By Arden Moore
Senior Dogs and Aging
The graying of America is underway and that applies to both people and dogs. One out of every three dogs – about 18 million – is 7 years old older. For most breeds, that equates to senior citizenship status.
We get AARP cards at age 50. Perhaps our dogs should get AARF cards when they reach the equivalent milestone birthday. And November, fittingly, is recognized as National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. It was created by The ASPCA and petfinder.com.
Senior dogs are not invincible to the impact of aging, mentally and physically. But they are fortunate to garner advocates in people like Denise Fleck. She is president of the all-volunteer Grey Muzzle Organization (www.greymuzzle.org) that has awarded more than $705,000 in grants to 78 animal welfare animal groups in the United States and Canada this year – and more than $3.8 million since the group was created in 2008.
“Old dogs have something good to bark about,” says Denise. “Our mission is to help senior dogs thrive and to make sure no old dog ever dies alone and afraid. Their unconditional love makes me want to do more to help them live their best lives.”
Two years ago, she and her husband, Paul, adopted Kiko, an Akita rescue estimated to be about 10 years old at the time.
“My feeling with my senior dogs, and I’ve now had a full dozen, is most things in moderation, nothing in excess,” says Denise, author of the award-winning book called, Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover, that focuses on adopting and meeting the needs of senior pets.
In addition, more veterinary research is being focused on older dogs and age-related conditions as studies indicate that the percentage of dogs 11 years or older in American homes has steadily increased since 1987.
How to Help Your Older Dog
Here are some ways you can help your grey-muzzled dog enjoy his golden years:
- Book a senior wellness exam by age seven – or sooner, for large-breed dogs. Your veterinarian will perform a senior panel that includes blood work, urinalysis, biochemistry profile and thyroid hormone test. In addition, be prepared to field questions concerning your dog’s eating and elimination habits, level of activity, and any behavior changes or issues.
- Provide plenty of fresh water. As dogs age, they tend to drink less and run the risk of dehydration. Add a few more water bowls around your house. Wipe up spills so you’re your dog doesn’t slip and injure himself.
- Dish up easy-to-digest food and provide There is no one-type-fits-all food for older dogs, but be aware that your aging dog’s nutritional needs will change. Senior dogs need quality protein that is easy to digest on their aging stomachs. They may also need omega-3 fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics.
- Recognize that some senior dogs may suffer from memory loss or confusion, two symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. It goes by the acronym DISH: disorientation, interaction reduction, sleep difficulties and house soiling.
- Report early signs of your dog having trouble seeing or hearing or displaying lumps or bumps to your veterinarian so the condition may be treated earlier and may extend the life of your dog.
- Reinforce basic commands and add some new ones in your senior dog. Teach him, for example, to sit before you head out the door or shake paws before you set down his food bowl.
- Replace high-energy activities with low-energy enrichment ones. Go on shorter but more frequent walks. Stick to smooth surfaces that won’t jar his joints and treat him to new sights, sounds and smells. Roll the ball slowly for your dog to pursue rather than hurling it a great distance.
Finally, celebrate each and every day you get to spend with your senior dog! They need and deserve nutritious food, regular veterinary care and your friendship and support.
How Old Is Your Senior Dog?
Physical size plays a role in a dog’s true age. Smaller dogs tend to age slower than large ones. This veterinarian-approved age chart for dogs between ages 8 and 13 is based on weight to indicate what they would be in human years:
Learn Pet First Aid
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