6 expert tips for your senior dog’s well-being

Welcome to my guide on caring for older dogs! 🐶 As our furry friends enter their senior years, they require special attention and care (and lots of love) to ensure they remain happy and healthy.

In today’s world, dogs are more than just pets; they are cherished family members. We care for them their whole lives, from playful puppies to dignified seniors.

It’s essential to understand that as dogs age, their health and nutritional needs evolve distinctly. To support them in their later years, being aware of and adapting to these changes is key. So don’t worry, there are a few things you can do to help your darling live a long happy life 🥰

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

senior golden retriewer lying on a pillow

Symptoms of an aging dog

When is a dog considered old? Well, it depends. The aging process is different for different breeds. The bigger the dog, the shorter the average lifespan. And the smaller the dog, the longer the average lifespan. Most dogs enter their senior ages around 7-8 years.

Older dogs experience very similar changes as humans do – their joints and back start to hurt, they might lose the sense of smell or taste or they might get confused and lost. Basically, what happens to us humans as we age also happens to dogs.

Physical changes often include graying fur, particularly around the muzzle, and a noticeable decrease in mobility due to joint issues like arthritis.

Their senses start to dull, with diminished eyesight and hearing, and a reduced sense of smell and taste.

Behaviorally, senior dogs may sleep more, show less interest in active play, and react slower to stimuli.

Sadly, many dogs experience cognitive changes, resembling dementia in humans. They may appear disoriented, exhibit anxiety or restlessness, and have altered sleep patterns. They might bark at nothing, and get confused and lost even at home.

Additionally, aging dogs might have increased urinary frequency or incontinence and may face challenges in maintaining weight, either gaining or losing it.

1. Be observant

The older your animal is, the more observant you need to be. To a vet, any changes in behavior are important.

Observing your senior dog closely is crucial for identifying potential health issues. Watch for any changes in their behavior, eating, and drinking habits, as these can be early signs of dental issues, diabetes, or kidney disease.

Pay attention to your pup’s weight, looking out for any significant loss or gain, which could indicate health problems.

Changes in bathroom habits, such as incontinence, are important to note, as they can signal urinary tract issues or other concerns.

Even subtle shifts in behavior, like increased lethargy, irritability, or confusion, are significant indicators. These could be signs of pain, discomfort, or cognitive decline.

Your dog might need to pee more or he might have problems passing stool. Incontinence is also a common problem.

It’s important to monitor your dog’s weight, to ensure he doesn’t become too thin or overweight.

In general, if you observe any kind of change, it’s better to contact your vet. Early detection of any health issues can greatly improve the management and prognosis of these conditions, enhancing your dog’s quality of life as they age.

If you cannot take your pup to a vet (for whatever reason), you can still discuss your pet’s individual health issues with a licensed vet ☺️ 👇

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2. Schedule regular veterinary visits

I cannot stress enough how important regular checkups are. In many cases, early detection of the disease can prolong your pet’s life by several years 🥳 

Geriatric checkups are preventive, which means that they should be done even if the animal doesn’t display any symptoms and seems healthy. Sadly, many age-related issues aren’t immediately obvious.

I would recommend visiting a vet at least once a year. Every 6 months is even better if it’s possible.

These consistent checkups play a crucial role in the early detection of diseases and in providing preventive care. Early diagnosis through these visits can lead to more effective and less invasive treatments, potentially prolonging your dog’s life and enhancing its quality.

Remember, prevention is often easier and more effective than treatment, making these regular vet visits an indispensable part of senior dog care.

You can read more about the importance of geriatric checkups here.

3. Choose the right diet

Senior animals have different nutritional needs. They need high-quality proteins, easy-to-digest nutrients, balanced minerals, and appropriate levels of amino acids, omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. A proper senior diet requires careful attention and adjustment.

As dogs age, their metabolism slows down, necessitating diets lower in calories to prevent weight gain, which can exacerbate health problems. However, these diets must remain nutrient-rich to maintain overall health. This means ensuring a balanced intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins tailored to their aging bodies.

For dogs facing specific health issues, like compromised kidney function or arthritis, dietary adjustments become even more crucial.

If your dog needs a special nutritional plan, please follow your vet’s recommendation.

Before you add any supplements to your pup’s diet, please also consult it with a veterinarian.

Senior dogs often experience a declining sense of smell and taste, which can turn them into fussy eaters.
There are a number of super-premium diets specifically designed for senior dogs (you can try Royal Canin or Hill’s or talk to your vet about his recommendations).

I wouldn’t recommend cooking for your senior dog unless you really know what you’re doing. Of course, you can give him cooked chicken or a piece of fish from time to time if he likes it, but a whole balanced diet should be done by a veterinary nutritionist.

Obesity in older dogs

Obesity is a huge risk factor for a number of serious health problems. It can also worsen common age-related conditions such as cardiac problems or progressive joint disease. If your dog is obese or overweight, please talk to your vet about safe weight loss plan.

4. Keep your senior dog physically active as long as possible

Senior dogs often suffer from joint or back pain. This can cause them to want to move less. However, they need to continue to be active.

Maintaining a moderate and consistent exercise routine is crucial for your dog, despite their naturally decreasing energy levels.

Regular physical activity not only helps in managing their physical health, particularly in terms of muscle strength and joint flexibility, but it also plays a significant role in their mental well-being.

However, it’s important to tailor the intensity and duration of these exercise sessions to suit their current capabilities and comfort levels. Gentle walks, short play sessions, and light indoor activities can keep them active without causing strain.

Always monitor their response to exercise and adjust accordingly, and consult with a vet to develop an exercise plan that aligns with any existing health conditions. This careful balance ensures that your senior dog remains active and healthy without overexertion.

5. Provide your dog with mental stimulation

Just like older people benefit from a bit of mental stimulation, so do animals.

Senior dogs, much like humans, can experience cognitive decline. Dementia, or canine cognitive dysfunction, can manifest as disorientation, changes in how they interact with people and other pets, disturbances in their sleep patterns, and incidents of house soiling. These symptoms can be distressing both for the dog and their owners.

To help mitigate these effects, it’s crucial to engage your dog in mentally stimulating activities and games. These can include puzzle toys, gentle training exercises, or scent games that keep his mind active.

Regular mental stimulation has been shown to slow down the progression of cognitive decline, helping maintain their mental acuity longer. By integrating these activities into your daily routine, you can significantly contribute to preserving your senior dog’s mental health.

6. Make your pet comfortable

Last but not least ☺️

Making your senior dog comfortable is a vital aspect of their care as they age. This involves creating a living environment that caters to their changing physical needs.

Start with a cozy, orthopedic bed placed in a draft-free area, providing support for their aging joints.

As I said before, a lot of older dogs have joint problems or back pain. They have a problem walking on smooth slippery floors and might find getting up and lying down increasingly difficult. A rug or a carpet can help them move more safely.

For dogs with dental issues, switching to softer, wet foods can alleviate discomfort during eating.

In colder weather, a warm dog coat can help maintain their body temperature, as senior dogs are more susceptible to the cold.

Regular grooming and nail trims will keep them comfortable and prevent overgrown nails from affecting their gait.

Finally, ensure that their living space is accessible, possibly with ramps or steps to help them reach higher places without straining. These adaptations not only enhance their physical comfort but also promote a sense of security and well-being in their senior years.

Lastly, senior dogs often require emotional support. They appreciate consistent routines and gentle, loving care 🥰

In general, just try to make your pet as comfortable as possible ☺️

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