Caring for Elderly Dogs: What to Expect as Your Dog Ages
You've survived the rambunctious puppy stage, rebellious adolescence, and even-keeled adulthood. What can you expect as your pup enters her final years? Knowing your best buddy is aging can feel like entering the unknown. It's normal to have new questions about how to care for her.
Here's what you need to know about elderly dogs to ensure yours has a happy life well into old age. Even though she's growing old, you can still make the most of your time together.
When Is a Dog Considered Elderly?
There's no one answer for when your pup reaches old age. The term "senior dog" is not based on any science or medical fact about dogs. In general, larger dogs generally age faster than smaller ones. At age 10, a dog over 50 pounds may have aged about 66 to 78 human years. At age 15, a dog under 50 pounds may have aged around 76 to 83 human years. The important thing to remember is that aging will require more of your TLC.
What Are the Physical Signs of Aging?
Your canine companion's appearance and mobility can change as she ages. These changes may slowly set in until one day, you notice how different she is. Here are some common signs of aging:
- Coat colors may fade, with the fur around her face and paws going gray or white.
- Changes in her eye color and clarity are common. The eyes of elderly dogs eyes can develop a bluish or white hue that may indicate issues with vision. Your veterinarian can discern if this is age-related or not.
- Joint, bone, or muscle may be affected, influencing her movement and posture. She might be hesitant to get up, walk and run slowly, and sit, lay, or stretch awkwardly.
- Weight gain or loss is common. She might get chubby as she becomes more sedentary. Digestive issues might plague her appetite and cause her to eat less.
- Loss of muscle mass is typical as dogs become less active.
- Bladder leaks are common in older dogs because their urethral muscles are not as strong as they once were.
Take your girl to the veterinarian if you're worried that physical decline is preventing her from enjoying life. Treatments such as medication prescribed by your veterinarian, supplements, or a new diet may help her be more comfortable.
What Are the Mental Signs of Aging?
Along with your dog's changing physicality, unusual behaviors may signal cognitive decline. She may forget things she's known how to do for years — or start to do things that don't make sense. She may become less interested in playing with other dogs or with people. You might discover her barking for no reason. Or your usually smart pup may become confused about how things work, like trying to walk through the hinged side of a door. She may pace aimlessly or get stuck behind furniture, unable to figure out how to escape.
Even if she's potty-trained, your pup may start having accidents inside. As noted, this may be related to weaker urethral muscles. On the other hand, she may have forgotten how to tell you she needs to go. It's helpful to take her out often even if she doesn't signal for it.
Signs of mental aging can be distressing for both of you. Ask your veterinarian to rule out medical issues. Keep in mind, that some of this will be the "new normal" for your aging pup. A good approach is to redirect her gently, using praise and treats to remind and retrain her as much as possible. But realize that correcting your dog may not work. She may not understand what she did wrong or be unable to keep from doing it again. Be patient as you work with her. Focus on keeping her comfortable and secure to reduce stress for you both.
What Are the Behavioral Signs of Aging?
As your elderly dog undergoes the changes that come with aging, she's doing her best to handle it. Like many humans, many dogs mellow as they grow old. Your pup may grow calmer and more lovey-dovey. Or, if she's losing her sense of sight, hearing, or smell, she may startle more easily and react fearfully.
Learning to understand your canine companion's behavioral cues will help you both navigate this new season of her life. Help her by avoiding unpleasant surprises. Give your pup touch or verbal cues before you or others approach or handle her. Take time to orient her when her surroundings change. Keep up praise and reassurances when she behaves well, and work with your vet to help ease your dog's physical, mental, and behavioral signs of aging.
Keeping Your Elderly Pup in Good Shape
Fitness issues are natural aspects of aging. Ensure your dog has access to fresh water, a healthy diet, and appropriate exercise. Remember that while your girl's spirit may be willing, her strength and stamina could be weaker. Offer her appropriate amounts of less strenuous exercise. Your vet can advise you on how to keep your aging pup in good shape.
Your vet can also help you navigate your aging doggo's health changes. Consult them when you notice changes in your girl's habits and behavior. These may include an increase or decrease in appetite, different potty habits, or signs of physical or cognitive decline.
Here's the great news:
With preparation and understanding, there's a lot you can do to support your aging pup through these life changes.
You can make the most of your time together and enjoy her golden years.