Caring For Your Senior Dog - Nutrition, Wellness, Pain Management

If your furry sidekick has been with you for years, it can be difficult when you notice the first signs of them aging and slowing down. Most of the changes they experience in their senior years are normal and without cause for concern. However, it is important to bring your dog to see your veterinarian for regular wellness exams to stay ahead of any diseases. Early detection not only gives your dog a much better chance at recovery from any illnesses that are presenting themselves, but it is also much less expensive for you to give them the care they need when illnesses are caught early.

You are bound to have questions about how to care for your aging dog, and that is why we have provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about senior dog care below. 

If you have further questions about senior dog care and are in the Pearland, TX area, give us a call at (205) 964-8866 to schedule an appointment. 

What is the most important thing to know about taking care of my senior dog?

The most important thing to know about senior dogs is the special attention and care they require. As dogs age, they become more prone to certain diseases and other medical problems, so careful attention to their health is needed. Catching problems early so your veterinarian can treat them immediately is critical; therefore, regular wellness checks are essential for your senior dog’s longevity. Senior dogs also still require lots of love and attention despite not being as active, and maybe even more so because of that!

What is the life expectancy of a dog?

The life expectancy of a dog depends on their breed and size — smaller dogs have longer lifespans than larger dogs. While this doesn’t always hold true, smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas and Chinese Crested dogs can live to 15-17 years old, while larger breeds have an average lifespan of 9-11 years. Giant breed dogs, such as a St. Bernard or Great Dane, have an average life expectancy that is slightly shorter, at 8-10 years of age. 

How does getting older impact the health of my dog?

While old age is not a disease, certain illnesses and injuries become harder to recover from as a dog gets older. In addition, ailments tend to show differently, and sometimes they’re not apparent at all because dogs are very stoic when it comes to illness and pain. 

Aging impacts the health of a dog in the following ways:

  • The onset of arthritis, which may change their mobility around the home
  • Eye conditions can develop, such as cataracts or nuclear sclerosis
  • Skin growths become more common, including lumps and bumps that can be either benign or malignant
  • Possible changes in nutritional needs to accommodate their older age

What are the most common health problems in senior dogs?

The most common health problems in senior dogs depend on their size and breed. For example, large or giant size breeds are prone to arthritis and joint disease, while smaller dogs are prone to dental disease due to their smaller mouths. 

The most common health problems in senior dogs include:

  • Arthritis
  • Weight gain
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Dental disease
  • Vision loss and cataracts

How can wellness care extend the life and comfort of my dog?

Regular wellness checkups include a thorough physical exam, blood work, and testing to detect diseases early. Anything that can be detected early, before your pet becomes symptomatic, carries a much better prognosis. For example, if a dog visits their veterinarian at 8-9 years old, and the results of a blood panel show their kidney numbers are starting to escalate, they can suggest dietary changes and supplements that will improve their kidney function. However, if that same dog goes to their veterinarian at 12 years old and in kidney failure, options are minimal.

At Shadow Creek Veterinary Clinic, wellness care is a pillar of our practice. We have wellness plans for this exact reason, geared towards your pet’s age and providing them with optimum care. Wellness care helps extend your pet's life because you’re being proactive and preventative rather than reactive. Regular checkups can help detect early kidney disease, discover any stones or underlying infections in the bladder, provide an opportunity for your veterinarian to listen to their heart, and more.

Providing your senior dog with proper, well-balanced nutrition is also a part of wellness care, as meeting their nutritional needs can help maintain a healthy weight and slow the progression of osteoarthritis. Regular dental cleanings remove tartar and plaque and eliminate bacteria that can get into their bloodstream, affecting the liver, kidney, and heart. Many dog owners overlook this aspect of wellness care, but it’s a significant part of your dog’s overall health.

Does my senior dog still need annual wellness exams or semi-annuals, vaccines, and preventive care?

As your dog enters their senior stage of life, it becomes more important than ever that you continue preventive care and visit your veterinarian for wellness exams every six months. Your veterinarian will also recommend that your dog continue certain vaccines based on their lifestyle and risk factors. As their bodies age, they are more susceptible to certain diseases, so you want to keep them well-protected. 

Regular wellness exams as they age are vital since dogs are stoic animals and don’t exhibit many signs of illness. This is because dogs are instinctively pack animals, and showing weakness in a pack means they might be left behind or singled out. For this reason, they are programmed not to show illness or disease — and by the time they show symptoms, the illness is fairly advanced, and they can’t hide it any longer.

What are some signs and symptoms that my dog might be slowing down due to their old age?

There are many signs that your dog may be slowing down due to age, most of which are normal and expected. If you are concerned about any new behaviors, visit your veterinarian to ensure it’s just the normal aging process. 

Signs your dog is slowing down due to age include:

  • No longer running to greet you at the door with a wagging tail
  • Symptoms of arthritis, such as no longer jumping up on furniture or running up or down stairs
  • Less running around when excited or outside
  • Indicating they would rather be picked up instead of climbing stairs or jumping onto furniture
  • A wobbly gait or easily falling down
  • Waking up stiff after a long nap or overnight sleep
  • A persistent cough, which could be the early stage of congestive heart failure
  • Not eating as much or dropping food out of their mouth, which can indicate dental disease

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing whether my dog is sick or just slowing down?

There is a high probability of incorrectly diagnosing your dog and delaying the appropriate treatment. A veterinarian will take into account the whole health of your dog by doing a thorough physical exam and will get them on the appropriate exercise regimen, diet, or medication needed to help whatever is ailing them.

One of the most common reasons for a veterinary visit in dogs is vomiting, which could result from eating something they weren't supposed to, or overeating. However, vomiting is also one of the first signs of kidney disease and liver disease. Assuming the vomiting is due to something benign delays treatment and leads to a much less desirable outcome. This is just one example of why self-diagnosing can be very dangerous to the health and well-being of your dog. 

When you examine a senior dog, what are you looking for? 

When your veterinarian does a physical exam, they look at everything from the nose to the tail. They will look at the teeth for dental disease, listen to the heart for any abnormalities, listen to the lungs to see if they're breathing appropriately, check for ear infections, and examine the eyes for cataracts. They’ll also feel their belly for any problems internally, check their lymph nodes for enlargement, and gently move their joints to gauge any pain. Dogs can’t tell us where it hurts, so your veterinarian will check them through feeling, listening, and looking.

If I want to adopt a senior dog, what kinds of things do I need to know?

If you open your home and heart to a senior dog, you should be aware that they’re at a higher risk of certain diseases. However, not all senior dogs have issues or problems — you simply need to know of the potential for a bit more care. If you're adopting and don't know their history, you should find out if they're not used to being alone or have separation issues. If their medical history is available, that is great, but rescues or shelter adoptions don't always have the benefit of those records. That makes an initial physical exam by a veterinarian imperative. They’ll look for heartworm disease, check organ function, make sure their heart sounds good, check their weight, and possibly do blood work. 

If you have further questions about senior dog care, and you live in or near the Pearland, TX area, give us a call at (205) 964-8866.