Dogs simply don’t live long enough! The average life of a dog is around 12 years, which varies depending on the size and breed of the dog. Regardless, we want our furry pals to stay healthy and be with us as long as possible. There is actually a lot we can do to help our senior dogs stay healthy and live longer.
When dogs reach 8 or 9 years old, they are beginning to creep into their senior years, the equivalent of humans approaching their 60’s. We can do a lot to support them and help them live well into their golden years. There are three key areas in which your senior dog needs your help to be healthier and to live longer:
- More frequent vet appointments
- Age-appropriate, quality nutrition
- Attention, love, and moderate exercise
Let’s unpack this a little more to better understand the specifics of how we can better support our aging pooches.
What We Can Do to Support Our Dog’s Health
1. More Frequent Vet Appointments
Mose vets recommend two general exams a year for dogs who reach 8 years old. Because your dog can’t tell you if something is wrong, physical exams are a key way to check for possible problems and prevent potential illness. Some of the things that your vet will check for are:
- lumps and bumps that could be tumors
- dental problems that could lead to infections
- skin conditions
- parasites–worms, fleas, ticks
- chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart, or kidney problems
- arthritis or other joint problems
More frequent vet visits–Two exams a year is an important preventative measure to uncover potential problems. It also allows annual vaccinations to be split into two visits. As an example, I usually have my dogs vaccinated for Bordetella and leptospirosis in the spring and canine flu in the fall. See my post here to learn more about vaccinations that dogs need.
Good dental health is important–Ideally, your dog should have a complete dental exam and cleaning at least once a year especially as he approaches his middle to senior years. Dental abscesses can lead to more severe infections. Not only could your dog lose his teeth, but he could also become critically ill if an oral infection were to spread. Tooth loss or dental pain could cause your dog to eat less and lose out on valuable nutrition. In addition to having your dog’s teeth cleaned, strive to brush his teeth at least once a week. Daily brushing is even better if possible. See my post, Do Dogs Really Need Dental Care for more information about this.
Don’t skip medications–Make sure that you stay current with any medications prescribed, especially the flea, tick, and heartworm treatments as prescribed by your vet, and don’t skip recommended follow-up appointments.
2. Keep Your Older Dog Healthy and Living Longer with a Quality Diet
Fewer Carbohydrates and Quality Dog Food–As dog’s age, they continue to need quality protein and fiber, but fewer carbohydrates. Make sure that you give your dog quality commercial dog food that has the AAFCO seal of approval. (See my article about feeding your dog kibble for more information about this.) High-quality dog food will have different food for each age level, including food for seniors.
Not All Human Food is Good For Dogs–If you prefer to give your dog raw food and bones or home-prepared meals, please be sure to work with a nutritionist! Some human food is toxic for dogs such as onions, grapes, coffee, and chocolate to name a few. Even though they are omnivorous, dogs need more protein and fewer carbohydrates than humans. So, it is important to create dog food that meets canine nutritional requirements.
Do not let your dog get overweight–Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart, and joint problems in dogs just as it can in humans. Weigh your dog periodically to monitor his weight. The worst thing you can do for your dog is to feed him table scraps every night. This will throw his nutritional balance out of whack and probably cause him to gain a lot of weight. Additionally, you will probably be giving him foods that are bad for him. If you want your dog to enjoy some of the same foods you eat, then include canine-appropriate foods as part of his meal plan.
Give your dog supplements–Dogs sometimes need probiotics for better gut health as well as quality fish oil for inflammation and glucosamine for healthier joints. But check with your vet first and be sure to use canine-appropriate supplements and doses. As an example, probiotics for dogs contain different strains than probiotics used to supplement the human gut microbiome.
3. Love, Attention, Moderate Exercise
We all need love and comfort as we age–Just because your dog is beginning to slow down and is a little quieter than when he was a puppy, it does not mean that he needs less interaction with you. In fact, he probably needs more. He may feel more vulnerable and achy as he ages, and your love and reassuring belly and ear rubs will provide a lot of comfort.
Give your aging pal even more attention and stimulation–Keep your dog’s mind engaged and pay attention to his mood. Mental stimulation such as puzzle games, fetch, and tug of war, will keep him alert, happy, and engaged with life. This can help keep his mind alert and his body agile to help ensure his good physical health and longevity.
Also, make sure you brush him every day to keep his coat shiny and clean, and also check for lumps and bumps. Any new or unusual growths should be reported immediately to your vet to rule out cancer. Pay attention to any limping or other signs of pain or injury. He can’t tell you where it hurts, so you will need to pay extra attention to signs of possible problems. And, to make it more complicated, dogs naturally hide or cover up injuries or pain to avoid being seen by adversaries as weak and defenseless. Some dogs may be prone to hip dysplasia or arthritis in their joints. See my post about puppies and stair climbing for more information.
Movement and exercise are still important for older dogs–Don’t let your dog become the “weekend warrior” by running him around in the doggie park once a week until he drops from exhaustion. Instead, take him for moderate walks several times a week. This is better for his heart, legs, lungs, and mental health as well. Daily moderate walks will provide him with adequate exercise, stimulation, and additional bonding time with you, as well as support his good health and longer life.
Understand How Old Your Dog Really Is
Dog years do not translate into human years at the same rate. The rule of thumb that every dog year is equal to 7 human years is a very rough comparison. Therefore it is sometimes challenging to appreciate the aging process in our furry friends, especially when they still look as cute at 10 years old as they did when they were puppies!
See this great chart below from the American Kennel Club (akc.org) which posted a great in-depth article describing how dogs age and the research that has been done in this area, How to Calculate Dog Years to Human Years, Nov. 20, 2019.
As the chart shows, the size of the dog changes the aging equivalency. Smaller dogs generally live longer than larger dogs. A small 9-year-old dog is only middle-aged (52) compared to a very large dog who is the equivalent of 71 in human years. Your vet can guide you regarding specific medical care or preventative measures your dog may need at each age level.
Keeping your pooch healthy and helping to ensure he lives as long as possible is a lifelong process. As your dog ages, he will need you, even more, so don’t let down your guard. Don’t assume that just because your dog has been doing fine for years, he won’t need some special help in his senior years. For more information about caring for your dog, see my post, Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog.
Keep a close eye on him, keep him moving and stimulated, and most of all, continue to shower him with love and attention especially during his golden years when he needs you the most!