Senior dog care: What are the signs your dog is getting old?
There are many signs that show your dog is getting older, and the reason it’s important to look out for these signs is so that you can care for them properly as they live through their senior years. Sadly, our four-legged friends don’t live forever, but you can help them live a long and happy life by making sure you spot the signs early and adapt your routine or habits to help them along.
What age is a senior dog?
Even if your dog is healthy and full of life, they may be at senior dog age. As a general rule:
- Small dogs are classed as senior when they are between nine and twelve years old
- Medium sized dogs are classed as senior whey they are between seven and ten years old
- Large dogs are classed as senior when they are between five and eight years old
What are the signs of ageing in dogs?
There are many signs that show your dog is ageing. Some of these include:
- Slowing down
Like humans, the older a dog gets the more likely it is that they will slow down. This might mean they take a little longer to get up after taking a nap, they might take their time when out on a walk and they may sleep more often too. This is a natural part of ageing and shouldn’t cause too much concern.
- Movement problems such as arthritis
Arthritis is more common in some breeds than others, however it is not uncommon for any senior dog to develop movement problems of some kind. This is because, as they get older, the general wear and tear on their muscles and bones starts to take effect. You may spot signs of this while they are out on a walk or if they are taking a little more care to do their usual activities.
Again, as this is a natural part of ageing, this isn’t usually something to be too worried about, however if you are concerned you should see the vet. If you find that your senior dog is having trouble staying in a comfortable position, whether that’s lying or sitting down, or if they seem in pain at all, they should be seen by a medical professional.
- Deafness and hearing problems
Elderly dogs can also develop hearing problems in their old age. There are many symptoms of deafness, including:
- Your dog may seem less obedient (e.g. unresponsive to their name when called)
- They may not respond to sounds they usually would (e.g. the doorbell)
- They bark more often than usual
- It is difficult to wake them up from a nap
Hearing problems are fairly common in senior dogs, but if you think your dog is in pain you should take them to the vets. They may have a more specific ear problem, such as an infection or something lodged in the ear canal, which could turn into a more serious issue.
- Sight loss and cloudy eyes
One way to recognise an elderly dog is by their eyes. You will have likely seen a dog with cloudy eyes, or eyes with a blue glaze. This is called ‘nuclear sclerosis’ and it is very common in senior dogs but doesn’t normally affect a dog’s vision. This is often confused with ‘cataracts’ which is a more serious condition.
Cataracts in elderly dogs is a common sight loss problem. They will develop an opaque, milky white haze over their eyes and have problems with their vision. Other than sight loss itself, cataracts does not usually cause other problems, but watch out for your dog’s behaviour as the condition can lead to glaucoma.
- Dog dementia
Dog dementia, which is also know as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is a disorder that can develop due to ageing. It is often compared to Alzheimer’s in humans as it has similar symptoms, such as memory loss, difficulty following basic commands and inability to learn something new.
As your dog gets older, it can be quite sad to see them develop these types of symptoms as it can result in behaviour you would not normally associate with your four-legged friend. For example, they may forget to greet you at the door, or forget that they have seen you already and greet you many times! They may also forget to eat, pace around the home or, in extreme cases, forget who you are. If you are worried about dog dementia, you should see your vet to make sure your dog is as comfortable as possible.
- Going grey
Even before your dog is officially classed as “senior” you may start to see some grey hairs appearing. Just like humans, grey hairs can appear for reasons other than just getting old.
Some breeds are more prone to showing their greys than others, particularly black dogs like Labradors who you will often see with little white patches around their face as they age.
- Respiratory problems
As dogs get older, moving around can be more strenuous for them. Because of this, your dog may pant more often or breathe faster.
Respiratory problems are a sign of ageing in dogs but can also be a sign of more serious diseases. Some of the more common respiratory diseases are:
- Tracheal collapse
- Chronic bronchitis
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Dental issues
Signs that your dog is getting older can include some unpleasant ones, like bad breath! But this is usually a sign of dental issues and is common for older dogs. Tartar build-up and tooth decay occur in elderly dogs and should be checked if you think your dog’s teeth are causing them pain.
Tips for senior dog care
Now you know the most common signs that your dog is getting older, it’s important to understand how to keep your dog happy and healthy as they age. Below are our top senior dog care tips:
- Provide them with senior dog food
There’s a reason that there are different types of dog food available, and that’s because those catered for senior dogs include certain ingredients that are more suited for them. If you switch their food and treats to those that are age-appropriate, you can rest assured they are getting the right nutrients to help them lead a happy life.
- Keep up their hygiene and grooming routine
If you don’t already, it’s a good idea to start with a hygiene routine. This can include brushing them regularly, as well as cleaning their teeth and ears. This helps to avoid infections and can help them live their life more comfortably.
- Exercise them regularly
Even though your dog is getting older, they still need their exercise. If they can’t go for their usual walks, try reducing them and adopting the ‘little and often’ method. Rather than one or two long walks a day, take them out for shorter strolls, or even around the garden more often.
You can also try new exercise that can benefit your pooch, such as hydrotherapy or physiotherapy. These types of exercises can help senior dogs as they age, especially if they are suffering with movement problems such as arthritis.
- Take them for check-ups
Book your senior dog in for regular check-ups with the vet to make sure that they are as happy and healthy as possible. This allows the vet to spot any signs of infection, disease or conditions that could turn fatal without early diagnosis.
If you feel your dog is acting differently in old age or looks to be in discomfort, make sure to seek advice from a veterinary professional. For more information about dog behaviour, take a look at our We Talk Dog blog.
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