Most people love puppies! They are so adorable during their awkward, tumbling-around stage, when you can even forgive their “accidents” that occur during “potty training,” just because they are so cute. Their eagerness to please, their puppy kisses, and their tails wagging so hard, they can even knock themselves over with the motion – all are part of the cuteness so often associated with puppies.
As we all know, puppies seem to grow up way too fast – not unlike human children – but if we have raised them and treated them right as puppies, they grow into loyal, loving adult canine companions. Dogs have a way of adding meaning and enjoyment to our lives, whether they are part of our lives for a few years, or for more than a decade, when they enter their senior years. Even as we care for them throughout their lives, we must also take special care of them as senior dogs.
Senior Dog Care
Just as puppies have specific needs, so do senior dogs. By the time they reach the age range of 5-11 years old, depending on their breed, they are about the equivalent to the ages of elderly humans, with some of the same ailments.
Seniority in dogs is based on their breed. Large breeds, such as Great Danes, age faster and may be considered seniors by the ages of 5 to 6; mid-sized breeds, such as Retrievers, by the ages of 8 to 10; and smaller breeds, such as Chihuahuas, not until the ages of 10 to 11.
Senior Symptoms and Health Problems
There are many symptoms and health problems our senior dogs develop that mimic human aging problems.
Senior dogs tend to:
- tire more easily
- be less energetic and playful than they used to be
- develop joint problems, such as arthritis
- have difficulty going up and down stairs, or jumping in/out of cars
- either lose or gain weight, depending on specific health issues
- develop digestive and intestinal issues
- develop respiratory problems
- develop any number of diseases, including degenerative, dental, kidney, liver, and heart diseases, as well as various cancers
When you notice your senior dog displaying any of the symptoms or behaviors listed in the first half of the list, consult with your vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Caring for our senior dogs requires the same dedication and love we provide for them throughout their younger years, just in different ways relevant to their ages and conditions. Always keep in touch with your vet for the most accurate advice and plan of care for your senior dog.
Here are several tips on modifying the way you care for your senior dog:
- Continue taking your senior dog to your vet for regular visits and body condition evaluations (checking weight and composition).
- Provide your senior dog with high quality senior dog food appropriate for his or her age, breed, and weight.
- Supplement your senior dog’s diet to address specific health conditions; for instance, add fatty acids such as DHA and glucosamine for joint issues.
- Provide special vet-approved diet food if your senior dog has heart or kidney disease.
- Brush your senior dog’s teeth to help combat dental or gum disease.
- Provide your senior dog with exercise appropriate for his or her size and health conditions.
- Surround your senior dog with his or her favorite toys to keep occupied and/or distracted from health problems.
- Provide your senior dog with his or her favorite blanket, bedding, and other objects so your dog will be as comfortable as possible.
- Provide your senior dog with special accommodations, if necessary; for instance, if your dog has arthritis, provide softer bedding and ramps outside to navigate stairs.
Above all, keep your beloved senior dog comfortable, safe, and nurtured during his or her elderly years. Just as we typically go above and beyond for our elderly human family members and friends to help them during their senior years, we should do likewise for our senior canine companions.
The Warning Signs
Aside from the obvious health and medical concerns addressed or treated by your vet, your senior dog might begin exhibiting behavior indicating that he or she is approaching the final days of life.
Some of the warning signs include:
- Decreased appetite
- Lack of interest in food or water, or excessive drinking of water
- Lack of interest or inability to play with favorite toys, or engage in usual activities
- Excessive irritability
- Increased restlessness or moments of confusion
- Difficulty standing up, moving around, or getting comfortable when trying to sleep
- Whimpering, crying, or groaning when moving
- Inability to hold the usual position while trying to urinate or defecate
- Loss of bladder/bowel control
- Increased amount of time sleeping
- Labored breathing
If your senior dog continues to display these warning signs for more than a few days, you will know it’s time to consult with your vet and face the inevitable end-of-life decisions.
The Final Days
We never like to face them, but even after we have done all we can for our senior canine companions, the final days of their lives arrive either naturally…or require us to make the difficult decision to choose euthanasia in order to end their suffering when their quality of life has deteriorated.
If that decision is necessary, check with your vet to see if you can spend your senior dog’s last moments in the comfort and familiarity of your home, rather than in the sterile environment of the veterinary clinic or animal hospital.
Some vets will offer to make a home visit so you can say goodbye and hold your beloved companion as he or she falls asleep in your arms for the final time. It is a much gentler and kinder way to pay final respects to our beloved furry family members who have given us so many happy, devoted years of their lives.
Whether you then choose to bury your canine companion on your own property or in a pet cemetery, or to cremate the remains and keep them in a special urn in your home, you can always create a special memorial to your beloved friend in honor of his or her devotion to you over the years as a furry member of your family.
After all, even when your senior dog has passed on, you will have your fond memories of all the years he or she was with you. It’s also very likely that you will feel your companion’s presence with you always, in special ways unique to your canine friend.
Remember, while your canine companion may be absent in body, he or she will never be absent from your heart.
Memorial to Kita, Beloved Canine Companion of 12 Years