Not all dogs are considered senior dogs at the same age. So, how do you know when your dog has reached “senior” status? Genetics, nutrition, and environment all play a factor in how quickly your dog ages, but generally speaking, giant breed dogs (like Great Danes) are considered senior by 5-6 years old, small breeds (like Chihuahuas) don’t usually qualify as senior until closer to 10-11 years, and large breeds are somewhere in the middle (a Golden Retriever usually qualifies as senior around 8-10 years of age).
Clearly, a key to knowing how to best care for your aging dog is to know your dog. Here are 5 more important points to consider to help you give him the best care in his senior years:
Regular vet checkups
The American Animal Hospital Association recommends senior dogs see their vet for a checkup at least every six months. During these visits, ask your vet to give your dog a body condition evaluation. A lot can happen in between visits, and catching health issues early, including weight issues, is important. You can also ask your vet to show you how to perform body evaluations on your dog at home.
While proper dental care is important throughout your dog’s life, it is especially important for senior dogs. This is about more than just bad breath; tartar buildup can cause gingivitis, which can lead to bacteria getting into the bloodstream. Keep your dog’s teeth and gums clean with regular at-home brushing and professional cleanings at the vet.
Movement is critical for your senior dog’s physical and mental health. Although your aging dog may be slowing down, encouraging him to move will help him maintain a healthy weight, as well as healthy joints and muscles. Tailor your dog’s exercise to your his specific needs, and consult your vet for recommendations if you’re not sure what is appropriate. Also, be sure to keep fun toys available to keep your senior dog occupied.
Keep in mind, senior dogs are more sensitive to temperature changes, so closely monitor how he handles time outdoors, especially in more extreme temperatures. If your senior dog is slowing down considerably or suffering from joint pain or arthritis, he will appreciate soft bedding for sleeping and resting. Ramps may even be appropriate for particularly difficult or unavoidable stairs. Carpets or rugs can also help him keep his footing and get around easier on hardwood or tile floors.
Feeding your aging dog a nutritious diet is essential to helping her thrive. Give her the appropriate food for her age, and then take the time to watch her eat. Be sure she isn’t struggling to chew her food. This relates back to dental health as well, as she may be experiencing tooth pain. Also, fortifying your senior dog’s diet with essential fatty acids has been shown to help with mobility issues due to arthritis or other joint issues.
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