As time passes, we all get older and as the years go by signs of ageing become more evident. Senior dogs, like humans, experience a range of age related changes. You may notice that your dog’s coat is fading out and not the vibrant shiny colour it once was. He may also develop cloudy eye lenses and begin moving a little slower and just acting more mature in general.
It is commonly noted that larger dog breed experience age related changes earlier than smaller breeds and this is reflected in their life expectancy.
From puppy-hood to being a senior, your dog’s care requirements change with age. While a puppy is bursting with energy to burn, an older dog my need to take things a bit slower. Let’s have a look at some of the age related changes that your dog may experience and how you can best support them through their golden years.
1. Age related diseases
Some dogs can experience degenerative diseases due to ageing, such as joint disorders and cognitive dysfunctions. There is no cure for these ailments but they can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes.
Serious conditions such as cancer and liver failure are also common in older dogs and require prompt medical treatment so that a positive prognosis is more likely. However, some dogs may develop fatty lumps under the skin, known as lipomas. These are harmless lumps and are a result of the metabolic system using less energy. It’s advisable though to always get and lumps check by a vet, to confirm they are not cancerous.
Surface changes to the skin also occur and since most dog have a thick covering of fur, you probably won’t notice their skin losing it elasticity. This is due to a decline in available collagen. Luckily for them, no one can see their wrinkles.
2. Loss of senses
Sight, sound and smell are all important senses for a dog and unfortunately each of these will degrade with age.
Some dogs develop cloudy eye lens as they age. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going blind as it is often the result of a condition known as nuclear sclerosis, which rarely affects vision. Cataracts are a more serious form of cloudy lenses and do affect vision. They scatter and block light as it passes through the lens, which in turn affects the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. In some instances, cataracts can be surgically removed, but it depends if the vet feels that the dog is a suitable candidate for the procedure.
The signs of hearing loss can be subtle at first and can be mistaken for bad behaviour. A dog may be easily startled (or even become aggressive) when someone approaches unexpectedly. They may also be less responsive to commands.
Like hearing loss, it might be a bit tricky for an owner to notice if their dog is losing its sense of smell. Since the sense of smell is such an important part of tasting things, certain foods may become less appealing.
With their senses diminishing, an ageing dog will benefit from small changes which can make daily life easier. These include making sure that water bowls, food and the dog’s bed are always in the same place, so that are easy to find. Also, avoid making sudden movements, even if it’s just reaching out for a pat as this can be frightening to an unaware senior dog.
3. Behavioural changes
An older dog is certainly not as energetic as the young pup they once were. You may notice that your senior dog has less enthusiasm to greet you when you come home or is more cautious when out on walks. Older dogs also tend to need more sleep and have less energy, so try to avoid disrupting them when they are having daytime naps.
Some dogs may experience a decline in cognitive function, which may result in the dog appearing to be confused or being unstable when moving about. While there is no cure for dogs showing signs of senility or cognitive issues there are supplements available from your vet that can support your senior dog through the ageing process.
4. Joint pain and stiffness
After many years of moving about energetically, stiffness and joint degradation are common signs of ageing. It might not be obvious at first as dogs seem to be very good at hiding their aches and pains. As joint degradation progresses, dogs may become less mobile, especially first thing after sleeping or having along walk.
Keeping your dog from climbing stairs with gates or using ramps to help them in and out of your car are all great ways you can assist to reduce the strain on old joints.
A changing in your dog’s exercise regime may also be called for, as long or vigorous walks are likely to result in soreness and can speed up the degradation of joints. Short walks are the best option to keep an old dog active while being gentler on the body. Supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin are available to support ageing joints and improve the quality of life.
While muscles throughout the body are losing the tone and strength they once had, so are the muscles that support the bladder. Weakness around the neck of the bladder means that the bladder cannot retain urine properly resulting in incontinence. When a dog is lying down there is a change in the internal pressures, which allows for the easy flow of urine into the neck of the bladder which can then involuntarily leak out. Considering this is involuntary, you should not punish your dog if they have an accident. Instead offer more opportunities for your senior dog to do their business though out the day.
6. Changes in weight
Every dog is different, so the way they react to ageing can affect their weight. Many senior dogs have a decrease in exercise which can mean an increase in the amount of stored fat. Other dogs may suffer from digestive issues or have a lack of appetite which can in turn result in weight loss.
As your dog ages it is a good idea to keep a closer eye on their diet and try to avoid to many special treats.
7. Teeth and gum issues
Bad breath can be one of the first signs of tooth decay and infected gums, both of which are common in older dogs. Other signs of dental issues include plaque, swollen gums and a loss of appetite. Tending to dental issues will help to relieve pain, make your dog more comfortable when eating and will help to prevent serious infections.
Most importantly, remember that all dogs will age differently and respond differently to the changes occurring in their life. Monitor them closely and respond appropriately to meet their unique set of requirements. Consult your vet if your dog is experiencing concerning changes in behaviour, lumps, incontinence etc. as they may be able to receive treatment. Enjoy your golden oldie and create plenty of memories together to cherish for years to come.