Because your senior dog is a member of your family, it is up to you to watch for changes in his behavior, appearance and personality and make adjustments to help your furry friend through the last few years of his life.
Physical changes may be most obvious. As Fido slows down, exercises less, isn’t as interested in chasing the tennis ball, watch closely for signs that he might be in pain. Many older pets suffer from arthritis, which often affects their mobility and creates painful joints and muscles. Pain also causes irritability and sometimes, aggression.
There are products designed to ease canine joint or hip pain. Look for orthopedic beds. Some are made with memory-foam to provide comfort. Heated beds with thermostats ease the pain of arthritis.
Joint supplements added to his diet might decrease your dog’s pain and improve mobility but before starting him on any supplements or vitamins, consult your veterinarian.
Good oral hygiene is extremely important as your dog ages. Daily brushing of his teeth, and the occasional dental chew for a treat will help bad breath issues. Professional cleaning by your vet will wards off serious health issues.
You will likely notice changes in your dog’s appearance as he ages. The muzzle and fur around the eyes turn white or gray and his fur may thin and lose its shininess. You may notice lumps or tumors forming along his sides. These are usually benign, but only your veterinarian will know for sure. A yearly check-up by the vet will keep track of changes and pick up anything unusual that should be investigated.
Fido’s skin may change, becoming thinner and more prone to scratches. Sometimes, older dogs develop skin allergies that were non-existent in his younger years.
Hearing and vision loss are common in older dogs, just as they are in older humans. Teach your dog to respond to hand signals when he is young, and both of you will be better able to deal with his hearing loss when it occurs. Dogs develop cataracts, glaucoma and a host of other eye problems. Vision loss requires effort on your part to protect him from harm.
When you live with a person, you may not be the first to notice physical or mental changes because you are “too” close to the person. The same is true of our pets. Watch for behavior changes. He may suddenly show signs of separation anxiety or become afraid of thunder. Any type of stress might bring on uncontrolled barking. Mental confusion is not uncommon. Your veterinarian may have suggestions to calm your pet.
Incontinence is common in older dogs. Occasional accidents may occur when and where you least expect them. Talk to the vet. There are medications that may help, if it is just a sign of aging.
Remember that we humans will one day grow old, and we all hope our loved ones will treat us with dignity and love and kindness. Our dogs deserve no less.