Just as the lifespan of humans is increasing, so is that of dogs. This is due to the improved nutrition and health care that our “best friends” receive.
As the years go by, the relationship between dog and owner deepens and while most owners will notice some natural signs of aging, they may not be aware that a few small adjustments can improve the quality of an older animal’s life.
“Signs of aging may include greying of the coat, especially around the muzzle, and lower activity levels.”
Degenerative changes to the eyes are common in aging dogs. Owners may notice that the eye appears slightly cloudy, due to thickening of the lens. Most dogs cope well with this gradual loss of vision, but you must be aware of their need for familiar surroundings in which they can comfortably and safely move.
Other senses that may be impaired due to age include hearing and smell. The total loss of hearing makes it difficult to control your dog and the owner must pay particular care to ensure the dog is never near cars, or out of visual control.
Your elderly pet will be happiest in an area with which he is familiar. Never let him wander. Stiffness and difficulty in getting up or jumping are common problems due to arthritis in old dogs. These changes mean that your old friend moves more slowly, and may not want to play rough or active games.
Medication can relieve some of the discomfort of aching joints and stiff muscles, so if your pet is showing obvious discomfort check, with your vet.
“Elderly dogs are also less able to cope with extremes of temperature.”
During the hottest days they must be kept in the coolest areas - air conditioning is greatly appreciated by dogs as well as people! In the winter they require a warm, draught and damp free area. Regular, gentle exercise is vitally important to retain muscle tone and stimulate heart and lungs. A 15 minute walk once or twice a day is ideal, but be sure not to walk elderly dogs until they tire.
“Owners must groom their old pets regularly, paying particular attention to removing any food or excreta adhering to the fur.”
This is also an ideal opportunity to check for any unusual lumps or bumps, parasites or pressures sores. Any skin problems should be promptly treated by your vet.
Reduced activity may mean that the dog’s nails are not worn down and may require cutting. This is a simple procedure carried out with special dog nail clippers purchased at a local pet store or veterinary clinic, but cutting the nails too short will cause pain and profuse bleeding. If you are uncertain about how to cut the nails contact your local veterinarian or dog groomer.
Older animals often suffer from a loss of bladder tone or other problems that can cause incontinence. You will find your dog will want to urinate more frequently with age, and it is essential that you are sensitive to these needs.
Because of the general decline in health experienced with age, regular examinations by your local veterinarian are essential for older dogs. Annual vaccinations and routine health checks are a must to ensure your ‘best friend’ enjoys a comfortable life into his older years.