When your dog becomes older, he is likely to undergo physical and behavior changes. Some of these may be visible while others are easier to miss or misinterpret. Caring for senior dogs means becoming a good observer. Knowing what to look for and what you can do to care for your aging dog can help keep him healthier and happier during his golden years.
· Take Him to the Vet More Often – Older dogs are prone to a number of health conditions. The sooner they are detected, the more the vet can do to help your dog. There are more options available today that can expand the life of your pet if you take care to monitor potential problems. Take your dog to the vet twice a year or more often if he is diagnosed with a health condition. These include:
d. Heart Disease
e. Joint or Bone Disease
· Re-Evaluate His Diet – Senior dogs need fewer calories when they get older and slow down. Their needs for some nutrients increase and they may have problems digesting the same food they have been eating for years. Look for a kind of food that is made specifically for seniors and includes these specific needs in the description. When changing your pet’s food, add one quarter of the new food on the first day to his current dog food. On the second day, make it half. On the third day, give him three quarters of the total of his food in the new food and he will be ready to eat just the new food by the fourth day. This will prevent digestive problems from occurring with the switch.
· Encourage Him to Exercise – Even if he isn’t interested in anything more than walking every day, this will help him maintain mobility. Look for fun activities that will help him physically as well. Don’t confuse lethargy as a normal sign of aging. Most dogs want to keep doing the things they love even if they can’t do them to the same degree as they did before. Check with the vet if there is a sudden loss of interest in any of his normal activities.
· Challenge Him Mentally – Dogs, like people, can experience senility and have more difficulty thinking things through. Seniors are also prone to depression. Puzzles and toys that provide a mental challenge will help keep your dog alert. Find games that you can enjoy with him while providing him with the task of finding something he likes. One good choice is hide-and-seek with treats. Mix it up and use different hiding places to keep him involved in the game.
· Don’t Overreact to Accidents – Older pets who can’t think clearly may have trouble following the rules. If your dog suddenly starts having accidents in the floor, reign in the temptation to scold him. If this is new behavior, he probably didn’t have control over it.
· Monitor Food and Water Consumption – It is important to monitor how much food and water your pet is getting.
· Watch Closely for Behavioral Changes – Sometimes pets exhibit behavioral changes long before physical symptoms of health conditions appear. Keep of list of new or suspicious behaviors and take them with you to the vet. In some cases, these behaviors may be contradictory to one another. Some examples include:
a. Sensitivity to Noises
b. Confusion or Disorientation
c. Hesitant to Interact with People
e. Repetitive Activity
f. Increased Anxiety
g. Decrease in Response to Commands
h. Decrease in Urination
· Create a Safer Environment – As your dog gets older, his eyesight may deteriorate. Going up and down stairs can become more difficult and he may become more sensitive to cold or hot temperatures. May any adjustments needed to his environment to make it easier and safer for him to get where he needs to go. If keeping warm is a problem, get him a heated bed. If he has trouble getting on the sofa or bed, consider a ramp or portable stairs to make it easier for him. If he has trouble walking, get him a set of wheels that will improve mobilization. There are many products out there designed to make life better for senior dogs.
· Spend More Time Together – Your dog’s life is shorter than that of a human and nothing will mean more to him than spending time with his favorite people. You can’t take him everywhere you go, but you can spend your downtime with him and include him in trips to pet-friendly locations.
The most important thing you can do to care for your senior dog is to pay close attention to notice changes as soon as they occur. Many changes occur subtly, making it difficult to spot. Once you know what to look for and when your dog will begin to need special care, you will be prepared to give your dog the best possible care.