YOUR SENIOR DOG CARE GUIDE
Your Senior Dog Care Guide
This guide was put together by myself and some caring, dedicated Vets …
… because we want to see more senior dogs living the longest, healthiest, happiest, pain free lives possible.
The following suggestions will give you a framework for developing a simple Care Program for your senior dog.
To help you …
1. Get the best possible advice and support from your Veterinarian.
2. Give you some simple guidelines that I’ve used to personally help thousands of senior dog have the best quality life possible as a Rehabilitation Practitioner and Registered Acupuncturist for dogs.
So let’s get started … what exactly is a Senior Dog?
Did you know that many breeds of dogs are considered a senior dog by the time they reach seven years of age?
Once your dog enters their senior years their needs start to change and it’s important to consider adapting the way you care for them to meet these changes.
A good place to start is making an appointment with your veterinarian for a senior dog health check.
This may include talking about these important issues for your Senior Dog such as …
- Blood and Urine tests
Blood and urine tests are important because they can help identify any health problems your pet may have as early as possible. It’s normally recommended to have blood and urine tests be performed on your senior dog every 6-12 months.
Common health problems include disorders affecting the immune system, such as hormonal imbalances, or disorders with specific organs such as the liver, kidneys, or heart.
This early detection can often mean better treatment options and a better outcome for your senior dog.
- Nutrition and Body Weight
Nutrition is increasingly important as your dog ages and their metabolism changes.
Many dogs also experience some muscle wastage, especially those with arthritis in their hips or knees, so a diet high in good quality highly digestible protein will help them maintain their muscle mass for as long as possible.
A balanced amount of the right type of fat is also important for senior dogs, as essential fatty acids help maintain the health of multiple body systems (including joints, skin, and heart health).
However, some senior dogs have a reduced tolerance for the digestion of fat, so it is important to only include the right type of fats.
Many senior dogs also have concurrent health issues that may require prescription diets, so it is best to discuss your dog’s changing nutritional needs with your Vet as a good starting point.
This is also when your vet can check your dog’s weight, which can be a major risk factor for joint conditions like arthritis if your dog is overweight.
A recent study showed that for approximately every 0.5kg your dog is overweight, it adds an extra 2kg of sheer force to your dog’s joints …
… which for a senior dog is a significant injury and arthritis risk factor.
- Your Senior Dog and Arthritis
It’s estimated that over 80% of dogs will suffer from the pain associated with Arthritis during their lifetime.
But worryingly, according to research from a UK Pet Insurance Expert (animalfriends.co.uk), that figure is increasing.
They stated that between 2012 and 2015 the cases of Arthritis in dogs had risen by 312%!
Your Vet can check your dog’s joints and mobility to see whether Arthritis is starting to impact on your senior dog’s quality and longevity of life …
… then it’s time to do something about it, which we get to in a moment.
- Dental Disease
Dental disease can have a significant effect on your senior dog’s health and can be detected by your Vet in your senior dog’s check-up.
The build up of plaque and bacteria in your dog’s mouth affects more than the smell of their breath. Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) is a painful condition that weakens the integrity of the tooth roots, and allows bacteria to infect the teeth themselves, causing the roots to break down under the gum line. This causes more pain and can even lead to deep abscesses within the jawbone.
The act of constant swallowing of bacteria from the mouth also affects the rest of the body, as the bacteria makes its way into the bloodstream and can even cause an infection in the heart.
Your vet can discuss with you the state of your dog’s dental health, and possible intervention methods that may be appropriate, such as a dental procedure under anaesthesia.
- Vaccinations and Parasite Prevention
A regular check-up with your local Veterinarian can also ensure you are getting the best possible advice around vaccinations and parasite prevention.
Vaccination in older dogs is important to protect them against common diseases, especially as their immune system may not be functioning as well as it once used to.
Your dog may also have developed other conditions, such as a heart condition, or dynamic airway disease (a ‘collapsing trachea’), that are common in older dogs and can make the effects of those diseases more severe.
