Caring for older dogs: expert advice from Doorstep Vet
Joanna Melville from Doorstep Vet reveals how to make our dogs' golden years happy and healthy.
Our dogs aren’t just pets; they’re beloved members of our family. Doorstep Vet are here to share their advice on caring for our canine companions during their mature and senior years.
As our furry friends grow older and their faces turn grey, our top priority is ensuring they enjoy their golden years with happiness and the best quality of life.
But our ageing pooches can’t express their needs and feelings like we do. That’s where Joanna Melville from Doorstep Vet comes to the rescue.
Doorstep Vet is a family-run mobile veterinary practice that comes directly to your doorstep, providing a stress-free, convenient, and personal service to make your senior dogs feel relaxed and well cared for.
With over 20 years of experience being a vet, Doorstep Vet founder, Joanna Melville answers all our questions on how to care for senior dogs.
HOW OLD IS A SENIOR DOG?
As dogs have a shorter lifespan than we do, some owners may not even realise when their beloved canine companion transitions into their mature years. For small to medium-sized dogs, middle age typically arrives at 7, while larger breeds hit this milestone around 6 years old.
To put it into perspective, here’s a quick conversion of dog years to human years:
DOG TO HUMAN YEARS
- 1 = 15
- 2 = 24
- 3 = 28
- 4 = 32
- 5 = 36
- 6 = 42
- 7 = 47
- 8 = 51
- 9 = 56
- 10 = 60
- 11 = 65
- 12 = 69
- 13 = 74
- 14 = 78
- 15 = 83
- 16 = 87
COMMON CONDITIONS AFFECTING MATURE/SENIOR DOGS
Remember those early, energetic puppy days? They may feel like a distant memory as your dog ages, but certain changes signal the onset of the golden years.
Look out for these common changes:
- Limited mobility: your senior dog might struggle with moving around.
- Dental disease: dental issues can become a concern.
- Weight loss: older dogs may experience weight loss.
- Behavioural changes: they might become more sedentary and less social.
- Toileting and drinking problems: older dogs could face issues with urination and increased thirst.
- Development of lumps: keep an eye out for unusual growths.
Besides these common changes, be vigilant for signs of ill health such as vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty passing faeces, coughing, or wheezing, excessive scratching or licking, excessive panting, and a swollen abdomen.
WHAT SHOULD WE FEED OLDER DOGS AND WHY?
Depending on the brand, transitioning your dog from adult food to mature or senior food is important as your dog enters their mature years. This transition plays a vital role in meeting their mature adult needs, with a focus on maintaining healthy organs, bones, and muscles.
As senior dogs’ metabolisms slow down, they don’t require high-calorie-rich foods. The right nutrition can boost their activity levels, interaction, mobility, and overall well-being.
SHOULD WE CONTINUE TO EXERCISE OLDER DOGS?
While mature and senior dogs tend to slow down and rest more, keeping them active remains essential. The type, level, and frequency of exercise should depend on your dog’s age and any underlying health conditions. Regular and gentle exercise helps keep them active and supports their muscles and joints. Short, frequent walks are a great choice, as unused joints can become stiff.
It’s crucial not to stop exercising your senior dog unless advised by your veterinarian. If your pet has health conditions, make considerations like sticking to familiar routes to prevent anxiety or confusion. In extreme weather conditions, consider indoor exercises like puzzle toys.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR OLDER DOG STIMULATED
As your dog ages, you’ll notice they spend more time napping and are less social. Still, it’s essential to keep their minds active.
Here are some ways to stimulate your senior dog:
- Outdoor time: even if they can’t walk as far, take them outside to get fresh air and let them use their noses to explore their surroundings.
- Puzzles and brain games: engage your dog’s cognitive abilities with puzzles and brain games that can keep them entertained indoors.
- Toy rotation: don’t keep all their toys out at the same time to prevent boredom. Rotate their toys, keeping one out at a time, and put it away when playtime is over, then introduce a new one.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR DOG REFUSES TO EAT?
If your dog is usually a good eater and suddenly refuses to eat, it might be an early sign that something is wrong. Contact your vet to discuss whether an examination is necessary, considering your dog’s clinical history.
ADAPTING THE HOME ENVIRONMENT FOR SENIOR DOGS
Making changes in your home environment for your senior dog should be a gradual process, focusing on positive reinforcement for good behaviour.
Ramps: use ramps for outdoor access into the house and car, and introduce them indoors so they’re able to reach furniture like sofas or beds.
Flooring: wooden or tiled flooring can be slippery, which can be challenging for dogs with joint pain or reduced muscle mass. Placing mats or rugs can make walking easier.
Elevated food and water bowls: raising food and water bowls can reduce pressure and discomfort when stooping to eat or drink.
DO OLDER DOGS REQUIRE MORE REGULAR GROOMING AND TEETH CLEANING?
As dogs age, they may experience changes in their coat, such as grey fur or thinning. Nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of their coat. Senior dogs may not be as effective at grooming themselves, so making sure to groom your dog daily is a vital part of keeping their coat in good condition.
Regular oral health checks and dental care become increasingly important as your dog ages. These measures help ensure your dog’s mouth remains healthy and allow for the early detection of dental disease or other oral health issues.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU SCHEDULE CHECK-UPS FOR MATURE SENIOR DOGS?
For mature and senior pets, we recommend scheduling wellness examinations every 6-12 months, depending on their health and age. These regular check-ups provide an opportunity to detect potential health issues early, ensuring your pet receives the best possible care.
Doorstep Vet’s senior pet health check encompasses a thorough physical examination, lifestyle and nutrition advice, weight checks, behavioural guidance, and personalised recommendations. Our practice is unique in that we are a small team, which provides owners and their pets the opportunity to get to know me (vet and owner) and allows us to get to know owners and their pets alike! This enables us to provide a high-quality personalised service via continuity of care, tailored treatments and advice.
HOW IS DOORSTEP VET THERE FOR THOSE SENIOR YEARS?
Keeping up to date with wellness exams can ensure your senior dog’s wellbeing is at its best. As your dog ages, Doorstep Vet offers quality-of-life consultations which are there to ensure your dog is comfortable and free from pain, addressing any clinical signs caused by severe illness. Doorstep Vet also offers palliative care for pets facing untreatable, life-threatening conditions, which also may affect younger dogs.
Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is one of the most challenging decisions a pet owner has to make. Doorstep Vet makes sure to build a relationship with both you and your dog and will provide support as you navigate those senior years, so you won’t feel alone.
We are here to offer guidance and support when these heart-wrenching decisions need to be made or when planning and preparing for the inevitable time to come. We offer an at-home euthanasia service, providing a peaceful final goodbye in the comfort of your own home, without the stress of car rides and noisy reception areas.
We always do our best to accommodate same-day appointments, understanding that this difficult time can come suddenly or sooner than expected. However, some owners choose to book at-home euthanasia appointments in advance, allowing them time to prepare and ensuring their beloved pet’s quality of life is the primary consideration to prevent unnecessary suffering.
Talking about any issues with us in advance can help take some of your concerns and worries away, giving you more time to focus on having precious time with your dog.