How to Deal With an Aging Dog
©istockphoto/Catherine Lane

How to Deal With an Aging Dog

One of the hardest truths of dog ownership is that you will most likely outlive your best friend.

When our pal starts slowing down and showing signs of old age, we're often left wondering what to do to help our aging dog and make our last days together as enjoyable and pain-free as possible. Use these tips to help your best friend enjoy a happy life from start to finish.

Understand Your Dog's Lifespan

The fact that dogs can live anywhere from 7-15 years often causes owners to be caught by surprise when their dog reaches old age sooner than expected. Typically, large dogs have a shorter lifespan than their pint-sized counterparts. Therefore, if you own a great dane, you should be on the lookout for signs of old age much sooner (around six years old) than if you own a chihuahua (which typically live to at least 15). Certain breeds, like the Rottweiler, are also known for having short lifespans, while mixed breed dogs tend to live longer than purebreds.

Symptoms of Old Age

It's hard to admit that your dog is getting old, especially if you are not ready to make the realization, but early recognition of a few simple warning signs could buy you and your pet some extra time. Pay close attention if your pooch starts gaining weight, responds slowly to well-known commands or develops cloudiness in her eyes. These symptoms can be indicative of common problems like slowed metabolism or nuclear sclerosis, but may indicate the presence of larger issues such as arthritis or cataracts. If you notice changes in your aging dog's behavior or physique, a quick visit to the vet won't hurt a thing and may save your pet's life.

Exercise for Your Aging Dog

Just because your dog is getting older doesn't mean it's time to quit exercising him. In fact, especially in dogs with arthritis, exercise is just as important as ever to maintain a healthy weight and avoid developing new health problems. Tailor your exercise program to your dog's needs by providing low impact activities such as swimming, short walks and climbing stairs or ramps. Continued exercise will keep your dog at a healthy weight and maintain cardiovascular function. Keep your sessions short to avoid stressing your dog and make sure she is having fun.

Change in Diet = Longer Life

As dogs get older their dietary needs change due to a slowdown in the metabolism, coupled with a lower level of activity. Adjust feeding accordingly. This does not mean you should feed your aging dog a lower quality food. In fact, high quality foods like those from The Honest Kitchen will keep your dog healthier and may even help them live a longer, healthier life. Adding supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may ease the joint pain often suffered by older dogs.

Saying Goodbye

Ideally, all dogs would die in a peaceful sleep, but the truth of the matter is, in the modern canine world, death often comes slow and painful. Advances in veterinary science have allowed pets to live longer than ever, but owners should remember that just because it is possible to keep your dog alive, it's not always the best thing for the dog. The decision to euthanize your aging dog is a personal one and only you know when the time has come. To help make your decision, ask yourself some hard questions and answer them honestly without letting emotion cloud your judgement. Is your dog in pain? Is she still enjoying life? Can you afford necessary treatments? Has your dog lost her appetite? Answering these questions honestly will help you make one of the hardest decisions you'll ever be faced with, but providing your dog with a pain-free, dignified death can also be your last act of love to your cherished friend. Dealing with an aging dog isn't always easy, but you owe it to your furry friend to make the last days of his life as good as the first.

Micah Sargent

Micah Sargent is a freelance writer and photographer living in northern Pennsylvania. He enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, hunting, and fishing. When he's not tapping away at a keyboard or behind a camera, you can find him hanging outdoors with his wife and two sons.
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