Dog owners are often taken by surprise when they realize their dog is getting older. Perhaps an owner has noticed their pet taking an unusually long time to get up in the mornings, or maybe the dog becomes disoriented when outside. This realization can be emotionally troubling to the owner, as he sees his pet becoming more feeble as time goes by. Compassionate care of an aging dog is necessary to ensure the well being of both the dog and owner, and prepare them both for this new stage of life.
Dogs, like humans, are living longer than ever. Depending on the breed and environment, a dogs' middle age is around seven. Veterinarians suggest that when a dog reaches seven years of age, prevention and preparation become the key elements of care. A dog should be taken to the vet at this age for a full exam in order to check the general health of the dog. Your dog should always see the vet if a pet owner notices any stiffness, bad breath, disorientation, lumps that are growing, or has a change in eating or drinking. These symptoms could be signs of something more serious that needs medical attention. As dogs age, hearing and sight deteriorate, sleep patterns change, weight may change, and the immune system of a dog can decline. Many of these physical changes bring on emotional changes as well.
For example, a dog may not recognize familiar people because of hearing or sight decline, and instead of being friendly, a dog may react with fear or anger. With a little knowledge a pet owner can make the transition into the senior years for their pet happy and healthy. Many aging dogs suffer from arthritis or stiffness in the morning or after naps. A dog owner can make a few changes in their pets' environment to make this easier on the dog. Provide a warm, soft bed for the dog to sleep in, preferably on the floor so the dog does not have to jump up onto a bed or couch. Massage is an excellent treatment for pets with stiff joints. Massaging your dog will reduce pain and increase blood flow to the body. Massage also provides a level of comfort to a dog that may be disoriented or fearful. Massage can be done at any time, but if done before bed, the dog may have a more restful night of sleep. Massage after exercise can prevent stiffness from setting in. In addition to massage, an owner should remember to groom the dog as well.
Older pets have a more difficult time keeping themselves clean, especially after eating or taking a walk. Bathe and brush when needed; your pet will love the comforting attention! Changing the dogs walking schedule may help a dog with arthritis or other medical conditions. Shorter walks, but perhaps more often, can improve stiffness and keep the dog strong and healthy. An older dog wears out quicker, so be sure not to walk so far your pet can't make it back! Exercise can improve a dogs health and mental alertness, but many older dogs become fatigued easily while exercising. Shorter, but more frequent walks also may be needed for a pet with incontinence. Aging dogs may begin to urinate inside the home. If this begins, the dog should be seen by a vet to rule out any serious medical issues. Pet stores or pharmacies sell padding for incontinence. These should be placed anywhere the pet may have gone before, as well as in the pets' bed.
At this stage in a dogs life, punishment for going indoors should be stopped, your dog doesn't want to be bad, he cannot help it. Dogs with hearing and sight loss actually adjust fairly well to these disabilities. Dogs rely on their sense of smell more than sight to find their way around. A blind dog rarely will run into anything or get into danger because they use their smell to guide them. However, a dog owner should do a few things to ensure the dog can maneuver around safely. Do not move furniture around in the house if the dog already knows where everything is located. Follow the same walking route so the dog can move freely and actively. Always keep the food, water bowls and bed in the same place. For a dog with hearing loss there are many things an owner can do to assist their pet. Speak louder when talking to the dog, but be sure that with volume the owner still maintains a pleasant voice. Use hand signals when giving a command. For example, when it's time to go for a walk, point towards the door while your dog is watching and speak to the dog.
Your pet can use these hand signals to follow the owner more easily instead of listening to voice commands. Dogs can become lethargic or depressed due to aging and illness. Keeping a dog mentally stimulated is just as important as their physical well being. Set aside play time each day for your pet. If the dog is healthy enough, spend some time in the yard throwing a ball to him, or gather other toys and just play on the floor inside. If your dog gets along with other dogs, try a "play date" with other pets. Sometimes, a younger dog can provide motivation for an older pet to play or exercise more often. Companionship for your dog, whether full or part time, can help a pet shake the depression that dogs may have as they age.
If your dogs breath is getting bad, again, have the vet check for teeth that may need to be removed, or for any other major health problems. Changing the dogs diet may be needed. Softer dog food is easier on the teeth. Provide your dog with healthy snacks and plenty of fresh water. Owners can assist their dogs by occasionally brushing their teeth for them, although many dogs wont tolerate it. Providing smaller, more frequent meals will also help your dogs digestion system. Try one of the many senior dog foods; they are lower in calories and provide the proper nutrition for an older dog. Older dogs may gain too much weight, adding to their health problems and lethargy, so the senior dog food is a good choice.
As always, plenty of love and attention will make your pet happy. Dogs are social animals, they love us, and need to express that. Allow your dog to guide you through the senior years as well. Pay attention to any signals or symptoms your pet is sending you. Follow your dogs new pace and activity level and don't over do it. Giving your dog plenty of attention now can help your pet adjust to the aches and pains of aging and provide comfort to both the owner and dog.
Louise Gilbert is passionate about saving endangered species, pets, wildlife, nature and the environment. You can view her site at Baby Wildlife and Pets [http://www.baby-mammals.com/]
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