Canine Senior Citizens

Submitted by : Michelle Wrighton - Dogsites
Date Published: Tuesday, 25 February 1997

As medical care and technology improves, dogs, like humans are living longer and enjoying a more active old age. A dog's lifespan does depend on its breed as generally the larger breeds have a shorter life expectancy (8-10 years) and show signs of aging a lot earlier than some of the smaller breeds which may live up to 17-20 years.

As the aging process begins, you are likely to notice at least some of the following changes. Usually activity levels will decrease and the dog will spend more of its time sleeping and resting than in its younger days. They also develop stiffness in their joints, are likely to have a poorer apatite and may suffer from periods of constipation. The eyesight and hearing may start to fail and they may become less tolerant and bad tempered compared to what they have always been. In addition, broken bones and injuries will take longer to heal and they become less able to cope with extreme heat, cold, fatigue and changes in their normal daily routines. These are all normal signs of aging that most dogs will experience to a greater or lesser degree depending on the individual and the quality of nutrition and care that the dog has received during its life.

As your dog ages, there are some important things to take into consideration to make your canine senior citizen more comfortable:

  • Provide regular mild exercise - let your dog judge the amount
  • Make sure the dog's bed is soft, well padded, draft free and dry
  • Provide a doggie coat in winter
  • Educate your children how to care about your older pet
  • Don't make any sudden changes in diet (unless advised by veterinarian)
  • Reduce the amount of food given (slowly!) as activity decreases to prevent obesity
  • Baby gates can be used for stairs if they become a danger
  • Put mats in walkways if you have slippery floors. Broken bones are commonly caused by falls on slippery surfaces.
  • Allow your dog to have a quiet place that he can retreat to for a nap when he needs one.
  • For large dogs - raise food and water bowls so the dog does not have to stretch uncomfortably for eating and drinking
  • Don't neglect your dog just because he is less active or less involved with family activities
  • Have a doggie door installed - bowel and bladder control is quite often reduced in the older dog, even if they have always been excellent in the house.
  • If your dog has calluses on his elbow, try rubbing them with vaseline - this helps prevent them cracking and getting infected

As dogs age they are more prone to medical problems so regular check ups at the vet will ensure that any medical problems are discovered and treated early, which will increase the chances of full recovery or at least prevention of further deterioration.

The following is a list of symptoms that are obvious signs of medical conditions that require prompt veterinary attention - it must be remembered that there is less room for error in the older dog who can degenerate at an alarming rate if not treated as soon as possible.

  • Vomiting
  • Refusing to eat
  • Changes in thirst
  • Restlessness, pacing, winging or whining without reason
  • Unusual salivating
  • Sudden, copious shedding of coat
  • Glassy-eyed staring
  • Hunched abdomen
  • Inability to stand up
  • Flinching, snapping or growling when touched
  • Any obvious pain
  • Sudden stumbling, clumsiness or bumping into things
  • Fits or seizures
  • Sudden lethargy
  • Difficult or labored breathing, or very bad breath
  • Coughing
  • Blood in urine or feces or changes in bowel and urinary habits

When the time comes….

Unfortunately, not all dogs will pass away painlessly and peacefully in their sleep. The owner is often faced with the agonizing decision of euthanasia. To make this decision easier to cope with, you can gather as much information as possible about your pets condition, possible treatments and expected results, the level of pain your dog will experience because of the condition and the quality of life expected for your dog following treatment. Your veterinary will be able to answer any questions that you have, and will give you their opinion on your dog's condition. If the prognosis is not good (and you have time because your dog is not in pain) you may like to obtain a second opinion, to help you make the decision.

In many cases, love and consideration for your dog must outweigh your own need to hang on to him or her. It is unfair to submit your dog to treatment after treatment if the prognosis is very poor and your dog is obviously suffering. In these cases, as heartbreaking as the decision may be, it is far better to give your faithful friend a painless, dignified end rather than to prolong his or suffering and let nature slowly takes its course.

And remember…your dog will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.

Back to Articles