Advice for Dealing with Aging Pets!

Did you know…according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dogs are considered geriatric at about age seven? Why? At about that age, dogs generally begin to face newer age-related conditions and are thus considered to be “geriatric.”

It’s inevitable that nearly every pet owner will witness their dog’s movement into old age. That’s because canines have a significantly shorter life span than humans, and age at a much faster pace. When people think of dogs in terms of age, we compare their lifespans to our own. A typical calculation used is the following: 15 human years equals the first year of life. Year two equals about 9 years of a human’s life. After that, each human year is about five years for a dog. Bear in mind that larger dogs tend to live shorter life spans than medium size dogs, and smaller dogs tend to live longest. Genetics, the environment, nutrition, and access to health care all influence the lifespan of our pets. Thus it is important to care for our senior pets.

Just like humans, dogs face problems associated with aging. Geriatric pets can develop some of the same physical problems as seen in elderly people. Examples include increased heart, joint, or bone diseases. Older dogs face greater rates of cancer and other illnesses. Mental decline can also occur, whereas confusion and disorientation can set-in. Personality changes can take place in pets as they grow older. Dogs may become less playful, unable to follow commands, and/or have measurably less interactions with household members due to memory loss and age-related issues. Some dogs may show new signs such as aggression and anxiety, an increase in accidents, or difficulty with mobility which much be addressed. Aggression is a serious issue and could be indicative of pain. Seek medical help for your dog for any of these issues.

Caring for an older dog is not doom and gloom. Senior pets make wonderful companions. In fact, many people prefer spending time with senior pets and enjoy their calm nature. These mature companions tend to be devoted to their owners and are well-mannered, lacking the exuberance of high-maintenance puppies. Senior dogs are generally less noisy and are much less likely to chew or cause household destruction. While it is every dog owner’s wish for pets to age gracefully, there are many things people can do to keep older pets safe, happy, and comfortable. The best course of action is to take your dog to the vet regularly (semi-annually for senior pets in good health and more frequently for pets showing conditions.) Share with the doctor any new symptoms your pet may exhibit, including behavioral changes or physical indications of illness. Your vet may suggest ways to decrease your dog’s stress, which may sometimes be a contributing factor leading to mental or physical changes/reactions seen in senior pets.

It is important to be prepared for what may come. Perhaps a dog may not be able to get around easily. Be flexible with household changes, such as placing a gate across steps to limit dog’s chance of climbing and getting injured. In some cases, digestive changes may occur with aging pets, so it’s important to discuss your dog’s diet with your veterinarian. If your dog is eating less in quantity, perhaps a more nutritionally food will be recommended. Some older dogs have increased accidents or “spotting” may occur. After a thorough examination to rule out medical causes, your vet will offer solutions for age-related problems. For increased accidents, this may include keeping your pet near you and taking the dog out more frequently, or using pee pads or doggie diapers to prevent accidents. Do not lose your temper with your pet. Understand that it is not their fault. Dogs may also experience hearing loss and/or problems with vision. If sight is an issue, remove obstacles such as furniture or loose rugs that may get in the way or cause the dog to stumble. If hearing is an issue, learn how to train and communicate using hand signals. Dogs who are deaf can’t hear oncoming danger, so it’s important to keep them safe. Senior dogs that are blind and deaf may need more care to keep them safe, but do not neglect them. They remain highly capable of enjoying your love and affection.

Arthritis is another common sign of aging, and it is quite normal in pets. However, there are some treatments available to help with the symptoms. Many joint health supplements and medications are available on the market. Go with your veterinarian’s recommendation and be sure to monitor your pet for side effects, if any. Most dogs can live comfortably with arthritis that is being managed. If your pet can no longer climb stairs, consider adding a ramp or allowing the dog to sleep on the main level in a penned in area for safety. As always, contact your pet’s doctor immediately if your pet is in pain or if you notice changes in heart rate or breathing. Generally, these severe conditions may occur towards the end of a canine’s life. With aging pets, it’s a good idea to keep your vet’s number handy for emergencies.

Keep your senior pet comfortable. Perhaps setting up a bed on each level is a good idea, so canines will be less tempted to climb the stairs. It is helpful to keep senior dogs on a set schedule (wake, feed, and walk regularly) and on a vet approved exercise routine. Generally, regular slow walks will help to keep your dog fit. The ideal activity level for aging pets depends upon their individual health and ability. Thus, exercise routines should be specifically tailored to your pooch, adjusted with health changes, and periodically reviewed by the vet. With proper love and care, your canine will live blissfully in the golden years and you will reap the benefits of time well-spent together.

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