Your five- or six-year-old dog may be getting a little gray around the muzzle. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean your dog is old — but it does indicate the pet is no longer a pup. He is firmly in middle age. Next stop: old age.
Dogs handle aging far better than most humans do. They roll with the punches, adapting to dimming eyesight and loss of hearing without complaint.
Their joints stiffen and make it hard for them to climb stairs or chase a ball, but this does not mean they enjoy life any less. Yet, as they get older, our buddies need a little extra help from us.
The Signs of Aging— and How to Help
If an elderly dog does not come when called, startles when you approach from behind him, or does not respond to loud noises, he may be hard of hearing.
There is little a vet can do about this common symptom of aging. Make sure the deafness is not caused by an infection and if not, help your canine companion adjust.
This means implementing hand signals for sit, stay, and heel. You may have used these in conjunction with voice commands during early training and if so, the dog will quickly respond.
If not, don’t despair. Old dogs can learn new tricks and you will simply have to speak louder and use an appropriate hand signal at the same time. Before long the dog will “get it.”
Don’t let your old pal wander. She won’t hear cars, other dogs, or similar dangers as easily as she once did.
You may not know your dog has lost a lot of his sight. Dogs don’t rely much on vision at the best of times and instead get around using scent and some sort of intuition.
If your dog’s eyes develop a bluish cast, don’t worry about it. This is a common part of aging and does not affect sight. On the other hand, an opaque white cast usually indicates cataracts. The vet can take care of these quite easily.
If your dog has enjoyed good health and proper nutrition, her teeth may be in fine shape. On the other hand, some may need pulling or may fall out naturally. The result may be difficulty chewing.
The vet may suggest special food for the older dog. This may be easier to chew and digest than food for younger dogs.
Stiff Joints, Warm Nose
Large dogs especially develop arthritis, but small dogs are not immune. Most older dogs get stiff, have trouble hopping onto the sofa and getting in and out of the car.
As with their human friends, the dog’s arthritis can be treated.
Many older dogs, naturally more sedentary than their younger selves, gain weight. This contributes to sore or stiff joints and so vets generally recommend that the canine lose pounds. Doing so makes the pet more active, more comfortable, and happier
If the dog has arthritis, the vet may prescribe drugs to help ease the pain. These may be nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are similar to aspirin and ibuprofen.
Don’t give your dog human pain relievers without first consulting the vet.
The vet may also suggest over-the-counter or prescribed treatments such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Omega fatty acids relieve symptoms of arthritis, as well.
Finally, as the pet owner, you may want to invest in stair steps to help the dog reach the couch or car. Raised feeding platforms ease sore backs and necks. Orthopedic beds reduce pain, too, by providing support. Your aging dog will spend a good deal of time in that bed, so it may be worth the money.
Most of all, your old guy wants to spend time with you, his head on your knee or curled up next to you on the sofa. Your walks may be shorter and slower than in days gone by, but they will be greeted with the same happy enthusiasm.
That’s what having a dog is all about.