Health Care for Older Dogs
by Valerie Goettsch
Dogs are wonderful, loyal companions and an integral part of our families. Time flies, though, and in a few short years we start seeing changes in our faithful friends. There may be white hair around their muzzle, they may be less active and energetic, and they may be a little slow getting up. As a dog ages, his metabolism also slows, just like ours, and his health care and nutritional needs may change. Here is a look at how we can make life a little easier for our aging pets.
Exercise is important even for older dogs. They need to keep their muscle tone and weight in control as they age, just like we do. Mature dogs may not have the stamina they once had and do better with frequent, brief walks or short swims. If your dog still likes being active, don't forget to play his favorite games, like fetch or tug-o-war. Further, older dogs tend to urinate more often so they may need more frequent walks.
Get an Elevated Feeder
Elevated water and food dishes can be helpful. The height makes it more comfortable for dogs (not just older dogs, by the way) to eat and drink because it prevents strain on the neck and the feeding position is easier on their digestion.
A Comfortable Bed to Cushion Joints
Dogs often develop arthritis to some degree or another as they age. We can help them stay comfortable by providing them with a dog bed with firm orthopedic foam to support and cushion their bones and joints and help insulate them from the floor. There are many styles available, from traditional style dog beds to nests with orthopedic foam bases, to bolster beds and mats.
Give Him a Boost
A ramp to get up or down safely from high areas such as a car, or a step to give him a boost to his favorite chair or your bed (if you allow him on it) may make it easier on your dog's aging joints. They're especially handy for larger dogs that are too big or heavy to lift easily. They come in a variety of styles and prices.
Review Your Dog's Nutritional Needs
As you dog gets older, his nutritional needs may change. Generally, senior dogs need to eat a balanced diet that is lower in calories, protein, and fat than the food they ate as youngsters. Mature dogs may experience constipation, so a diet high in fiber is recommended. If your dog is still active and healthy, you may be able to continue feeding him his regular food, but a lesser amount. You can add oat bran or wheat for extra fiber. There are also commercial senior dog foods available.
Also consider nutritional supplements. I have been giving my dog a supplement of glucosamine and chondroitin since she was a puppy to help keep her joints healthy. Hopefully this will help reduce the possibility/effects of arthritis as she gets older. Also, if you feel your dog is not getting his nutritional needs met through diet, there are number of good canine nutritional supplements available.
Pay Attention to Changes in Behavior
You may see signs in your dog like loss of appetite, weakness, irritability, changes in his gait, incontinence, or slowness in getting up. Typically, these are signs that your pet is getting older and will need extra care and attention. Talk to your vet about what you can do to help your pet as he ages, and have your vet perform a yearly geriatric exam so he can try to take care of any new health issues before they progress.
Love and Attention
Most of all, give your mature dog extra love and care. Our dogs give us years of affection, loyalty, and attention; don’t they deserve the very best care we can give them?
Valerie Goettsch is webmaster of My Favorite Dog featuring articles and information on dog health care, puppy training, and more.
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