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Caring for Your Senior Dog

How old is your dog? You immediately reply with human years but dogs age faster. Large breeds age faster than small breeds, but for all of us comes the day when you see a grayer muzzle, a limp in the step, a slower response to your call. You realize that your pup has become a senior. All aspects of their life change and their needs change with it. Based on better nutrition and improved vet care dogs are living longer extending their “golden years. You can make the senior years be as great as they can be.

Mobility is more of a challenge – One key favor you can do your dog is to keep their weight down.  Moving around is difficult enough without the burden of extra pounds on tired joints.  The walks of miles may be a thing of the past but your dog will crave the physical and mental stimulation of the outside world.  Gauge the length, pace, and breaks of your walks to keep your dog from limping or panting.  For many older dogs, a pet stroller as a walk-ride option keeps the world accessible even when arthritic joints make it difficult.  A senior dog’s interest in the smells of their area doesn’t diminish and the stimulation and companionship can make life more fun and healthy. 

Health and Wellness – A checkup every six months can identify.  Your vet can identify any areas of concern that can be addressed.  Older dogs are more likely to suffer medical problems, and early treatment can keep your dog in top health.  Your vet may do additional bloodwork, dental examination, and checks for parasites.  As dogs age their immune systems weaken and they become more vulnerable to ticks, worms, fleas, and other infestations.  Ask your vet about heartworm and other preventive medications. Your vet can evaluate your dog’s weight and suggest a diet regimen.  Vaccination schedules may vary for older dogs, and you should discuss what is appropriate for your pet.  If your dog has difficulty moving about ask about NSAIDa (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce pain and discomfort in exercise.

Dental Care – As your dog ages dental issues become more likelyYou can provide dental care at home and improve the quality of your pet’s lifeDental condition is so important that it is the second criterion that your vet uses to assess your dog’s health. Your vet may recommend a complete cleaning under anesthesia, there are also many things you can do at home to preserve your dog’s dental health.  Here is a link to a site that offers a series of good suggestions. You may have gone for many years without noticing your dog’s teeth, but as they age it becomes an important part of staying healthy longer.

Food – Not just for humans is food a high point of the day.  Your pet looks forward to meals, treats, snacks and the occasional table scrap.  Like us, the metabolism, and exercise slow down faster than appetite.  The result is extra pounds that bring the same list of illnesses to dogs as to humans with the same impact on the length and quality of life.  While your dog is saying “If you love me you’ll give me that treat,” the reality is that if you love them you’ll recognize that healthy feeding is the best way to love them.   Dog’s nutritional needs change as they age and the type of dog food may need to change along with the amount.  Visit Dog Food Advisor for the best information on choosing the best food for your dog.

Vision and Hearing- The early signs of hearing and vision loss may not be obvious. Notice if your dog’s behavior changes.  Does he jump suddenly at a noise, or lose track of the ball you threw?  If your dog’s hearing seems to be an increasing issue start right away teaching hand signals.  Even if they can’t hear you they can follow your hand signals for important commands.  Dogs seem to retain the ability to sense vibrations so a loud handclap or a slap on a flat surface will alert them.  A whistle may carry enough volume to let them know you’re communicating.  Vision is another faculty which becomes an issue slowly.  If your dog seems unsure, clumsy, can’t find his water or food it may be failing vision.  This is where “senior dog home adaptation” comes in.  Remove clutter for pathways to favorite spots.  Make each room stand out with a different texture carpet or throw rug, or use different scents in different rooms.  Block dangerous paths such as steps and pools. Keep familiar things in the same place as memory can map what eyes may not see too well. Make sure his bed is low and soft for older joints.  Provide lots of love and affection to reassure your dog whose world has become a more uncertain place.

Make Each Day Count- No one wants to think of losing a loved pet. Instead of seeing the ending, celebrate each day and use it to live in the moment.  Play gentle games, talk a walk and talk while you do, settle on the couch together.  Live every moment in giving and receiving love.

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