By Jackie Kellum
Aging occurs in our pets, as it does with us. It’s important to recognize the ‘normal’ signs of aging versus unusual changes in your pet. Genetics, nutrition and environment all play a role in how fast your dog ages. As a general rule, a dog who is 7 years or older should be considered middle to senior aged. Smaller breed dogs usually live longer, so middle age might be considered at 9 years.
Here are some general tips for caring for a senior pet. Older pets should have semi-annual veterinary visits instead of annual visits so signs of illness or other problems can be detected early and treated. Many times before medical signs become apparent, changes in pet behavior occur. You serve a critical role in detecting early signs of disease because you observe your pet daily and are familiar with his “norms” and routines. If you observe any pet changes or other warning signs of disease, contact your veterinarian and provide him with a list of these changes.
Normal changes can occur with aging. If your dog experiences hearing / vision loss, protect him from hazards. Dogs do learn and adapt to hand signals. Hearing impaired dogs can still sense vibration, so clapping hands or stomping on the floor may alert him. When outside keep your impaired dog on a leash at all times. Avoid moving furniture around, keep pathways clear, and minimize clutter if your dog is losing his vision. When you talk to your dog, keep your voice quiet, calm, and kind – and don’t shout at him. Older dogs can become easily stressed and nervous. Older pets often need foods that are more readily digested or possibly an adjustment to caloric intake or different ingredients. Monitor your pet’s ability to chew his food and check for dental issues.
Overweight dogs have a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, skin conditions, and joint problems. Keeping older pets mobile through appropriate exercise helps maintain their health. However, when walking your pet keep your walks shorter, and not in the heat. Regularly evaluate their ability to tolerate the length of their walks.
Pets can show signs of mental slowing. Mental stimulation can help keep your pet’s brain functioning well. Talking with your dog, changing a walking route and playing a non-strenuous game helps to keep his mind alert. Provide adequate social interaction with other pets or people, but be careful not to over-stimulate or fatigue your pet. Some older dogs may have difficulty handling extra stress, so getting a new puppy may not be the best idea if your older dog is experiencing some disabilities.
Older pets may need changes in their environment if they are experiencing arthritis. Some changes may include sleeping on softer bedding, using a ramp to get to higher places (thus avoiding jumping) or use of a raised feeding platform. Providing a small rug on a hard floor surface can help your dog gain his footing while getting up/down. If your pet is experiencing pain due to arthritis, have a discussion with your Vet for the management of this situation. In additional to a traditional Western veterinary medical treatment approach, you might explore the use of supportive alternative methods such as acupuncture, etc. Warning: Do not give human pain medications to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian. Some human products, including OTC medications, can be fatal for pets.
Thoughts for the coming holidays: In lieu of giving gifts to others, consider making a donation to a favorite charity in the name of the person who is to receive the gift. This is a totally Win-Win situation. www.anitasanimals.com