November is National Senior Pets Month, so it's a good time to think about senior dog health care. It's not the same as caring for an adult dog, just like caring for an adult isn't the same as caring for a puppy. What does it take to care for a senior dog?
For one thing, you need to know if your dog is a senior. Typically, the bigger the dog, the younger they are considered senior. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), while some small dogs are considered seniors once they hit double-digits, giant breed dogs may be considered seniors as young as 5 years old. Talk with your vet about when your dog qualifies.
Once your dog hits senior stage, increase the number of vet visits. Because dogs age more quickly than we do, it makes sense that they need more than a single doctor's visit a year. That's especially true as they get older. Many vets recommend two vet visits per year. It gives you a much better chance at catching big problems early.
What problems do older dogs face? Arthritis is a very common one for big dogs, but other common issues include organ disease (especially kidney, liver, and heart disease) and cancer. According to the Morris Animal Foundation, cancer is the leading cause of death for dogs over 2 years old, affecting 1 in every 4 dogs. AAHA says that risk goes up for seniors, causing half of all deaths in dogs over 10 years old. Because risks are so great for older dogs, observant owners and more frequent vet visits become critical.
Besides these common issues, be sure to ask your vet about what issues you should watch for with your dog. Based on your dog's breed(s) and health history, he may be at risk for different problems. Talk with your vet about what symptoms to look for, what to do if you see them, and what you can do as prevention.
Finally, keep them exercising. Exercise helps build muscle to support joints. It also keeps dogs from gaining weight, which puts extra stress on joints. That stress accelerates and aggravates arthritis. Keep in mind that your dog may not be up for running like he was in his younger years, but walks and swimming are gentle, effective exercises for seniors.
Many dogs live long, healthy lives. The best way to get that for your dog is with careful senior dog health care. Follow these tips and your trusted vet's recommendations to help your dog live to the fullest.
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Photo credit: Valerie Everett