7 Things Your Senior Dog Would Like to Tell You

Senior Golden Retriever laying in the grass
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One of the most difficult things about having a dog is watching it age from playful puppy to sleepy senior within the relatively short time span of a decade. A small dog is considered a senior when it hits about 11 years old, a medium-sized dog at 10, and a large dog around eight. At these ages, your canine companion may slow down, gain weight, be forgetful, and experience a dulling of the senses. If it could talk, here are seven things your senior dog would like to tell you.

'I Can't See or Hear As Well Anymore'

Senior Labrador retriever lying in the grass
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Like humans, dogs begin to lose their hearing and vision as they age. The American Kennel Club says that while these common conditions don't usually cause pain, they can cause distress.

Often, owners don’t notice that their dog is losing its sight or hearing until the loss is severe. In the case of vision loss, your dog may become more clumsy or easily started, have a hard time finding its food or water dishes, and may not want to move around as much. The Best Friends Animal Society recommends clearing clutter from the floor, marking different rooms with different scents or with rugs of varying textures to help your dog recognize its space by smell and touch. Owners should block off dangerous areas, such as pools, and keep familiar things like furniture and food and water dishes in the same place.

In the case of hearing loss, one of the ways you can prepare for a smooth transition to deafness is to start training with hand signals early. Many dogs who are hard of hearing can still detect vibration, so you can get your dog's attention by using hand claps or knocking on a hard surface.

'I Am a Little More Anxious Now'

Senior dogs may become more susceptible to anxiety, the American Kennel Club says. Situations that didn't used to cause stress — such as separation from family, house guests, interacting with new dogs, or hearing new noises — may cause the animal to become suddenly stressed and agitated. Some dogs might become more clingy; others might want to be left alone more often.

The AKC warns this could be a sign of developing cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which affects dogs like early Alzheimer’s disease affects humans. A dog with CDS may experience memory loss and a decline in perception and awareness. However, sometimes a senior dog's heightened anxiety can be chalked up simply to dulled senses and increased pain. If you notice anxious or aggressive behavior in your pet, it's important to have it examined by a veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a pressing medical issue to blame.

You can help reduce your dog’s anxiety by keeping floors free from clutter, taking more frequent short walks, playing games or food puzzles to stimulate the brain, giving it extra space away from strangers, keeping a consistent routine so it knows what to expect during the day, and continuing to work on separation training for when you’re away (or asleep). Most importantly, you want to be as patient as possible — your dog can still pick up on your mood and that can add to its anxiety.

'I Get Cold More Easily Now'

Old black dog lying on a dog bed

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There's a reason why older dogs like warm, cozy beds: It gets more difficult to regulate body temperature with age. A dog that could once handle hanging outside on a chilly days will likely need a sweater when out and a bit more time inside — even better, with its bed close to a heat source. Maintaining a healthy body temperature (between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit) could minimize joint and muscle stiffness, and even help the dog stave off illnesses by taking stress off its body.

Closely monitor your pet’s environmental temperature and watch for shivering and trembling. Most dogs are comfortable in temperatures between 69 and 72 degrees, although breeds with thicker coats handle cold weather better. Warm, cozy bedding is important on cold days. If your dog needs a little extra help staying warm in winter, they might benefit from more calories in their diet; ask your vet for advice.

'I Can't Move As Well As I Used to Because My Joints Hurt'

Senior golden retriever walking on the beach
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Arthritis and joint pain are common problems for aging dogs. Whether it’s an old injury that now flares up more often or arthritis that continues to worsen, joint pain can make getting into the car, climbing stairs, and moving around in cold weather extremely difficult. To stave off joint issues for as long as possible, it’s a great idea to start giving your dog chondroitin and glucosamine supplements when it's young.

When joint pain sets in, anti-inflammatory pain relievers prescribed by a vet could be helpful. You can also provide ramps where there are stairs, replace long walks with shorter and more frequent walks or swimming, get your dog an orthopedic bed, and elevate food and water dishes.

'I May Have the Same Appetite, but I Can’t Burn Calories Like I Used To'

Obesity is a major concern for older dogs, as it can lead to a wealth of other health problems from joint pain and breathlessness to heart issues. The American Kennel Club says a dog is considered overweight when they weigh 15 percent more than its ideal weight, and considered obese at 30 percent above that ideal weight.

The reason older dogs tend to become obese is not only because they're less active, but also because their general caloric needs shift. When humans age, our metabolism slows down and we need less food to maintain a consistent weight. It’s the same with dogs. Though they may act just as hungry and treat-crazed as ever, their bodies aren’t burning as many calories, so they gain weight. You may find it’s time to cut back on the treats and shift to dog foods designed specially for senior dogs, which have fewer calories, more fiber, and less fat. Extra nutritional supplements are also helpful.

'I Get Confused Sometimes and May Forget Some of Our Old Rules'

Guilty dog sitting next to pee puddle inside house
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Dog incontinence is a common sign of aging. Your dog may forget simple things like how to navigate around an obstacle. It may even get lost in areas it's not familiar with or not recognize people it knows. Senior dogs may have a harder time performing certain tasks, and they may forget behaviors they've known for a long time, such as using the bathroom outside.

If you notice your dog's behavior shifting, have it checked out by a vet to make sure it's nothing serious. You can help your dog by giving it medications (such as phenylpropanolamine hydrochloride for urinary incontinence) and supplements, and by simply being more patient when it gets confused or lost.

'I Need a Little Extra Care in Grooming These Days'

Older dogs often experience changes in their skin, coat, and nails. Coconut and salmon oil supplements can help with dry skin, coarse coats, and internal aches and pains. However, elderly dogs' skin can also become thinner and therefore more injury-prone. Meanwhile, their nails can become brittle and grow longer as a result of less physical activity. More frequent nail trimmings may be necessary. Because older dogs might not be as capable of doing their own grooming, you may also need to brush them more frequently. This is an opportunity to check for any lumps, bumps, or pains.

Dental issues come to the forefront during a dog's senior years, so it's important to help your pet maintain good dental hygiene and stave off gum disease. Behavioral changes may indicate that your dog is experiencing pain in the mouth.

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