How to Care for your Senior Companion
All dogs age at a different pace but dogs are generally classed as ‘geriatric’ when they reach the age of 8 years old. Certain changes will occur in your dog’s body as they get older; important bodily functions may start to slow down and their general pace of life will start to get a little slower.
Just like humans; the senses eventually start to deteriorate too, leading to impaired vision, hearing, taste and smell. Older dogs are also prone to a number of medical conditions, the signs of which can be subtle and that we should be on the lookout for as many are treatable. You will usually be able to tell if your dog is feeling a bit under the weather with signs such as lack of appetite, lethargic demeanour, unusual toilet activity and general behaviour of your dog.
Here are a few tips on caring for your senior companion to keep them comfortable, happy and up to new tricks:
Regular check-ups are a must for older dogs - It is tempting to miss the check-ups if you think your dog is ok, but remember some pets are good at hiding discomfort and a vet may be able to detect something you can’t. Vaccinations, worming and flea treatments also remain important during your dog’s senior years and in fact; as the immune system may not be what it used to be, these preventative measures are vital to keep your older dog in good health. Older dogs should be weighed regularly, and if indicated have blood and urine analysed for certain diseases. Some veterinary clinics run special nurses clinics for older pets to have a regular check-ups at reduced fees to ensure peace of mind your dog your senior dog is in good health.
Exercise - It is still very important at this stage for your senior pooch to get some exercise! Dog’s metabolisms slow down as they get older so regular, gentle exercise and the correct diet is necessary, however it is important strenuous activity is avoided as too much exercise may put excessive stress on fragile bones and muscles. Your vet can recommend a diet and exercise plan for your dog depending on their health and breed.
Nutrition - Understanding the changing nutritional needs of your senior dog is one of the most important things you can do. Senior dogs are less active and have a slower metabolism, so fewer calories are required. However, high quality, easy to digest protein becomes more important than ever, to help maintain overall body condition.
A good senior diet provides concentrated, high quality protein, low fat, and easy to digest carbohydrates for energy. Key minerals support ageing joints, and vitamins, along with protein, help support the aging immune system. Buying a specialised dog food for senior pets is advised as these provide the nutrients your older dog will need.
If your older dog appears reluctant to eat, you should always check with your vet that there is not an underlying medical reason for what you may think is just fussiness. A few changes to feeding regimes may also encourage food intake in older dogs including feeding little and often as smaller meals can be easier to digest, varying textures and flavours, and warming the food to release tasty smells.
Make sure food and water are within easy reach and don’t require trips up and down stairs.
Bedding and sleep - A soft bed goes a long way when you are less agile and have sore joints! Make sure their bed is in a quiet, draft free location, maybe next to a radiator in winter and big enough for them to lie and stretch out.
Getting about - Arthritic joints are not as good at jumping so you may need to lift a small dog in and out of the car or up onto the sofa, or for larger dogs provide a ramp. Try to keep their bed downstairs to avoid trips up and down the stairs every time they want to get into their bed.
These small measures will help your senior dog in their day-to-day life and keep them by your side for many more years to come.
Student Veterinary Nurse