Caring for your older dog

Posted 21 January 2015 12:00 AM by John Foster
older dog

Nothing and no-one can avoid growing old, but since it has to happen we should all be taking care to do it gracefully and keep fit to the very end.

Dogs, compared with us, may seem to have a short lifespan, but they pack a lot into their years and over the 13 or so of them age in exactly the same way we do – we just take longer about it!

As a general rule the bigger you are in dog terms to shorter your life expectancy and the converse is generally true, too. The Irish wolfhound has to pack a lot into his 8 to 10 years while the dachshund can be a bit more laid back and extend his life story into the teens. It’s all a matter of genetics; we are all to some extent programmed from birth to live just so many years, but we can determine whether the span is shorter or longer than the expectation by good clean living, exercise, mental occupation and an optimal diet.

Life expectancy, the number of years dogs can live, is quite high. 20 years is achievable – one was reliably reported to have lived to 24 – but we have come to expect 13 to 14 as the norm. As said, exactly how long is recorded ‘in the stars’ but there is much we can do to make the years beyond nine healthy and happy, and maybe more.

Every organ and every tissue in the dog’s body declines with time, wear and tear and the advent of diseases such as cancer, inflammations such as arthritis, infections and degenerations, as with cataracts. But they aren’t inevitable. Let’s take one example: the digestive system.

All’s well within months but at the other end of life’s journey the digestive system goes backwards in terms of its ability to cope with food. Older animals, older humans, suffer from bloating, have unpredictable intestinal functions, can’t cope with big meals or poorly prepared ones and may readily lose condition. It’s all to be expected but largely ignored, almost as though it’s a matter of pride: “he’s far too young not to cope”, when he’s actually 10! We must make allowances and we must expect a helping hand will be needed.

This is where supplements come in. They deliver what’s needed in a small ‘package’ and don’t overload the system as might happen with bulky food supplying the same quantities of essential nutrients. These are the vitamins and minerals, trace elements, and the building blocks for tissue repair and defence such as antioxidants, essential oils, glucosamine and the magic ingredient coenzyme Q10.

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