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What to expect

Your veterinarian will help you determine when your dog “officially” becomes a senior citizen, but a general rule of thumb is that a dog is considered a senior in the last third of its normal life expectancy.

As your dog gets older, you may notice many telltale signs of aging, most of which are not cause for concern. The hair on your dog's muzzle or face may start to gray, and he may not be able to see or hear quite as well as he once could. His eyes may become cloudy, with a hazy, bluish tinge; this can be a normal sign of aging and doesn't always indicate cataracts or vision loss, but have your dog's eyes checked by a veterinarian if you think he is having trouble seeing.

You may also need to take your dog out to go to the bathroom more often. As dogs age, changes in their organs or medications may make it harder for him to delay the urge to urinate.

Regular visits to the veterinarian

Regular checkups are now more important than ever and help identify any health issues before they become a problem or cause your dog discomfort. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends healthy senior dogs visit the veterinarian every six months for a complete exam and laboratory testing. Other veterinarians recommend that you schedule a complete exam and bloodwork at least once a year. Problems such as arthritis and hyperthyroidism are very common in older dogs, but they're also usually easily treatable; regular monitoring by a veterinarian will catch them early.

Some common health problems to watch for in elderly dogs:
• Weight changes
• Mobility changes
• Diabetes
• Thyroid imbalance
• Tumors
• Hip dysplasia (an abnormal development of the hips that can cause unstability in the hip joint and pain)
• Incontinence
• Increased or decreased water intake or urination

Arthritis in the legs, spine or neck is another common problem for elderly dogs. Signs of arthritis include reluctance to run or walk quickly, stiffness and hesitation before lying down or climbing stairs. These symptoms may become exaggerated with changes in the weather. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you with treatment options such as pain-relieving medication or therapy.

Elderly dogs also often experience kidney problems. Regular bloodwork will help your veterinarian detect any problems early on, when they are often very treatable with medicines.

Like some older humans, some dogs may experience cognitive dysfunction or deterioration. Older dogs may occasionally get confused about housebreaking rules or appear disoriented or anxious. Medications may help if the problems get severe.

Exercise and nutrition

Your senior dog may be slowing down a bit, but it's important to keep him exercising and mentally stimulated. Take him on regular walks or runs as his energy level allows. And keep the games of fetch going—even if they're shorter now, they'll help with weight management and keep his mind sharp.

Ask your veterinarian about special food formulated for senior dogs or nutritional supplements that may help alleviate problems with aging. Keep an eye on his weight! Don't give your dog too many treats or human food and ruin an otherwise sound senior diet.

Other tips for senior dogs owners

• Grooming and bathing is just as important as ever, and they will help you check for lumps, wounds that won't heal, or anything else that appears unusual.
• For arthritic dogs, or dogs with hip dysplasia, avoid making them jump into or out of cars or slipping and sliding on slick hard floor surfaces. Use ramps or steps to help them get on the bed or couch (if allowed) and in and out of the car.
• Raising your senior dog's food and water dishes off of the floor can help ease neck and back strain.
• Make sure your senior dog has a comfortable place to sleep. If you don't already have one, this would be a good time to buy a comfortable dog bed.
• Smaller dogs may have more trouble regulating their body heat during cold weather as they age, so keep them warm with a doggie sweater.
• For dogs with hearing problems, use hand signals to communicate and watch them in dangerous situations, such as near a busy road.

Remember, if you have any concerns or questions associated with your dog's aging, veterinarians are the best source of advice. With their help, you can make your dog's golden years the best of his life.

 


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