However, some senior dogs are also suffering from immunosuppression, making vaccination sometimes inadvisable. Titre testing to check for current immunity levels may be appropriate for these dogs to minimise the frequency of vaccination.
It is best that the vaccination protocol for each senior dog is customised by your Vet after a thorough analysis of your dog’s unique situation.
Continuing preventative care against fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, and heartworm is an important aspect of any dog’s care.
Some products used to kill intestinal worms, and some monthly heartworm products, are metabolised by the liver, so if your senior dog has developed liver disease you may need to change the products you are using.
However, it is important to keep in mind that many internal and external parasites have a greater impact on a Senior Dog’s health than that of a younger dog, especially those with other health concerns.
For this reason, it is important to not discontinue the use of any preventative product without discussing it first with your Vet.
- Mental Health and Doggy Dementia
Here are some signs to look out for in your Senior Dog.
If you notice any of these signs in your Senior Dog, we recommend talking to one of our veterinarians about them as quickly as you can.
1.Disorientation and getting lost. This is one of the most common signs you may notice. It can happen even in the environments your dog is most familiar with. They may go outside and then not be able to find their way back in again or wander behind the couch and not know how to get out.
2.Changes in behaviour and fewer social interactions. They might start to withdraw from or seem less interested in some of their favourite activities. They may start to show different behaviours to family members or other dogs, such as being irritable, whining, barking and growling.
3.Changes in their sleep patterns. There can be a reversal in their normal sleep schedules, where they may get up at night and pace around the house, which can be very stressful for both you and your dog.
4.Repetitive movements and restlessness. You may notice them walking in circles, head bobbing, or leg shaking, even possibly staring at walls.
Ok, now it’s your turn …
What can you do to help your Senior Dog right now?
In the Home Environment.
If you have floor surfaces that could be slippery or unstable for your senior dog, (such as wooden floorboards, tiles or vinyl floor surfaces) they can be a major injury risk for them as they become less stable and confident in their mobility.
If you allow your dog to jump up or get on and off furniture, it can be stressful on an older dog’s joints and lead to pain and joint problems.
Stairs and steps can be a real hazard in the home environment for senior dogs, which can lead to anxiety and insecurity when suing them …
… and may result in them potentially slipping and causing a significant injury.
So it’s important to be aware of the home environment for your senior dog and crucially have some strategies to help keep them as safe as possible and reduce the risk of injury and pain for them.
Develop a ‘hands-on’ home care program for your dog.
Having some simple, effective strategies you can use safely at home can complement all of valuable guidance you receive from your local Veterinarian and be a great way to help your senior dog have the best quality of life possible.
Here are some suggested guidelines you can use for your senior dog.
A simple Heat Pack or Wheat Pack can be very useful to relieve pain and soreness for your dog. Please make sure you test the temperature of the pack before you place it on your dog. We recommend checking first to see if this is appropriate for your dog with your Vet or rehabilitation professional.
Learning some Gentle Massage techniques can be a great way to relive tight and sore muscles for your dog and help them move and feel better.
Massage is one of the most effective things you can learn to help your senior dog relive muscle and joint pain and help your dog have the best quality of life possible in their senior years.
Gentle Joint Mobility Exercises help keep your dog’s joints healthy and mobile. It’s strongly recommended that you seek the guidance of your rehabilitation professional to show you how to safely perform these exercises.
Regularly performing some Gentle Strength & Conditioning Exercises for your senior dog is an effective way to help maintain strength and muscle tone and keep them stronger for longer.
This is crucial for a senior dog, so they can keep enjoying their day to day activities and maintain the best quality of life possible.
These home care suggestions will give you a great starting point to help your senior dog have the best quality of life possible and help ease many of the typical aches and pains common for senior dogs.
Special thanks to Dr Caroline Wood from Collaroy Plateau Veterinary Hospital for her assistance in developing this guide and all the other Vets who contributed to this guide.
Please note these are general suggestions and may not be suitable for all senior dogs.
Please consult with your Vet or Rehabilitation Professional if you would like further guidance and support for your senior dog.
I hope you found this Senior Dog Care Guide useful …