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The Evolving Role of Caring for Older Dogs

Considering a dog to be elderly is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of human and canine relationships. Dogs have become more than utilitarian workers that provide a functional service for their owners. In many cases, dogs are now considered a treasured part of the family.

Dogs have always had a significant role in the lives of humans as guards, hunters, and herders. They have even served as companions and entertainers for much of history. However, their primary function was one of necessity. Within the past several generations as they transitioned to family members, their life expectancy has increased. Owners are increasingly more willing to invest in the medical care required to help a dog thrive far past the age at which it would have naturally become less useful. This provides owners with new challenges such as providing adequate healthcare for their pet, new dietary considerations, and a reevaluation of what play means.


Common Health Conditions

Arthritis is one of the most common health conditions experienced by older dogs. Dog arthritis symptoms are similar to those experienced by a human with arthritis. They can include a reluctance to move, stiffness, swollen joints, joint deformities, and a change in gait. When a dog begins suffering from these types of symptoms it can significantly decrease their quality of life and their human owners are often eager to find ways to make their canine friend feel better. Interestingly, the treatment for dog arthritis is similar to that for humans and includes NSAIDs, chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and steroids. There are also a number of holistic treatments owners may want to try which may have fewer undesirable side effects.

Canine dementia, clinically known as canine cognitive dysfunction, presents in much the same way as human dementia. Dogs may become disoriented and have higher levels of general anxiety. Common symptoms include disturbances in sleeping patterns, heightened levels of aggression, decreased activity, repetitious behavior, inappropriate and often increased vocalization, difficulty with appropriate elimination, and decreased socialization. It’s important to notify your dog’s veterinarian if any of these symptoms become obvious so treatment and intervention can begin quickly. There are some specific medications that can be used to treat symptoms but many pets find greater benefit from more structure in their daily lives.

Other common health concerns for elderly dogs include gum disease, blindness, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and deafness. Because there is a wide variety of conditions which may begin to appear as the dog ages, it is important for veterinary appointments to become even more regular. This can alert the vet to changes before they reach the point where treatment is not an option.

Diet and Exercise

Caring for an older dog involves many changes. Two of the most important will come in the form of diet and exercise. Nutrition is important at all ages but dietary requirements change as your dog’s metabolism changes. Diet can help them thrive into their advanced years. To find out exactly what will work best for your pet, be sure to ask your veterinarian for a recommendation as their size, breed, and activity levels all play a role.

As your dog ages, they may become less interested in playing and being as active for a variety of reasons. In addition to health conditions which can make it painful or more difficult for them to physically interact with their environment but this doesn’t mean they should be allowed to lounge around during their retirement. It’s perhaps even more important to make active play an integral part of their daily routine, even if this looks different than the type of activity they would enjoy as a puppy or young adult dog.

By making changes to their diet and exercise it is possible to keep their weight in a healthy range. This is vital for their ability to enjoy their years and it is also a key to helping them enjoy their advanced years.

Caring for an older dog isn’t just about giving your pet the best care possible. It is also about taking the time to really enjoy the time you have with your canine friend. It isn’t all about duties and responsibility; take the time to snuggle, play, and have fun.


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