Unfortunately, dogs, like their owners, grow old. Most dogs begin getting grey around the face and muzzle at about five to seven years old. Large dogs are considered old when they reach six or seven, but smaller breeds aren’t considered to be seniors until they are ten or older. In healthy dogs, the changes of aging occur slowly over time. It is important that as dogs get older they see their vets more frequently for a thorough checkup and possibly screening tests.
Each dog ages differently. He may begin to slow down. He could have hesitation or stiffness when lying down, getting up or using the stairs. Help him if he needs it. If he is small and you are strong enough you may need to carry him up and down the stairs. He may have difficulty getting in and out of vehicles. Cold rainy weather may make it worse. Older dogs can develop arthritis in their legs, back or neck. There are prescription medications that can help. Some arthritic dogs may benefit from a ramp, a warm blanket or an orthopedic bed. Consult your vet if your dog has any loss of muscle mass, especially in the hind legs.
An aging dog may not hear as well as he used to. Protect him from dangers that he may not hear. Dogs can learn and adapt to hand signals for basic commands such as come, sit, stay and down. Start training him early before he loses his hearing. His vision may not be as good as it used to be. Watch him carefully in the house. Keep track of where he is. He may need help in finding his way around.
One normal symptom of aging is a transparent bluish haze in the pupils of the eyes. This does not seem to affect the dog’s vision. This is not the same as cataracts which can affect his vision. Talk with your vet if you think your dog may have cataracts.
If your dog has bad breath, started drooling or food drops out of his mouth, he may need dental care. Particles of food, saliva and bacteria can harden in his mouth and cause tarter. When tarter is not removed it can cause infection. Veterinarians recommend having your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned at least once a year. In dogs, as in humans, gum disease can lead to heart problems. You can brush his teeth regularly with toothpaste made for dogs or you can use distilled salt water. Do not use human toothpaste. To get him used to brushing, begin with a little paste on a piece of gauze. When he gets used to that you can switch to a soft toothbrush. Biscuits also can help to keep his teeth clean. If he has signs of serious dental problems such as fractured teeth or tumors, see your vet.
There are some things you can do to make your older dog more comfortable. Keep him inside where it is warm and dry. Aging dogs are not as able to regulate their body temperature as well as they did when they were younger. Since they are also more prone to heatstroke, keep him from getting overheated.
If you have a younger dog also, walk the older one without the young one so that he can go at a slower pace instead of struggling to keep up.
Don’t let him loose outdoors. He could get lost easily or become the target of more aggressive animals.
Be sure he is eating properly. Your vet can advise you on what sort of food he needs and how much at this stage of his life. Don’t give him hard bones to gnaw on. He may not be able to handle them anymore.
If your dog is showing symptoms of incontinence, lumps, shortness of breath, coughing or any other unusual behavior, take him to the vet right away.
If you would like to adopt a dog, visit the Pittsburg County Animal Shelter at 1206 N. West St. in McAlester. The hours are Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday. The phone number is 918-423-7803. The adoption fee for dogs is $20. All have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.