Here are some tips for the senior dogs in your life:
1. Hearing Loss
Your old friend may not respond to you like he used to. Hearing loss is very common as dogs age, and he may not realize you’re calling him. Be sure to keep him on leash or within your sight if you take him to the park, on an easy hike, or even on your own property. Old dogs can easily become disoriented in unfamiliar areas, and with a loss of hearing or diminished sight, can wander too far without meaning to and become lost.
Dogs do learn and adapt well using hand signals to come, stay, sit, and so on. It is a good idea to “cross train” your dog early in life to recognize basic hand signals.
2. Lower Energy
Making the time for even a gentle walk around the block every day will keep your senior dog’s muscles from atrophy, and the sights and especially the smells will keep an old dog’s mind stimulated and engaged in the world around him.
Mild loss of muscle mass (muscle atrophy), especially the hind legs, may be seen with old age. Some muscle atrophy, notably on the head and the belly muscles, can signify diseases such as Cushing’s Disease. Be sure to have your vet check this out if any muscle loss is noted.
Don’t be disappointed if your older dog is not interested in the same activities that he enjoyed as a youngster – you’ll enjoy exploring new activities appropriate for his age. For example, off-leash dogs parks are very popular, but your older dog may not enjoy the rough-and-tumble play of the younger guys.
You may notice that your dog slows down with aging. This isn’t always the case, but look for subtle changes in how your dog gets up, lays down, and uses stairs. Is there any hesitation or stiffness? Does a change in the weather (rainy, cold) make it worse?
Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, particularly large breeds. Arthritis can occur in any joint, most commonly the legs, neck and back (spine). There are medications available to help ease the discomfort of arthritis – check with your vet. Another potential cause of slowing down is hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder common in dogs. This condition is easily diagnosed and treated with proper veterinary care.
4. Getting Into A Vehicle
If your senior dog is having trouble getting into and out of vehicles, you may want to consider purchasing a pet ramp to ease the strain on your senior dog’s joints. A variety of ramps, including folding ramps suitable for cars and trucks, are available.
You can also find pet ramps and steps designed for use inside your house.
As dogs age, their eyes often show a bluish transparent “haze” in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of aging, and the medical term for this is lenticular sclerosis. Vision does not appear to be affected. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque. Vision can be affected by cataracts – please consult your vet.