Animal patients are getting older thanks to better medical care. This also applies to our house dogs. In this respect, advice and care for all aspects of senior patients are in demand daily.
When is the four-legged family member old? While the owner of a Yorkshire Terrier looks confused when the eleven-year-old dog is called “senior”, the owner of a Newfoundland dog of the same age will react very differently to this statement. Because in dogs, size and life expectancy are closely related. A senior is defined as someone in the last quarter of their expected lifespan. According to this calculation, individuals of short breeds are referred to as seniors from around ten to twelve years of age, representatives of giant breeds can be assigned to this age group from around seven years of age. For this reason, it makes sense to start geriatric check-ups at different ages, depending on the weight class.
Old age is not a disease
To get straight to the point: aging itself is not a disease in the traditional sense. Over the years, bodily functions decrease, muscle mass dwindles, sensory performance is no longer as sharp, the immune system works less well and degenerative processes limit organ functions – including the performance of the brain. The result is that older dogs are less physically able, think and react more slowly. If organic diseases are added, these can also hurt reactions and behavior.
Watch out for changes!
The aim should be to keep the senior in the best possible health status. It is crucial that dog owners carefully monitor their animals for both physical abnormalities and changes in behavior. Especially when you are permanent with a living being, gradual changes are not immediately recognized. Here it is important to train the pet owners in good time because it makes sense to investigate these things and not dismiss them with the comment “it’s just an old dog”.
On the one hand, these changes can be signs of serious health or mental problems that can be diagnosed and (if possible) treated as early as possible. On the other hand, physical discomfort always hurts behavior and emotions. Regular checks therefore also directly serve animal welfare. If there are no other reasons for visiting the veterinary practice, seniors should be presented for a check-up twice a year. In addition to a careful general examination, a blood test with a blood count and organ profile is also useful. In addition, the clarification of pain of any cause and the assessment of cognitive abilities are essential.
- 1-2 times a year as a minimum
- Blood count, organ profile
- cognitive abilities?
- Changes in habits?
In the broadest sense, cognitive abilities include perception, attention, memory, learning, orientation, and problem-solving. Colloquially, cognition is often equated with “thinking”. But it is also important to know that the emotional life of the animals is controlled by perception. Cognition and emotions are also closely related.
The conversation with the owner
One way of obtaining information about older patients is to ask various parameters using questionnaires before the dog and owner come into the consulting room. Information on typical age-related illnesses as well as any behavioral problems can be collected here.
In further discussions with the owner and as part of the examination, individual questions should be further investigated. What is important is that if changes in behavior occur spontaneously or if ingrained behavior suddenly deteriorates drastically, this development is almost always based on an organic cause that must be uncovered as quickly as possible. It becomes more difficult when dogs have always been e.g. B. reacted fearfully or aggressively in certain situations, but this behavior gradually worsened. Then it is important to find out whether this is exacerbated by physical problems that have now arisen or whether it is only to be seen as a result of learning and experience values.
Everyday life for the elderly
Another important building block in dealing with seniors is the changed conditions in housing and care. The changed performance of the dog must be taken into account here. But that doesn’t mean that oldies should only be spared and no longer demanded or promoted – quite the opposite. Certainly, physical activities usually have to be reduced or changed. Walks can be shorter and more frequent during the day. In doing so, possible accident risks for the elderly must also be kept in mind. Jumps, climbing actions or racing games with tight turns may no longer work so well. Since dogs do not always realistically assess these dangers themselves, the owner’s foresighted action is required here, these possible dangers through management such as recall, leash, or similar. to circumnavigate. It also becomes difficult when dogs, in particular, no longer reliably implement the recall signal due to a lack of hearing. At an advantage here are dog owners who have taught their dogs early on that frequent orientation toward the owner is worthwhile, because this is the only way for the dog to initiate an approach by visual signals.
Some other age-related physical limitations can be offset with aids. This includes e.g. B. the use of ramps or steps to make it easier to get into the car.
Here, too, the dog-keeper teams have an advantage in that has practiced using these aids in good time, ie when the dog did not show any restrictions, in small, stress-free steps, and have maintained this ability over time.
In addition to physical exertion, mental abilities should not be neglected. Learning, exploratory behavior and social interaction also keep dogs mentally fit. A task appreciated by dogs of all ages is “nose work”. This includes looking for food. Of course, the degree of difficulty must also be adapted to the current abilities – not least about the still-existing olfactory performance.
Even if the ability to learn is reduced with age, reward-based exercises and play should not be neglected. Shorter training units, smaller learning steps, and many repetitions lead the senior to the goal.
Diet for seniors
As a further building block in the care of an old dog, senior-friendly nutrition is of crucial importance. Diseases that may have already been diagnosed, such as e.g. B. kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal diseases to be considered. But overweight or degenerative joint diseases must also be included in the ratio design. Secondly, it is then also important to add substances to the food that slow down the aging of nerve cells and improve the transmission of signals in the brain. These generally include free radical scavengers and antioxidants (e.g. vitamin C and vitamin E), omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine, phosphatidylserine, and S-adenosyl methionine. These ingredients can complement the appropriate medical diets.
If no special individual feeding needs have to be taken into account, there are also complete feeds for seniors that are designed to vary degrees to prevent the aging processes in the brain.
Aging is inevitable. But even with a few years under their belt, dogs should be cared for as well as possible. On the one hand, this means that regular examinations must be carried out to uncover any problems at an early stage and to be able to treat them as quickly and effectively as possible. The mental state of the patient is also part of the examination spectrum. On the other hand, it makes sense to practice various support measures, such as the use of aids, in good time so that they can be used immediately if necessary. If this is implemented, the dog does not necessarily belong to the scrap heap even in old age.
Frequently Asked Question
What good can you do to an old dog?
Aging dogs find it difficult to adapt to changes in everyday life. It is therefore important not to change routines suddenly, but – if necessary – slowly and gently. Loving care is even more important in old age. Brushing, scratching, and regular checking of teeth, eyes, and ears: old dogs need a lot of care.
How do dogs change with age?
Like us humans, our dogs change as they get older: their enthusiasm for new adventures and exercise diminishes. You rest more during the day and don’t sleep through the night. They no longer find the food as attractive as they used to, and are perhaps more sensitive to the ingredients.
Do dogs become more clingy with age?
As they get older, many dogs increasingly seek closeness and physical contact with their humans. They want to be cuddled and stroked more and need more support. Therefore, take a little more time for him when he is looking for you. He needs this now.
Why are old dogs restless at night?
Older dogs have special nutritional needs because your dog’s digestive system becomes sluggish with age and the food stays in the dog’s stomach for a very long time. This “feeling of fullness” can make your senior dog restless at night
How often does an older dog have to go outside?
4-5 times a day outside. Dogs can theoretically go longer without being walked, but this overstimulates the animal’s bladder. Seniors usually have to go outside a little more often because they can no longer control their bladder properly.
Does a dog hurt when it pant?
You haven’t exhausted yourself playing and your dog is still panting like crazy? This can also be a symptom of pain. Is your four-legged friend’s breathing particularly shallow or fast? Listen carefully and observe.
How long does a 10-year-old dog have to walk per day?
Rule of thumb: This is how much exercise a dog needs
A good hour each at a pace that suits the breed’s temperament and about 15 minutes of active play. In addition, you should plan three walks of about 20 minutes at a brisk pace.
How is senility noticeable in dogs?
Loss of appetite with accompanying weight loss. Joint and bone problems due to bone loss or arthrosis: This often means that a dog no longer likes to move or has pain when getting up and down. Decrease or loss of hearing, vision, and smell.