If you’re like most dog parents, the excitement of bringing home a frolicking fur ball of pure joy is like nothing else. You’d like to keep them forever, but you know, even while snuggling with your pooch, that it can’t last.
The sad fact of it is that dogs age a lot faster than humans.
Though it’s true that dogs have shorter lifespans than humans, there are scientifically proven steps you can take to keep your senior dog healthy and help them live longer.
When does a dog become a senior citizen?
It’s a myth that dogs age seven years for every one year of a person. Research has shown that, in general, small dogs live longer than do larger dogs, meaning that dogs enter their senior years at different ages. A large-breed dog may be considered a senior at 8-10 years of age, whereas a small breed dog may not hit its golden years until 10-11 years. But a dog’s life expectancy hinges on more than just its size. Some factors that influence life expectancy include:
- Breed (genetics)
- Veterinary care
- Weight control
Fortunately, most of these factors are ones you can control, meaning that you can influence how long your dog lives.
Tips for keeping your senior dog healthy
Annual veterinary visits
The most important step you can take to keep your senior dog healthy is to make sure they have annual physicals by a veterinarian.
A thorough exam for a senior dog should include a review of any behavioral changes since the last visit, a physical/visual inspection and blood work, all of which can help detect heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems and other health conditions. (Early detection of these conditions can be easier and cheaper to treat.) The veterinarian will administer any vaccinations that are needed.
Whether your dog is old or young, expect the veterinarian to inspect them for fleas and ticks, two parasites that are not just minor irritants. Ticks can give your dog disabling and potentially deadly Lyme disease, and fleas can transmit a type of tapeworm intestinal parasite to them. The veterinarian may prescribe Nexgard chewables for dogs to kill fleas and ticks.
Adjusted dietary needs
Senior dogs have special nutritional needs. According to Dr. Mark Nunez, DVM, the amount of food dogs eat should be adjusted for their age. The energy needs of older dogs are lower than when they were younger, and if they eat the same amount of food, they will become obese.
Dr. Nunez says senior dogs need to eat low-calorie, high-fiber diets, which you can find in some senior dog formulations in pet stores and in the pet store aisle of the grocery store. If your dog has arthritis or other mobility issues, consider buying food fortified with fatty acids, such as EPA or DHA, which studies have shown can ease the pain and stiffness of arthritis in dogs.
But if your dog has specific medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney failure or heart disease, your veterinarian may put them on a special diet.
Regular exercise is important at any age, but it’s particularly important for an older dog. A lack of physical activity can lead to obesity, which increases the risk of your pooch developing diabetes, heart disease and many other health problems. Studies have shown that a dog being only moderately overweight can reduce their lifespan.
It’s important, however, that you develop an exercise program specifically designed for your senior dog. If they’ve been sedentary, start out slowly with one walk around the block until they’re ready to do more. Their veterinarian can help devise the perfect exercise plan for your senior dog.
Enjoy the extra years
If you follow these science-based ways to keep your senior dog healthy, you should be able to add quality years to their life, and extra years of joy to yours!
This is a collaborative post.