Caring for aging pets can be confusing, complicated, and often frustrating.
But at the end of the day, your pet is part of your household, through thick and thin. You want to be there for them just like they were always there for you.
Here are three things you need to know about caring for an aging dog.
Schedule Semi-Annual Vet Visits
First, you should plan to take your senior pet to the vet more often than when they were young.
Senior dogs, like senior humans, have a greater risk of certain health issues, including:
- Joint pain
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
- Dental disease
- Cognitive decline
- Heart problems
- Gastrointestinal issues and incontinence
- Kidney problems
Because of this, they need to be checked by a vet semi-annually rather than annually. While you're there, ask for a body condition evaluation at each visit.
This is a basic evaluation for your vet to check whether your dog is at the right weight and if not, what you can do to correct it. They can also tell you how to do an evaluation at home between checkups.
And yes--this is going to cost more, but as their owner, you wouldn't dream of leaving your pet without the care they need. Accept early that an older pet comes with higher veterinary costs.
Feed Them Right
Senior dogs tend to be less active, between joint paint, arthritis, and simple old age. Because of this, their metabolisms tend to slow down, much like humans as we age.
This is why the diet of a senior dog is so important.
As dogs slow down, they need fewer calories, and dog food with less fat. Some people use senior dog food, while other dog owners swear by a diet of chicken, rice, and vegetables.
The important thing to remember is that your dog needs a balanced diet of protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Ask your vet for brand recommendations based on your dog's dietary needs.
Handling Vision, Hearing, and Cognitive Losses
Just as humans lose vision or sight as they age, dogs can lose vision or sight as they age, too. And just like humans get Alzheimer's disease, dogs can get dementia, too.
Whether your dog is affected and how badly depends on the dog. The important thing is to spot issues early and know how to make things easier for your senior citizen.
If your dog is losing his eyesight, try to keep things in the same place--especially his possessions. It will distress your dog if he can't find something because you moved it.
That said, you should try to keep items off the floor as much as possible. Running into things he can't see will cause your old dog great anxiety.
If your dog is losing his hearing, try not to startle him. Humans jump when startled, but a dog's natural instinct is to snap when startled. Only approach your dog from where he can see you and make sure he knows you're there before you reach out to pet him.
Express Your Love for Aging Pets
Aging pets are not easy, nor is it easy to see someone struggle with an aging pet. But they're your best friend, and compassion is one of the best ways to help.
Sadly, there often comes a time when our pets are ready to move on. Letting go of a pet that's been a constant in your life for years is a heartbreaking experience, one that requires even more compassion and kindness. If you know anyone who has had a pet pass away, show compassion by sending them a sympathy card.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to encourage treatment or diagnosis of any animal medical condition. For medical advice, contact your veterinarian.