How to care for your senior dog

How to care for your senior dog

Have you noticed a splatter of grey around your pup’s wet nose? Or a reluctance to leap into your bed at night? 

If so, your furry friend may be entering their senior years.

Elderly dogs require additional care and attention. Like us, dogs’ interests, diet, abilities, and susceptibility to illnesses change as they age. You will need to adjust your lifestyle as your pup ages.

Determining whether your pup is a senior pup

Veterinary practice guidelines suggest that dogs become seniors when they are in the last quarter of their estimated lifespan. This varies from breed to breed but could be broken down roughly by their sizes: 

    • Small breeds that weigh under 9kg, like Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Shih Tzus, become seniors at 8 to 11 years old.
    • Medium-sized breeds that weigh between 9 to 22kg, like Shepherds, Shiba Inus, and most Singapore Specials, become seniors at 8 to 10 years old 
    • Large breeds that weigh between 22 to 45kg, like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Labradoodles become seniors between 8 and 9 years old.
    • Giant breeds that weigh more than 45kg, like Great Danes, Newfoundland, and St Bernards become seniors between 6 to 7 years old. 

Signs of old age
Identifying whether your dog has entered their senior years can go beyond merely considering their age. Additional signs offer valuable insights into the ageing process. Recognising these signs allows you to adapt to their evolving needs, providing optimal care as they navigate this new phase of life.
Signs to look out for (note: this list is non-exhaustive. Please consult a veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns)

  • Cloudy eyes

  • Lumps & bumps

  • Stinky breath (more so than usual) 

  • More indoor toileting accidents

Cloudy eyes
Cloudy eyes are a common sign of ageing dogs. While this is often a process which happens gradually as they age, cloudy eyes can be caused by cataracts, which are painful for your dog and make it hard for them to see.

Look out for these other symptoms as they could be signs of infection or vision loss and will need to be treated by a veterinarian: 

  • Squinting

  • Swelling

  • Redness

  • Rubbing

  • Bumping into things

  • Extra anxiety

Lumps and bumps
Bumps below your dog’s skin are quite common, especially as they age. You might notice new lumps, sometimes squishy, others more firm while you are giving them belly rubs. As pups can develop lumps and bumps anywhere on their body, it is crucial to conduct thorough and regular checks by patting all areas. 

While lumps and bumps are typically benign, they can become painful if they get too large. They may also signal dangerous malignant tumours. 

Inform your veterinarian when new bumps appear. They can test for malignancy and recommend a strategy for removal if the bump is getting too big. 

Stinkier breath
Your dog’s licks and kisses are a great indicator of their health, no matter their age. Check your dog’s mouth regularly to look out for signs of dental issues which may signal underlying diseases such as kidney/ liver disease or diabetes.

Regular brushing can help fight dental infections and gum diseases. However, if your dog’s bad breath persists, check in with your veterinarian as it could be a sign of other diseases.

More indoor accidents
Do you notice your pup having more accidents indoors? Incontinence can come with old age for several reasons, including:
  • Less bladder control 

  • UTIs

  • Kidney disease

  • Tummy problems such as inflammatory bowel disease

  • Problems with the prostate

  • A hernia that pushes against their bladder

  • Problems with the spine

  • Arthritis and joint pain

  • Confusion and cognitive dysfunction

Those wet spots and smelly piles in the dog bed and kitchen floor may be an important health indicator. Check in with your veterinarian as soon as you notice an increase in indoor accidents. 

You can also better support your furry companion by: 

  • Covering their bed with water-resistant material

  • Walking them more frequently, to give them more opportunities to relieve themselves when they are not indoors

Additional care methods for your senior dog

Learning to care for a senior dog is part of pet parenting. An old dog isn’t an unhealthy dog, but older dogs are more susceptible to age-related health issues and certain diseases. 

As your dog ages, they will need: 

  • More trips to the veterinarian to look out for any potential health problem

  • New diet tailored for senior pups

  • An upgraded exercise and fitness plan

  • Mental stimulation 

  • Considerate environment 

More trips to the veterinarian to look out for any potential health problem
As your dog ages, visits to the veterinarian will need to be more regular. Consider twice yearly comprehensive health checks. 

