Wondering how dogs age when they get into their golden years? Many of the things they experience are similar to us humans. Knowing what to expect from your older dog can help you to keep them fit and healthy and look out for any potential issues.
Older dogs need specific care, as life takes its toll and they begin to show signs of old age. Here's what to expect during the ageing process and some tips and advice on how to help your dog during their senior years.
Different breeds and the ageing process
Before we get into the key changes and things to expect when your dog gets older, it's important to note that the ageing process varies significantly from breed to breed. For example, smaller dogs live a lot longer than large dogs, and so the ageing process may start a lot later. A toy breed such as a chihuahua will enter their senior life stage at ten or eleven years of age.
Breeds such as Great Danes tend to have heart issues later on in life and usually only live to between six and eight years of age. If you want to know more about any particular issues your breed of dog might face, or how long they are expected to live, contact your breed club.
Your dog's nutritional needs will change as they get older. They may not be able to handle rich food and can benefit from certain beneficial ingredients being added to their food. Most dog food brands offer special food for older dogs which contains ingredients for joint care and increased mobility. If your dog has issues with their food as they get older, ask your vet for advice and to check for any underlying conditions. It's also important to be aware that older dogs tend to struggle to maintain their weight, and can either put on or lose weight fairly easily.
Coat and appearance
Fido's fluffy, shiny coat may not look as fabulous as he gets a little older. Their hair may become thinner and duller with age. Dogs also get grey hair just like humans do! They usually get it around their muzzle and face. They may also get a few lumps and bumps, which often are absolutely fine, but it's best to get them checked as soon as you spot one.
Mobility and joint pain
In your dog's final years, they may have issues getting around and certainly won't be as agile as they used to be. Dogs can develop arthritis and joint pain, a comfy bed where they can rest their aching limbs can really help. You can get memory foam beds and special beds for older dogs that help support their joints.
Your dog's teeth won't be quite as pearly white as they enter their senior years. In order to keep your dog's teeth in good condition, it's important to look after their teeth from an early age. Brush their teeth regularly and give them bones and dental chews that will help keep their teeth in tip top condition.
It's also worth asking your vet to check your dog's teeth on a daily basis, as they will notice any signs of potential issues, and can give you advice on how to maintain their teeth. Older dogs can develop bad breath, excess plaque and a range of dental issues, so if you notice any of these signs, get them checked by a vet right away.
Older dogs are more susceptible to illnesses and their immune system won't be quite as tough as it used to be. They may find it harder to fight off infections and illnesses, so if they do get sick, take them to the vet right away and keep them as warm and comfortable as possible.
Older dogs also tend to feel the cold a lot more, and being overly chilly makes their joint pain worse. So it's important to always make sure they aren't cold and have blankets and jumpers to keep them cosy enough if necessary. Senior pooches also often have a more of a sensitivity to temperature, so take care to to expose them to overly hot or cold temperatures.
Fitness and activity levels
You may notice that your older dog isn't as active as they used to be, and they can't handle really long walks. Some dogs are super active even in old age, it just depends on your individual dog. But generally, exercise and activity levels need to be cut down slightly as dogs get older so they don't overexert themselves. However, you know your dog best, so if they still remain very active and seem fine after long walks then there's no reason to limit their exercise. If you are unsure, speak to your vet about specific exercise and activity levels for your dog.
Control of bladder and bowel
These are the changes that most dog owners struggle to deal with. Your perfectly house trained dog may start to have a few accidents here and there as they get older, because they may not have as good control over their bladder as they used to. Therefore, Fido may need to be let out to go to the toilet more regularly.
What many owners don't realise is that dogs can also display changes in their behaviour as they get older. They may not be as sharp as they were when they were younger, and can develop memory loss, irritability or even personality changes. If you notice anything unusual about your dog's behaviour, have them checked by a vet.
Hearing and vision loss
As your pooch gets older, you may find that their eyesight is less than perfect. If your dog is having problems seeing, then take them to the vet to rule out any treatable eye conditions. Any sudden changes in your dog's eyes should be considered an emergency.
You may need to make some adjustments to help your dog if they begin to lose their sight. For example, check there's nothing sharp they can bump into around your home, and make sure they have a 'safe place' to go to when they get disorientated.
Another sense that might deteriorate as your dog gets into their final years is their hearing. You may notice they aren't as responsive when you call them, or that they aren't obeying commands. This could be because they can't hear quite as well as they used to. If you think their hearing is going, you may want to start using hand signals to give commands.