Looking after your older dog

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Sadly, a dog’s lifespan is relatively short compared to our own, and dogs are often referred to as “senior” after the tender age of seven! In very large breeds, such as Great Danes, it is even earlier.

Many dogs will however still be perfectly sprightly until much later than this, even into their teens. The important thing is to recognise what you can do as an owner to keep your dog fit, happy and healthy for as long as possible. In addition to this it is useful to be able to spot the signs of age-related problems, both behavioural and disease related.

What you can do to keep your dog healthy right through into old age

Just like in humans, many factors are going to influence your dog’s health throughout their life. A lot of these will be down to genetics, the breed, and the individual. You can do little to change this. There are however some important things that you can do to help your dog to feel good and from ageing prematurely.

  • Avoid obesity. Weight gain can happen at any age in a dog. It is often a sequel to neutering, as the neutered pet requires less food than before the op. It often happens gradually, and pet owners don’t notice or just don’t think it matters. The problem is that as time goes on, carrying excess weight puts additional stress on musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems. This can make any clinical condition worse. For example, if your pet develops arthritis when they are older, being overweight will make this a lot worse. Keeping a dog at an ideal body weight during its life, can increase lifespan by 18 months and delay the onset of age-related conditions by 2 years. If you are worried your dog is overweight, do get help from your veterinary practice who will be happy to advise you. For advice on measuring your dog’s weight through body condition scoring >
  • Look after your dogs’ teeth. Dental disease causes pain and difficulty eating. In addition, the presence of bacteria in the mouth can spread to other organs in the body causing disease and even death. Keeping dogs’ teeth clean by brushing is highly recommended if your dog will let you. If you cannot do this, don’t give up or use this as an excuse not to clean your dog’s teeth. Talk to your vet or veterinary nursing team who can advise if your dog needs to have a scale and polish under an anaesthetic. For further advice on dog dental care >
  • Give your dog the right level of exercise every day. Exercise is essential for maintaining both the musculoskeletal system and mental well-being. As your dog ages, they may not need the same length of walkies as they once did. However, being out and about, having a good sniff around, meeting and greeting other dogs and humans; is all part of a healthy lifestyle for dogs and should not be under-estimated. Several short 10-15-minute walks may be all your older dog needs, but supplement that with interactive “playtime” at home. This doesn’t need to be strenuous but can involve finding food from a treat ball or playing with some other motivational toy! Many people give their dogs joint supplements which are designed to help keep the joints mobile and are certainly worth trying if your dog is starting to be a little less mobile. Ask your vets advice and they will recommend one for your dog.
  • Maintain vaccinations and treat regularly for worms, fleas and ticks. There is a common myth that older pets do not need to be vaccinated regularly. This is not true. As your dog ages, its immune system becomes less able to fight infections, so it is very important to keep your senior dog protected against Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis and Parvovirus.

Parasites carry a range of diseases and cause serious debilitation, so regular preventative treatment is really important for your older dog. Vaccinations, flea and worm treatment and more are available through your Healthy Pet Club membership, which makes keeping your pet healthy that much simpler!

Symptoms you should not ignore

The Healthy Pet Club really does help you to look after your senior dog. Along with unlimited nail clips (useful if your dog is taking less exercise), you will get two 6 month health checks a year when you can discuss any worries you may have. However, there are times when you may need an extra visit to the vets with your older dog. Here is a short list of things that you should not ignore:

  • Any new lumps and bumps however small. For further information on lumps and bumps >
  • Lameness. Normal if your dog has arthritis, but any sudden worsening warrants a check-up.
  • The development of incontinence – loss of control when urinating or defecation.
  • Drinking and/ or urinating more than usual.
  • Sudden weight loss or gain – without trying!
  • Sudden onset of extreme tiredness or lethargy.
  • Obvious pain or discomfort.
  • The development or worsening of a cough. Any breathing difficulty.
  • Sudden deterioration in tolerating exercise.
  • Decrease or loss of appetite.

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