A “geriatric” blood screening performed regularly will detect issues like anemia and iron deficiencies, infections, thyroid dysfunctions, and other illnesses that your older dog is more likely to develop. Urine analysis tests for UTIs, diabetes, and other abnormalities.

When you regularly screen your senior dog’s blood and urine, you can catch and treat problems before your dog becomes symptomatic.

New diet tailored for senior dogs
Older dogs are susceptible to certain physical ailments, from simple weight gain to more complex issues like arthritis, diabetes, and heart diseases. Fortunately, a diet formulated for your ageing dog can help them prevent this.

Look for dog food that are: 

High in protein – Protein is essential to all dogs’ diets, and studies suggest that as dogs get older, they need even more of it than they did as puppies. Where do you find lots of protein? Meaty dog food that is minimally processed, so it keeps its nutrients, is an ideal source.

Lower in fat, carbs, and calories to prevent weight gain.

Higher in fiber – That slow metabolism might make your dog have a harder time digesting, too. Fiber, often found in vegetables, clears a pathway through your dog’s gut and feeds the good bacteria that live there.

High in antioxidants and fatty acids – Omega-3 and Omega-6, in particular, can decrease inflammation and keep your dog’s immune system on guard to battle invader illnesses.

Your dog might also get picky as they age. If your dog refuses to eat for an extended period of time, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can recommend specific solutions to your dog’s decreased appetite, based on their size, breed, age, health history, and current health.

Upgraded Fitness Plan
While your senior dog may be less mobile than they were in the early years of their life, exercise is just as important, if not more important. Regular exercise can prevent weight gain and sustain strong, healthy muscles to protect their ageing joints.

Look out for these signs when walking your dog: 

Panting in the heat – As older dogs are more sensitive to temperature, you will need to pay attention to fluctuations in the weather. Avoid walking them during the hottest parts of the day and ensure that your dog is sufficiently hydrated. 

Stiffness afterward – A long walk or hike might be too much for your senior dog. If you notice that the usual walk leaves them stiff and sore, let them take it easy. 

Depending on the breed of your dog, swimming can be an incredible low-impact supplement to their daily walk. Swimming can strengthen the whole body. 

If your dog is new to swimming, check with your veterinarian before you implement a new exercise routine. Use a life vest and monitor them at all times to keep them safe in the water.

Mental Stimulation
While your dog’s cognitive abilities may change with age, you can keep their mind active by keeping it stimulated. Just like your dog requires frequent exercise and play to keep their body agile, they want to challenge their mind to prevent cognitive decline.

Consider using food puzzles instead of food bowls during meal times to make them “work” for their food.

If you are up for a challenge, consider teaching your pup some of these new tricks: 

Clean up – Train your senior dog to put their toys away at the end of playtime. Choose a designated box or spot for them to drop the toys. Be sure to treat them with their favourite treats and praise them when they successfully clean up. 

Hide and Seek – Train your dog to find a hidden toy in the house. If they know the name of the toy, ask them where it is. Lead them to it if they struggle, then hide it somewhere else and repeat the game. Switch the toy out for different toys or treats to keep the game fun and interesting. 

New experiences and challenges can stimulate and entertain your dog. Bring them along on adventures to the beach, park, or the newly opened pet-friendly cafe. Just be sure to keep them comfortable and hydrated.

Considerate Environment 
Accommodating an older dog also involves changing their living environment. These simple changes around your home can ease your pup’s transition into their golden years:

Elevate their food and water bowls – Place these bowls on a slightly raised platform. This way, they will avoid neck strain from bending to eat and drink.

Provide a ramp to their favourite spots – As your dog ages, you may notice that they are more reluctant to leap onto the bed or go up the stairs. If your dog can’t reach their favourite spots, provide them with an easy-to-use ramp.

Our pets are family, deserving of the utmost care, especially as they age. Embracing the changes that come with time may seem daunting, but with thoughtful interventions and adjustments, your ageing dog can enjoy their golden years in comfort. For any concerns regarding the well-being of your senior dog, consult with your veterinarian. 

Additional resources: 

The Grey Muzzle Organization – 

Adapted from Papaya Vet (United States of America)