How to Take Care of a Senior Dog: Tips & Advice

The golden years can be a great time for your dog, especially if they receive ongoing care and support to help them stay active and comfortable. Here, our Madison vets offer some advice on how to tell the age of your senior pet and what you can do to help keep your dog healthy and happy.

Aging: Signs of a Geriatric Dog

Dogs can become susceptible to a number of potential conditions as they age which means that we should be watching for any unusual signs that they show. Your furry friend may start to slow down, play less, and become more impatient with younger dogs. You may also notice gray hair around their muzzle.

You may recognize that many of the signs of aging in dogs are similar to those experienced by humans. As a pet parent, it's crucial to recognize when your dog has entered their senior years and be vigilant for changes in their habits or behaviors that may require attention to keep them happy and comfortable in their golden years.

One thing to keep in mind is that aging in dogs isn't one size fits all. They will all age at different rates depending on their breed and size. While many people consider a dog to be a senior at around 7 years old, the age range can actually be between 5 and 12.

Signs Your Dog is a Senior or Aging

It can be tough to determine if your dog is nearing or entering their senior years. For instance, it can be challenging to estimate the lifespan of a mixed-breed dog, and if you've adopted a rescue, their exact age may be unknown. However, there are reliable indicators of aging to observe as your dog enters their senior years. some of the most commonly seen signs of aging in dogs include:

  • Suffer from stiffness in their limbs, particularly in the mornings (this sign of arthritis should be flagged with your vet)
  • Grow more impatient, especially with younger, more energetic dogs
  • Go gray around the muzzle
  • Slow down in general

You also may see signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. In senior dogs, signs of cognitive dysfunction include interrupted sleep, loss of smell, unusual night-time or evening activity, and anxiety.

Signs That You Should Call Your Vet For Geriatric Dog Care

While the signs listed above aren't concerning there are some signs that you may note that should be addressed by a vet as soon as possible. These include:

  • Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
  • Poor or worsening hearing/vision
  • Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
  • Mental dullness
  • Dental disease and tooth loss
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Arthritis and joint issues
  • Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function

If you notice these signs in your older pooch, book a wellness check with your vet. By taking your senior dog for routine wellness exams with a geriatric pet vet. you're giving your veterinarian the chance to screen for any emerging geriatric conditions and begin treatment as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will also assess your senior dog's nutrition and mobility and make recommendations for diet or exercise adjustments that may benefit your dog.

As dogs get older, it’s a good idea to see your veterinarian on a regular basis for checkups. Besides an annual or biannual exam, it is suggested that pet parents get yearly blood work done for their senior dogs.

It's recommended that you do blood work to check your senior dog's white and red blood cells and their kidney and liver function to make sure that they're healthy. This is an easy way of being able to detect any kind of disease.

At-Home Geriatric Dog Care

Provide Them With Proper Nutrition

It's likely that your dog's nutritional needs will change as they age. Many senior dogs tend to slow down and be less physically active, which makes them more prone to weight gain. Excess weight can cause other health issues for your dog, including joint pain and cardiovascular conditions. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your dog's diet needs to be adjusted, which could mean watching your dog's daily calorie intake or switching to a food that is specifically formulated for weight loss.

There is also a range of prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs that are targeted to the various health conditions that senior dogs experience. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.

Besides the physical benefits of a good diet, proper nutrition may be able to help your dog maintain their cognitive function as they age. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from dementia or conditions similar to Alzheimer's, but it is possible that feeding your dog a food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.

Offer Them Plenty of Chances For Exercise

As with humans, keeping the body and mind active is important to better health as your dog ages. Maintaining a regular schedule of physical activity can help your canine companion keep their weight within a healthy range and exercise their joints.

It is important to pay attention to your dog's comfort and ability, however – if you notice your dog is having difficulty with the long walks they once loved, try taking your dog for more frequent walks that are shorter in duration. Slowing down or seeming reluctant to go on walks or play fetch can also be a sign of joint inflammation due to arthritis or other painful conditions, so be sure to contact your primary vet to ensure your pet gets any treatment necessary. 

Along with regular physical exercise, it is important that senior dogs also receive mental stimulation. It really is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks – or introduce a puzzle game or toy that they'll enjoy solving for kibble or treats hidden inside. There are many options for your pooch in pet supply stores and online. 

Ensure That They Stay Comfortable

Aside from ensuring they are receiving adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can consider doing to help your aging four-legged friend live out their golden years comfortably:

  • Orthopedic dog bed, heated dog bed (or heating pad/mat set to low heat under a blanket in their sleeping area) for dogs with joint pain or stiffness
  • More carpeting around a home with tile, laminate or wood floors can reduce slipping or tripping hazards for your older dog (some dogs also do well with dog socks that have non-slip soles)
    • Pet gates (or baby gates) can be placed at the top or bottom or stairs to prevent tripping or falling hazards
  • Improve accessibility with dog ramps to help your pet go up and down the stairs, on furniture, or into cars; elevating their food and water bowls can also help with neck and back pain 
  • If your dog has vision issues, seeing at night will be harder for them; some nightlights around the home will help them navigate

At Gluckstadt Animal Hospital, our vets are knowledgeable in assessing the health of senior dogs and treating any health conditions, disorders, or diseases that may arise. We also offer guidance on aging, exercise, nutrition, and physical health concerns.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have a senior dog that is in need of routine care? Contact our vets in Madison today to book an appointment for your pooch.