs are often overlooked at pounds or rescue shelters are they are not as yappy or energetic as puppies. However older dogs are just as loveable as pups. And while you may have to look after them that little bit more, remember that they will not need to be toilet trained, will not need to be walked as regularly as puppies, will be well-behaved, will not have any bad behavioural issues, and most importantly will love cuddles! Older dogs just want to live their last few years as best as they possibly can. Make the most of these moments for your senior dog. Remember the love you had for your pet in the early years of their life, and keep that love all the way through to their last.

Nicole is a writer at My Pet Warehouse. Her love for animals began with her first pet, Roxy the German Shepherd. Nicole has grown up with dogs, birds, chickens and a little lamb called Christina.

Posted by Nicole Liko