It's no secret, dogs don't live as long as people do. By the time dogs are 7 years old, they are considered to be "senior pets," and from the time they turn 11 years old, they are considered "geriatric."
Just like people, as dogs get older they need a little more help and care. Here are some things you can do to help keep your senior and geriatric dogs happy, healthy, and comfortable.
- Annual physical examinations. Older dogs should have physical examinations at least once a year, and ideally every six months once they hit 11 years old. As dogs get older, they are more likely to develop diseases like kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, and even cancer. Regular physical examinations with your veterinarian can help to diagnose these (or other) conditions early. Early diagnosis means we can work with you to develop a treatment plan that will work for both you and your dog to help your her feel better and have a better quality of life in her golden years.
- Annual blood and urine tests. Some diseases, like kidney or thyroid disease, are very difficult to diagnose with only a history and physical examination. In the very early stages of these diseases, you might not notice a big change in your dog's behavior, but the changes are already happening. Performing blood and urine tests once a year as your dog reaches senior status can help your veterinarian diagnose some of the serious diseases early. Early diagnosis means early treatment, and a better quality of life for your dog.
- Annual vaccinations. Just like people, as dogs get older their immune systems don't work quite as well. It is very important to keep your senior dogs current on their annual vaccines to help reduce the chances that they get sick from easily preventable diseases.
- Preventative medications. Continuing your regular schedule of heartworm, flea, and tick prevention is just as important for older dogs as it is for younger pups.
- Dental cleanings. Over time, plaque and tartar build up on your dog's teeth. This can give your dog awful breath, and can cause infections in her gums. Regular dental cleanings by your veterinarian can help to keep your dog's mouth and gums healthy, and her breath doggy-fresh.
- Proper nutrition. As dogs age, their nutrition needs change. Once your dog is seven years old, she should be on a senior diet. These diets have fewer calories and a lower protein content. Older dogs tend to be less active, so a lower-calorie diet is important to help them maintain a healthy weight. Older dogs can also have some trouble processing protein, so a lower-protein food can help their body systems keep functioning well. If your dog has a medical condition, your veterinarian may recommend a special prescription diet to help manage her health.
- Help with stairs. Arthritis is the most common problem we see in senior dogs. You might notice that your dog has trouble going up or down the stairs, or has trouble jumping up on the couch or bed where he used to spend a lot of time. if possible, move everything he needs to one level of your home to limit the amount of times he needs to go up and down stairs. Ramps can be a big help for senior dogs instead of stairs.
- Soft beds. Hard floors can be rough on old bones! Give your senior dogs a soft bed or some fluffy towels or blankets to lay on so they don't need to lay on the bare floor. What's comfortable as a young dog isn't so cozy for an older dog.
- Pain management. The pain from arthritis can often be managed very well with medication. Sometimes, your senior dog can go back to acting like a young dog again if his arthritis pain is under control!
- More frequent trips outside. As our dogs get older, they might have a few accidents in the house. Bring this up with your veterinarian, as there may be a treatable medical problem to blame. Sometimes, senior dogs can have trouble waiting quite as long between bathroom trips. Make sure to take your dogs outside to do their business as often as you can.
In addition to your regular annual exams, you should call your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your dog's behavior, appetite, drinking, bathroom habits, or weight. These can all be signals that your dog isn't feeling well and should be examined by a veterinarian.
Our senior pets are so important! They are such a big part of our lives, and of course we want to do everything we can to keep them happy and healthy. Even things that we think of as "just getting older" can be helped with a diet change, a little more exercise, or a medication when needed. With good care and regular communication, senior and geriatric pets can still live healthy, active lives.
When is the last time your senior pet had a check up? Call us if you have questions, or come in during our regular business hours. The Princeton Veterinary Hospital always accepts new patients, and does not require appointments.