There’s no avoiding the fact that like you, your dog is aging. But unlike humans, dogs reach their golden years somewhere between seven and ten years old. The rate at which your dog ages will depend on their breed, size, and overall health. Giant breeds reach their senior years before smaller dogs, but regardless of what kind of dog you have, part of your job as a pet parent is to pay attention to their changing health. Some side effects of aging are normal and unavoidable, but there are also age-related health issues that can be treated if they’re caught soon enough. If you’re living with a senior dog, be on the lookout for these six symptoms.
- Slow to Get Up
A general slowing down is normal as dog’s age. They gradually lose their puppy energy and are more interested in relaxing on the couch than getting into trouble. A dog that struggles to slowly rise to their feet, however, could be suffering from arthritis. Arthritis happens when the cartilage in a joint deteriorates and leaves the bones to rub and grind against each other. It can be extremely painful and affect the way a dog moves. There is no cure for arthritis, but if you talk to your vet, there are ways to minimize your dog’s joint pain.
- Extra Naps
Adult dogs typically sleep 12-14 hours a day, and they spend several more hours being awake but inactive. Some dogs sleep more than others, but you should be able to tell when your senior dog starts napping more than usual. Excess sleep could be a sign of arthritis or any other kind of painful condition. Most dogs would rather sleep through their pain than risk moving and making it worse. Sleep can be a good thing, but even senior dogs need regular physical exercise and mental enrichment. If your senior dog would rather continue snoozing than get up to interact with you, it’s time to visit the vet.
- Weight Gain
Senior dogs are less active than their younger counterparts, and that means they burn fewer calories. A few extra pounds over the course of a few years is typically nothing to worry about, but significant weight gain will increase your dog’s risk of developing arthritis and other health problems. You might be able to get your dog back down to a healthy weight by changing their diet. Whole Dog Journal suggests feeding overweight dogs foods that are low in carbs and high in protein. It’s also important to be careful with treats. Choose dog treats made from whole meats and no preservatives. If a diet doesn’t seem to work, your dog’s weight gain could be related to something more serious like thyroid or metabolism problems. Tell your vet what you’re currently feeding your dog and ask about other possible reasons for weight gain.
- Perceived Stubbornness
If you tell your dog to sit—an obedience skill they’ve long-since mastered—and they refuse to move, don’t assume it’s because they’re becoming more stubborn. A more likely explanation is a symptom of their age is preventing them from performing like they used to. Hearing loss is a common symptom of old age, and some senior dogs go completely deaf. If they can’t hear you, they can’t do what you say. Another possibility to consider is that they refuse to obey because what you’re asking causes them pain. If they have arthritis and you ask them to lie on a hard surface, can you blame them for wanting to avoid unnecessary pain?
- Frequent Bathroom Accidents
Most dogs figure out the trick to potty training long before they reach their senior years. The occasional accident between spaced-out bathroom breaks is nothing to be concerned about, but there could be a medical problem if your senior dog is frequently leaving you stinky presents indoors. They haven’t forgotten the household rules, but aging often affects a dog’s ability to “hold it.” Once you recognize a pattern of carpet cleaning and sanitizing, start by giving your dog more frequent bathroom breaks. If the problem persists, it could be a sign of kidney failure or a urinary tract infection. PetMD recommends feeding dogs at risk of kidney failure treats that are low in calories, high in fiber, and of quality protein. Carrot treats are a good option, and so are fresh green beans. Ask your vet for more diet recommendations.
Feeling a lump under your dog’s fur doesn’t always mean cancer, but a dog’s chance of developing cancer increases with age. It’s important to feel your dog’s skin on a regular basis to check for abnormal growths. You already spend a lot of time petting them, but make sure you check the areas you don’t usually touch including the insides of their legs, around their armpits, and on their shoulders. Dogs can also develop tumors in their mouths and noses. It’ll be easier to check for tumors on short-haired dogs, but don’t let a dog’s long fur keep you from being thorough. If you find a lump, contact your vet immediately to have it checked out.
The most important thing to remember when caring for a senior dog is your four-legged family member is relying on you to pay attention to their health. Older dogs are more susceptible to health issues, and symptoms of serious illness can easily slip through the cracks and get worse with time. If you ever suspect your dog isn’t feeling their best, consult with a trusted veterinarian. They may be aging, but that doesn’t mean your dog can’t be happy and healthy by your side.