September 6th, 2012
Dogs and the Aging Process – What Can We Do to Help Slow the Process?
Just like people, each dog ages differently. In general, mixed breeds and smaller dogs tend to live longer than purebreds or larger dogs. Dogs less than 20 pounds may not seem to show any signs of age until they’re around 12, 50-pound dogs around 10, while larger dogs begin to show their age between 7 to 9 years old. As a general rule, a dog who is 7 years or older should be considered middle to senior aged.
Watching our dogs age is a difficult process for all of us who love our companions. Because we want to give them the best quality of life possible we need to be aware of what is actually occurring during this aging process. A few of the signs that our dogs are getting old (aside from the chronological age) and potential solutions are:
- Weight gain or obesity. This is because their metabolism slows, yet we often continue to feed the same amount we fed when they were more active. To help:
- Reduce caloric intake. Educate yourself on the ingredients in the food you feed your dog and switch foods if there’s too much fat and not enough nutrients. Reduce the amount you are feeding, and watch treats.
- Make exercise a priority and increase it as you can.
- Arthritis. This is a common condition in older dogs, dogs who have had injuries earlier in their lives, or large breeds and breeds which have a tendency to have intervertebral (IV) disc disease such as dachshunds and basset hounds. Arthritis may only cause a slight stiffness, or it can become debilitating, and older dogs who suffer will also lose muscle mass and tone. This may make it more difficult for them to move, so they move less, etc., becoming a vicious cycle. To help:
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. But only the right type of exercise, that which doesn’t cause any pain. Swimming is ideal especially in a warm water pool, as it can help with all problems associated with arthritis. Short walks each day also help.
- Pain management medication only as is absolutely necessary.
- Massage – to help with circulation, range of motion, toxin removal, stress reduction, and pain management.
- Gray hair – most commonly occurring on the muzzle and around the eyes. The hair-coat may also become thin and dull.
- Regular grooming. This is your dog’s first line of defense for environmental attacks. If his coat is in poor condition, he will be more susceptible to illness or disease.
- Calluses – most often developed on a dog’s elbows. Part of the reason for this is the tendency of older dogs to be less active and lay down more.
- If you don’t have one, get a bed, preferably an orthopedic bed for your dog.
- Decreased heart function and lung elasticity.
- Get a veterinary health checkup to make sure nothing is wrong.
- If nothing is wrong, get regular non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming to rebuild cardiac and respiratory fitness.
Dogs can experience many changes in their bodies as they age. Some dogs may have more notable changes than others, and in some dogs, the changes may start to occur at a younger age. The best thing you can do is to monitor your dog for physical and behavioral changes and if you think that these changes may not be normal, check with your veterinarian. Be proactive with your dog’s health and you’ll be able to enjoy your dog’s company for longer period of time.