As a dog ages, several changes may occur besides a greying muzzle. Senior dogs have more health concerns than younger dogs, but they can still make playful, loving companions.
Harmony Peraza, a veterinary technician and the study subject manager for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Dog Aging Project, discusses the most common health conditions that may arise in a senior dog.
While there is some variation among breeds, a dog is typically considered a senior at 8 years old. Large dogs may age faster, becoming seniors as early as 6 or 7, while smaller dogs may not start showing signs of age until they are 9 or 10.
One of the most common concerns in senior dogs is arthritis, which can cause a dog to move stiffly and slowly and sometimes also gain weight because of decreased activity. Providing a soft surface to lay on and reducing exposure to the elements are easy ways to help a dog with arthritis stay comfortable.
“I also recommend reaching out to your dog’s veterinarian for suggestions of supplements and, in some cases, medications that can potentially help with the discomfort of arthritis,” Peraza said. “Aging doesn’t have to be painful for your dog.”
Many dogs also lose their hearing and vision as they age, but this does not mean that they can no longer live a full and happy life.
“If you notice that your older dog seems withdrawn, is sleeping deeper than usual, doesn’t come to you as readily when called, or seems lost and confused, these can be signs that he or she has lost some vision or hearing ability,” Peraza said.
Blind and deaf dogs are great at finding new ways to navigate and stay active, but they do need more patience and understanding from their owners.
“Even dogs that go blind can manage to get along very well,” Peraza said. “It is recommended to keep furniture or objects in the home and yard in familiar order for the dog. Rearrangement of items can be confusing and cause the dog to bump into the newly arranged items.”
Dogs have an increased risk for cancer as they age, as well as “wear” on important organs like the heart and kidneys. If a senior dog has increased panting, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea, or a change in appetite, thirst, or the frequency of urination, it should be seen by a veterinarian, as these can be symptoms of heart and kidney problems.