Did you know that dogs are considered to be 'mature' from the age of seven years old, or five for some giant breeds? Once your dog enters the later years of his life, he will have rather different care and nutrition requirements to younger dogs and you may need to review his maintenance, feeding and lifestyle to make sure that you're giving him the best care to facilitate a long and healthy old age.It is often quoted that 'you can't teach an old dogs new tricks,' but you can teach the owner of an old dog new skills to help them ensure that their dog receives the right care and maintenance for the duration of their hopefully long and healthy lives. Here are a few pointers to help you on your way.
As your dog ages, his nutritional requirements will change along with his activity levels. Dogs over the age of seven are at increased risk of developing hypothyroidism and heart and kidney problems, so you will need to be on the lookout for this and tailor their diet accordingly. Feed lower amounts of protein and calories with an increased quantity of fibre. Complete food mixes and diets aimed at aging dogs will accommodate for these changing needs. Your dog's appetite may decrease with time as his sense of smell and taste become weaker, and also if he becomes less active. You will need to make sure that his meals are palatable and easily digestible, as older dogs do not stand up to stomach and digestive problems as well as younger dogs, and take longer to recover from upsets.
You can help support your dog in growing old gracefully by giving them an age appropriate vitamin or mineral supplement to support their changing needs. Cod liver oil for vitamin D, yeast supplements for B vitamins, and calcium for healthy bones are all recommended.Talk you your vet about choosing a complete supplement to give to your dog.
A gradual slowing down as your dog ages is to be expected, and you may find that they become less keen to run about for long periods of time, and not willing to walk as far. You should accommodate for this when playing with and walking your dog, and not push an older dog into more activity than they are happy with. You may also find that your dog begins to suffer from joint stiffness, sometimes finding it more difficult to get up and lay down with their usual ease. Arthritis is a common condition found in aging dogs, most often occurring around the joints of the neck, spine and legs. While arthritis is incurable and tends to worsen over the course of months or years, there are supplements and medications that your vet can recommend in order to make your dog as comfortable as possible and minimise any pain. Slight loss of muscle around the hind legs, or muscle atrophy, is a common condition caused by aging and reduced activity levels. If you notice muscle atrophy around the head or stomach, however, this may be symptomatic of Cushing's disease or masticatory myositis, and you should consult your vet.
You may find that your dog's eyesight and hearing deteriorate as they get older, just as often happens with people. If your dog seems to startle when you approach him from out of his line of sight, or is slow to respond when you call him, he may be having problems with his hearing. You should get your dog checked out by the vet to rule out any other causes of hearing loss such as ear mites, infection or damage to the ear, although for generalised hearing loss due to age, there is nothing you can really do other than accommodate for the change in your dog's awareness.Your dog's eyes may take on a cloudy or lightened appearance with age, which is a naturally occurring process called lenticular sclerosis. This does not generally affect their vision. However your dog may also become prone to cataracts of the eye, which present as white, opaque masses covering all or part of the eye. Cataracts grow progressively and affect the vision, and will require veterinary treatment.
Contrary to popular belief, bad breath in dogs is not something you should expect or consider a normal side effect of aging. Bad breath, problems chewing, dropping food when eating or red inflamed gums all require attention from the vet, in order to keep your dog from feeling any pain or discomfort. Most of us are all too familiar with how painful a toothache can be- this is just the same for your dog.It is recommended that you get your dog into a teeth cleaning routine regularly when they are young, and there are palatable enzymatic toothpastes available for just this purpose. You should introduce your dog to having his teeth cleaned at an early age if at all possible, in order to avoid any problems later in life.You may find it necessary to have your dog's teeth thoroughly checked and possibly cleaned under anaesthetic by the vet, and dead or decaying teeth may need to be removed in order to prevent pain and infection.
You may find it harder to insure your pet after they reach a certain age, or that the cost of your premiums will increase. Check your insurance policy wording carefully, to ensure that your dog is covered appropriately for his increasing age.The level of coverage and the time period over which your insurer will fund any treatments varies considerably with different policies, so you should also check that your dog is covered for any treatments they might require for the entire duration of their life. Some policies will only fund treatment up to a set amount of money or for a specific period of time.Your vet can usually advise you on the best insurers and policies available for your pet throughout their life.