My parents' dog, Keto, turning eight this past January inspired me to find out what is important to know when caring for a senior pet. Although my dog, Luna, is only three years old, I had a long list of questions about senior pets. I was recently able to find time to research the answers.
1) When is a pet considered to be a senior?
Recent studies show that the commonly referred to 7:1 dog to human age ratio is not quite correct. The correlation depends on the size and age of the dog and the older they are the ratio increases. For that reason the term “senior” is also dependent on a dog’s breed, size, genetic background, and care received. Typically the term “senior” is used to describe the last 25% of a dog’s life expectancy. This means a giant breed like a Great Dane with an life expectancy of 8-10 years become senior dogs around 6-8 years. Medium-sized dogs such as Labrador Retrievers have an average life expectancy of 10-13 years and become senior dogs around 7-10 years. Toy breeds can live over 16 years and not become senior dogs until 9-13 years. PetPlace.com has a great break down of senior years for each breed.
2) Can old dogs learn new tricks?
I have heard stories from many of my readers of senior dogs learning new tricks and have had first hand experience with Keto learning to crawl. In addition to normal tricks like sit, stay, and down, senior dogs can still compete in agility with lower jump heights. Tracking and swimming are two other activities a senior dog may enjoy. Swimming helps take pressure off joints, so it is great for dogs with arthritis and tracking is easy enough for a dog to start at any age.
3) How do you know if a senior dog needs hip and joint supplements? Will glucosamine help?
Supplements such as vitamins, fatty acids, digestive enzymes, glucosamine can be used to counteract degenerative changes that occur during the aging process. Senior dogs can experience a higher quality of life and energy levels while taking supplements. However, some dogs have allergies and cannot take certain supplements. Before starting your dog on any supplements it is important to take into account their individual health and watch them carefully when starting something new. Consulting your veterinarian is also a good idea.
4) Could a raised food and water bowl help with a dog’s joints?
This was the question that really started it all. For as long as my parents have had Keto, he has eaten from bowls on the ground. However, in his old age he has started to move slower and I wondered if his joints may be bothering him. What I found when I did a bit of research was controversial on the topic of bloat. I’ll present both sides, so you can make the best decision for you and your dog.
There are numerous noted benefits of raised pet feeders. These include:
- Bone and joint strain reduction especially in the neck
- Better posture
- Improved digestion
- Easier digestion for pets with swallowing disorders
- Improved comfort for pets with existing joint and bone disorders
- Better hygiene and cleanliness from less food and water on the floor
However, studies indicate that dogs who are at risk for bloat should not be fed out of an raised feeder. These studies suggest that at risk dogs be fed at floor level.
According to these studies, dogs most at risk have several characteristics including:
- Large or giant breeds
- Middle aged or older
- Relatives who have bloated
- Speed eaters
- Raised food bowl diners
5) Is there anything senior pets can do that young pets can’t?
Senior pets have already lived and learned a lot, so whether you are adopting a senior pet or your little puppy has grown up you will find many positive attributes of having a senior pet. Because of their increased calmness can they can be much easier to train. They are more capable of focusing on you and the current task. More experience with humans also allows them to more easily understand what you are asking.
6) Should senior pets see a veterinarian more often?
Younger dogs typically only visit their veterinarian for annual checkups. Senior dogs require increased attention and need semi-annual visits instead. This allows signs of illness or other problems to be detected early and treated appropriately. These semi-annual exams are very similar to younger dogs’ annual visits, but may be a bit more in depth and include dental care or blood work. In between the six month visits, it is important that pet parents keep an eye out for possible behavior changes or warning signs of disease. If any changes are noticed, contact your veterinarian right away with a description of the changes. AVMA is a wonderful resource for known warning signs and symptoms of possible illnesses.
7) Is all the testing veterinarians recommend necessary? What tests should be done and how often?
This is a very personal question that requires many underlying questions to be asked. How much do you trust your vet? What are your pet’s symptoms? Getting a second opinion on serious procedures may be a good option. Pet owners can expect some changes in their pet’s health needs as they age including a change in vaccinations.
8) What accommodations should be made in a household with a senior pet?
The accommodations required for a senior pet will depend upon his or her own health situation. A pet may need more trips outside, so installing a pet door if you have a fenced backyard may help. Hearing loss and failing eyesight may also occur. You can eliminate some safety concerns by removing dangerous objects such as tables with sharp corners, tripping hazards, or holes outside. Announcing your presence and avoiding sneaking up on your pet can help reduce stressful and startling situations. Avoiding all stressful situations can prevent your dog from becoming irritable. Other changes may include avoiding stairs and spending more time inside.
9) Do senior pets cost more than young pets or vice versa?
Senior pets may cost more than a younger pet. You may see increased vet bills, but a pet at any age can have health problems and emergencies. Money may need to be spent on supplements and other modifications for your pet’s comfort. Supplements along with other possible medicines may increase your pet’s monthly costs.
10) How much will a pets energy change as they get older?
It is typical to see a change in energy level and increased joint pain in older pets. Less energy may require a change in your pet’s diet. Senior pets typically require 30-40% less calories than younger dogs of the same size and breed. Many companies make food specifically for senior pets, which has fewer calories and protein to help avoid weight gain.
Adjustments to activities may need to be made, but it is important to keep your dog active for as long as possible. Slow jogging down to walking or even limit the amount of exercise time, but as soon as a dog stops being active, they will lose the ability to be active. Keep an eye on your pet’s actions to see if more modifications need to be made or if they are struggling to keep up.
What answer were you most surprised by? Did I miss anything?
About the Author: Jessica Shipman is a bargain hunter, food lover, and software engineer figuring out how to be a pet parent for the first time. While she currently lives in Northern Virginia, she graduated from Cornell University with a BS in Information Science, Systems, and Technology, and sometimes misses the upstate New York snow. Jessica has been a long time lover of all animals (especially llamas and manatees) and is happy that she can finally combine that love with technology. This article was originally posted on January 21, 2014 on Beagles and Bargains.