For many dog owners, knowing how to treat your dog as they age can be difficult. When are officially a senior dog? Do you need to start looking after them differently? Celebrity vet Trude Mostue shares her advice.
Who are you calling senior?
“Isn’t it fascinating that one species of animal has evolved and developed into so many different shapes and sizes? The original dog was the size of a wolf, but today we have dogs as small as 1-2kg, like the Chihuahua, and as large as the Great Dane, at 60-70kg. For owners, one of the most concerning impacts of this difference in size is their lifespan. With senior foods and senior supplements on the market, clients ask me, ‘Is my dog senior? Do I need to start looking after them differently?’
There are obviously some differences between all breeds and this is why it’s difficult to give a simple answer to when your dog should be consider a senior dog. In general, the larger the breed the shorter the expected lifespan (around 7 years of age for the largest breeds), but the smallest breeds tend to have faster heart rates and therefore also have a shorter life span. But as a general rule, if we talk about the average dog who lives to 12 years of age, it should be considered senior from the age of 8-9 years. Don’t forget the ageing of dogs can also depend on how active or inactive their lifestyle has been. An overweight, unfit dog is most likely to die earlier compared to a fit and slim dog.
Regardless of the breed or size of dog it is smart to be proactive to try to prevent early ageing and to ensure your dog lives happily and healthily for as long as possible.
Feed and supplements
The easiest and most efficient way of ensuring this is to start with your dog food. As your dog grows older their nutritional needs change and their metabolic rate slows down, so you will need to consider a food lower in fat. Your dog will also need less food than he or she used to, especially if your dog now less energetic. This will keep your dog slim and help to minimise the risk of weight-related diseases. There are many excellent food brands with dog food for senior dogs, which usually have a lower fat content plus good quality protein.
As your dog grows older, he or she would also benefit from food supplements. Joint supplements in particular and anything to stimulate the immune system are extremely beneficial. An elderly dog will often get stiff joints and the dog is more vulnerable to poor joint mobility due to a decrease in glucosamine in the body over time. Joint supplements containing glucosamine, omega 3 and antioxidants help your elderly dog by keeping the joints flexible and preventing stiffness.
Safe and comfortable
Your dog’s rest area also needs thicker insulation and more padding. Old dogs tend to rest more and spend more time lying down, so it’s important to make the bed and bedding as comfortable and warm as possible.
It’s important their resting area is somewhere they feel safe, too. As they get older, many dogs experience decreased eyesight and bodily senses, including a poor sense of hearing, which might make them more jumpy and less observant. This is normal, but do be aware of head tilting and head pressing as this could be a sign of illness.
A common complaint about older dogs is that they are reluctant to jump into the back of the car and walk the stairs, but this is natural for an ageing dog. You might want to think about making a ramp to help it in the car or just practice helping your dog to walk the stairs and into the car as you would do with an elderly person.
Extra tip from the vet!
The coat of older dogs often changes in texture, but be aware of symmetrical hair loss, which could be an indication of hormonal disease. A nutritional supplement containing vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids can help with coat and skin health.
Check-in to check up
As a general rule, the older the dog the more regular check-ups they need with the vets. I recommend twice yearly health checks for all dogs over 10 years of age, with a blood sample to check basic parameters. This way you can catch anything brewing, and start to treat it in time to prolong your dog’s life.
Our lovely, loyal, senior dogs have spent their lives trying to be as good a companion as possible, so they deserve to be looked after with care and love.