Dogs older than seven years of age are considered senior pets. Senior dogs are in the stage of life where aging begins to affect every organ system. Some organs wear out faster or are more susceptible to cumulative damage than others, so certain observations are critical.
How can I support my dog as he ages?
- Keep vaccinations current. Typically, senior pets will receive most vaccines every three years. Some vaccines with shorter duration of immunity, such as kennel cough, leptospirosis, or Lyme disease vaccines, may be given more frequently (every six to twelve months).
- Have blood and urine tests evaluated at least once a year. Early detection of chronic diseases such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, and diabetes is the key to successful treatment and preservation of quality of life. Your veterinarian may also recommend chest and abdominal radiographs (X-rays) to screen for disease and assess heart health.
- Brush your pet frequently to prevent mats. Mats can contribute to skin infections and may hide skin tumors.
- Clip toenails as needed to prevent overgrowth. Long toenails may cause the dog to stand and walk abnormally and result in pain or accelerate and exacerbate arthritic changes.
- Keep plenty of fresh water available and monitor consumption. Increased water consumption or urination is associated with diabetes and kidney and liver disease. Ensure there are water bowls on every floor of your home.
- Keep other pets from preventing your senior pet’s access to food and water. Feed your older dog high-quality, easily digestible food recommended by your veterinarian.
- Keep your senior pet indoors most of the time, especially in inclement weather.
- Weigh your dog (on the same scale) at least every two months. Weight changes can be an early indicator of disease.
- Older dogs should have easy access to a warm and comfortable bed to sleep safely without fear of disturbance.
"Early detection of chronic diseases such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, and diabetes is the key to successful treatment and preservation of quality of life."
How often should I take my senior dog to the veterinarian?
You should take your senior dog to the veterinarian at least once a year for an annual check-up, although every six months is recommended if your dog is considered geriatric. It is essential to have your veterinarian examine your dog if you notice any of the following:
- Sustained increased water consumption (normal water intake should be less than 100 ml/kg/day or approximately 1 1/2 cups (12 oz)/day for a 10-pound dog).
- Sustained significant increase in urination
- Weight loss
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite
- Repeated vomiting
- Diarrhea that lasts over three days
- Difficulty passing stool or urine
- Lameness that lasts more than three days, complete non-weight bearing lameness that lasts more than one day, or lameness in more than one leg
- Noticeable decrease in vision
- Masses, ulcerations (open sores), or scabs on the skin that persist longer than one week
- Foul breath or drooling that lasts longer than two days
- Increased size of the abdomen
- Decreased activity or sleeping more than usual
- Hair loss, especially if accompanied by scratching or if the loss is in specific areas
- Persistent coughing or gagging
- Excessive panting
- Sudden collapse or bouts of weakness
- Inability to chew dry food
While it is true that old age is not a disease, older dogs do merit special attention. This is important so that if your dog develops a disease, it can be recognized and treated as early as possible, thereby maintaining his quality of life for as long as possible.