Just as we humans face new challenges as we age, our canine friends have different needs as they grow older, and the changes are often much less gradual for them. Being attentive and proactive in caring for your older dog can lead to happier, healthier senior years. Here are 7 simple tips to help you care for your aging dog.
1) Find a good vet and visit more often. Establishing a relationship with an excellent veterinarian is important to your pet’s health at any age, but it is especially so for an older dog. Even if there are no apparent health problems, it’s a good idea to visit your vet twice a year with your older dog as a preventative measure. Make sure your vet is someone you can trust and someone with whom you and your dog are comfortable. Ideally, a regular visit to the vet’s office should be a rewarding and happy experience for your dog. This will make it less stressful should you need to visit in the event of health issues or concerns.
2) Ease up on vaccinations. If your dog is 7 years of age or older, many veterinarians recommend more time between vaccinations, or not vaccinating at all, depending on the legal requirements in your locale. Vaccinations may be linked to a compromised immune system, particularly in older animals or those who already have a serious illness. In fact, in some parts of the country a vet can even exempt your dog from rabies vaccine if she feels it would pose a risk to your pet’s health. For healthy older dogs, routine vaccinations can often be placed on a three-year (rather than annual) cycle. Obviously, your vet will be expert on state requirements and also on the best course of action for your dog’s breed, age and health conditions.
3) Know your dog’s breed and watch for symptoms of common ailments. It’s not unusual for dogs to live to 15 years of age nowadays. This can mean several years of “old age” especially for smaller breeds. It’s important for you to be aware of common conditions that can cause problems for dogs in general, and for your dog’s breed in particular. There are many excellent books and a wealth of free resources online that can help you know preventative measures and warning signs. You can also consult your vet about common ailments and issues. Catching a problem in the early stages, or doing your best to prevent it altogether, can make all the difference in your dog’s ability to enjoy the senior years. Of course, this is good advice for a pet of any age. The more you know, the better you are able to promote a happy, healthy life for your dog.
4) Dietary needs change as we age. Like we humans, older dogs generally need fewer calories and more fiber in their diets. Special formulas and supplements are available for older dogs or dogs with particular health conditions. Smaller meals more often are generally encouraged, rather than one large meal per day. Ensuring the availability of lots of water is always important. Again, know your pet’s dietary needs, be attentive to changes in weight or bowel habits, and consult with your veterinarian to find the right nutrition regimen for your dog.
5) Take care of those choppers! Good dental health, including regular cleaning and daily brushing, is as important to dogs as it is to humans. It becomes even more important as we age.
6) Control pests. Control for fleas, ticks, worms, etc., is important at any age, but an older dog may be even more susceptible to the health risks and discomforts they may pose. It’s especially important to check your dog regularly for signs of infestation, and to control pests on your pet or in their environment. If you are concerned about the adverse effects of some pest control products there are many greener alternatives now available. If this is important to you, you’ll want to find a vet who shares your concerns or is at least up to speed on the more natural products for pest control. In any case, protecting your pet isn’t just a matter of comfort. It can be a serious matter for your dog’s health and survival, and for the health of you and your family as well.
7) Make plenty of time for play and exercise. As your dog ages, you may find that you have to take the initiative for walks and play more often. You’ll also have to pay special attention for signs of fatigue, and to make sure that adequate water and rest are available after exercise. Remember that although your dog may not prompt it as much as during the puppy years, the need for play, socialization and exercise is as critical to your dog’s health and happiness as ever it was. Set aside time for regular walks and interaction with your older dog. You’ll find that some of the most rewarding moments (and the best memories) will come from time spent with your dog in these precious golden years.
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