Caring for older dogs: top tips for looking after elderly and senior dogs
We’ve all seen food developed for senior dogs in the pet store or supermarket. But if your dog hasn’t even hit double figures, chances are you wouldn’t consider buying it just yet.
You may be surprised to learn that while it’s not unusual for dogs to live to a ripe old age – sometimes even over 20 – our canine companions are considered to have reached maturity between the ages of seven and 10. Unlike cats, dogs age at different rates, with larger dogs reaching senior status sooner than smaller dogs.
Older dogs need a little more TLC than their younger, more active counterparts. So, as the owner of an older dog, what should you be aware of – and how should you adapt your dog’s routine accordingly?
We take a look at the things you need to know when caring for an older or elderly dog.
Once your dog hits maturity his immune system begins to weaken and he becomes more susceptible to illness and infection – making those booster injections and routine veterinary health checks even more important... not forgetting pest and parasite prevention!
He is also likely to go through a number of physical changes (listed below) which are perfectly natural signs of ageing, and often nothing to worry about.
- Declining activity levels, which can lead to loss of muscle tone and stiff joints
- Changes in sense of smell and taste
- Slower metabolism, which can lead to weight gain
- Changes in the digestive system
- Kidney problems as the kidneys start to work less effectively
- Problems with the teeth and gums
- Deteriorating eyesight and hearing
- Heart or circulatory problems
- Changes in behaviour, including a reduced ability to handle stress
“Older dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as young pups, so remember to keep your dog warm and dry when he’s indoors, and to protect him against heat and humidity which can cause him to overheat.”
Their weakening immune systems make senior and elderly dogs more prone to develop a number of diseases and conditions, including:
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid disease
- Liver disease
- Prostate problems
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Gastrointestinal issues
The following symptoms may be warning signs of the conditions listed above. If your dog develops any of these signs and symptoms, take him along to your vet for a check-up:
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Lumps and bumps
- Increased urination
- Changes in appetite
As your dog gets older it’s natural for him to sleep more, but it’s still important to provide interaction and a stimulating, safe environment to keep him active and engaged, both physically and mentally.
Older dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as young pups, so remember to keep your dog warm and dry when he’s indoors, and to protect him against heat and humidity which can cause him to overheat.
If your dog suffers from arthritis, make sure his feeding and sleeping areas are downstairs, and think of replacing stairs with a ramp. He’ll also appreciate touches of comfort, such as an extra blanket on his bed.
Your vet can provide more advice on adapting your home, if necessary, as well as how to adapt your elderly dog’s diet to help manage his weight, maintain a healthy coat and skin, and increase lifespan.
For expert advice on senior dog care, get in touch with your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our 'find a vet' page.