It may seem like your beloved dog is still young pup at heart, but once your pet reaches the age of 7 or 8, he has already reached "senior" status. That's when some of his basic needs like diet, exercise and veterinary care will begin to change. That means it's time to start scheduling more frequent checkups and making a few important adjustments in your best friend's lifestyle.
"It is usually recommended that senior dogs be seen every six months," says veterinary technician Amy Summers. "This is ideal but it doesn't always happen. Dogs and cats age faster than people, so things can change at a quicker rate. Blood work is a good place to start -- to check organ function."
Preventive measures are important, Summers says. "Once again, they age faster than people, so starting supplements (such as fish oil and glucosamine) is a great idea. Some dogs are predisposed to arthritis issues due to breed, size and previous injuries. It is always a good idea to keep them moving as best that they can tolerate." If arthritis is serious and involves pain, your vet may recommend a prescription medication.
Dogs have a tendency to hide pain, so pet owners need to be on the lookout for signs of distress. "Excessive panting, limping, shaking, not wanting to get up, getting up slowly and even occasional aggression can be signs of pain," Summers says.
There is a good chance that your aging dog will have hip issues or arthritis, agrees pet expert Chris Mitchell. Your pet should have a bed that is comfortable and padded, such as an orthopedic bed, but nothing too far off the ground. Remember that it might take your old dog a while to accept a new bed, no matter how nice it seems. Try feeding him a treat when it's time to test it out. You might want to put a familiar blanket or bedding on top of or next to the new bed -- or even sit down on the new bed yourself to show him how comfortable it is!
When arthritis and other symptoms of aging affect your pet, the American Veterinary Medical Association notes that some other changes in the home environment might help your pet cope with the stiffness and pain. Stair steps or ramps to get to higher places are recommended so pets don't have to jump in and out of a vehicle or up on a bed, and some dogs will benefit from a special harness that helps them to navigate steps. Place mats with gripped bottoms on slick floors. Also, raised feeding platforms are sometimes useful, especially for taller dogs.
If your dog suffers from vision loss, keep floor clutter to a minimum so he can navigate more easily from place to place. In some cases, older pets might need to adjust to lifestyle changes, such as changing sleeping areas and spending more time indoors -- especially in extreme weather conditions. Keep your pet warm and dry in the colder months and in the summer, protect him from becoming overheated.
Your dog's weight is important, too. When you go in for those regular checkups, make sure the vet does a condition evaluation that will let you know if your dog is at the proper weight. Ask about food, too, as your vet might recommend a lighter food and maybe a type that is easier to chew.
Finally, don't hesitate to ask your vet what he or she recommends. "The senior years of your pet's life may be the best years, but as I stated earlier, prevention is the best medicine," Summers concludes. "Keep them up to date on vaccines and exams. Pets are part of the family and should be treated as such."