This article is dedicated to my aging dog, Shiloh.  She has been with us for 14 years now and I have watched as things that were once easy for her to do are now much harder for her.  For example, running has become a stiff walk, jumping into a favorite chair is not possible anymore, and lying down takes her a much longer time.  I have also noticed with my senior dog, that lying down and sitting down is accompanied by a groan and when she walks she limps and she moves very slowly from place to place.

The average age for a dog to be considered a senior dog is seven.  Small dog breeds age less quickly than large dog breeds.  Large breeds may be a senior when they are six years depending on their weight.  Small breeds may be a senior at eight years.  Exams on older dogs should be performed every six months.  Veterinarians can pick up on changes that the dog’s owner may not notice.  Early detection of senior pet health problems may help prolong your dog’s life.  Veterinarians can also recommend special diets for your senior dog.  Certain breeds have needs as they get older that your veterinarian can address with you.  Senior pet screenings can help diagnose kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, thyroid disease to name a few.

Even though most of us take our aging dog to the vet to help him feel better, there are a few strategies that have been found to be helpful for older dogs with arthritis.  For starters, provide your senior dog with bedding that is well-padded and away from cold or damp drafts.  This helps with their arthritis but also helps to prevent the development of pressure-point calluses.  Because having arthritis is painful, it is recommended to have carpeted or padded steps so your dog can be as stable as possible while going up and down the steps.  If your dog gets on and off the couch or bed it would probably be a good idea if they had a ramp to make it easier for them.  If there are slippery surfaces in your house you might consider nonskid flooring.

Senior Dog Health

Exercise is important for dogs of all ages.  It is important for dogs with arthritis to maintain mobility through exercise.  The amount of exercise depends on the extent of your dog’s arthritis.  A dog with mild, early arthritis can and should get more

exercise than an older dog with severe arthritis.  Swimming, which is a non-weight bearing exercise is great for an arthritic dog.  My dog, Shiloh loves to swim and I am convinced that it has helped her stay more mobile the older she has gotten.  There are Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioners that help with appropriate exercise programs for dogs.  To find one in your area you can visit canineequinerehab.com/practitioners.asp.

There are many joint supplements available to help promote healthy cartilage and joint health.  These supplements contain different substances such as glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, green-lipped mussel and other substances that many veterinarians and pet owners have found to be helpful for their aging dog.  The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to be of help in dogs with arthritis. The omega-3 fatty acids are included in some dog foods but for it to be effective, a higher dosage given via supplements may be needed.  Of course, before you give your senior dog any kind of supplements you should check with your veterinarian.

Muscle massages can be given to arthritic dogs to stimulate the blood flow to atrophying muscles.  There are certified canine massage therapists available in most areas of the country.  Most canine massage therapists will demonstrate massage techniques to the pet owner.  Just like a human, sore joints in your canine friend can be soothed by putting a warm compress over them.  If this treatment is chosen, be very careful because injury can be sustained due to too much heat.

It is important to feed your dog a high-quality diet throughout their life.  It is crucial for your dog to have optimal lean body weight.  If your dog is overweight, he should be started on a healthy weight-reduction plan immediately.  Check with your veterinarian for the best plan for your canine friend.

I am far from an expert on arthritis in aging dogs, but I have an arthritic dog of my own and have read numerous articles and tried different things to soothe her pain.  I have given her supplements which seemed to help a little.  My veterinarian has given her cortisone shots which seems to help relieve the pain the most.  It is very important to try to make her comfortable as she ages and I will keep trying different treatments in my quest to help make her comfortable.

Senior Dog Swimming

My senior dog, Shiloh, swimming.

There are several key aging indicators for dogs.  Some of them are similar to what humans go through as they get older.  A few aging indicators are listed below.

Of course, when your dog starts getting gray hair, especially around the muzzle it is an aging indicator.

In older dogs, their metabolism starts to slow down just like in humans.  They burn fewer calories as they get older.  Dogs usually tend to become less active as they age which causes a decrease in their metabolic rate.  Similar to humans, the less active they are the more their muscle cells go unused.  When muscles aren’t used they atrophy and die off.  This increases their fat-to-muscle ratio making them more frail.

As dogs grow older, they are less tolerant of very hot or very cold weather.  When the weather is cold,  it is important to keep your dog warm.  Put him in a warm bed with a blanket over him.  In hot weather, make sure your senior dog has plenty of water and stays cool.  If he is outside, make sure he has shade to help protect him from the heat.

As dogs grow older there is a decrease in heart and lung function.  Older dogs don’t respond as efficiently to physiologic stress, meaning that they will have an increase in heart rate after they have had some sort of exercise.  As dogs get older some of the elastic fibers in the lungs are replaced by scar tissue which makes them breathe harder or it causes them to not breathe as efficiently as possible.

A few aging indicators have been named above but there are others.  They are hormonal changes, changes in the reproductive system, decrease in kidney and bladder function, decrease in liver size, gastrointestinal slowdown, bone loss and neurologic decline.  These indicators do not cause imminent death or disability.  They simply require a little more attention on the part of the person caring for their senior dog.