Your dog will need different levels of veterinary care and nutrition at each stage of its life. As your dog enters its senior years, it will benefit from more regular check-ups with the veterinarian to help detect any health issues early, and to ensure they remain in the best health possible.
Not all dogs have the same life expectancy; this is dependent on their genetics, lifestyle, breed, and size. Generally speaking, smaller dogs (<10kgs) tend to live longer with an average life expectancy of approximately 12 years, while larger dogs (>45 kgs) tend to have an average life expectancy of 8 years. The ageing process is known to start earlier in larger dogs and therefore each dog will be considered a senior, at a different age. The ages at which veterinarians consider dogs to be mature may be earlier than you expect – small breed dogs are typically classified as mature at approximately 8 years of age, medium breeds at 7 years and large to giant breeds may be considered mature as early as 5 years of age.
Each breed and size of dog will also have slightly different specific age-related problems. For example, small dogs are typically prone to heart disease and dental disease, whereas large dogs are more prone to joint disease.
Signs of Ageing
Although each individual dog will display signs of ageing differently, there are some common ageing processes and signs to look out for.
- Changes to senses: Vision, taste, smell and hearing can all be affected in senior dogs. Partial or complete loss of your dog’s hearing and vision can mean your dog startles more easily, and they may have more difficulty navigating their environment. As your dog’s sense of smell and taste decline with age, so will their appetite. Appetite changes can also be a sign of dental issues or other underlying disease and should always be checked.
- Behaviour: It is normal for your dog to spend more time sleeping and become more sedentary. Other changes in behaviour however, may point to an underlying health issue causing your dog pain or discomfort, and should always be discussed with your veterinarian. These include an increase in anxiety or irritability, lack of interaction, increase stiffness and a reluctance to move. Canine cognitive dysfunction (similar to dementia) in dogs can affect up to one third of senior dogs, especially as dogs enter their geriatric years. Common signs of this condition are inappropriate vocalisation, altered sleep/wake cycles, restlessness, disorientation and house soiling.
- Weight: Mature dogs tend to become more sedentary and as such, have an increased risk of gaining weight. It is critical to ensure your senior dog is kept an ideal bodyweight, as this will help to reduce pressure on their joints and other body systems. Weight loss or sudden changes in weight may be suggestive of an underlying health issue and should always be checked by your veterinarian.
- Health issues: Generally speaking, the most common health issues in dogs are osteoarthritis, cognitive issues, dental disease and cancer. The signs of osteoarthritis in dogs vary but typically include stiffness getting up/sitting down, lameness after exercise, reluctance to move and persistent licking of their joints. Any changes to your dog’s thirst, appetite and/or weight may be a sign of other health issues. Ensure you also take note of any abnormal lumps and have these promptly checked by your veterinarian.
It is important to discuss any of the above changes with your veterinarian, as these may be an important sign of an underlying health condition, where early detection and management is always preferred and in the best interest of your dog.
Nutrition in Senior Dogs
A critical part of supporting your senior dog is ensuring they are eating an appropriately tailored senior diet. Senior diets are formulated to help support senior dogs, through the inclusion of specific nutrients to help slow the onset of age-related disease and help alleviate the signs of ageing. For dogs, senior or mature diets are available in various sizes to help support the age-related changes of particular breeds and sizes.
- Highly digestible protein, and the inclusion of specific amino acids, that help your dog maintain lean muscle mass
- Adapted calorie content to ensure your dog maintains an ideal bodyweight. Many mature or senior canine diets contain increased fibre, l-carnitine and have a moderate calorie content to ensure your senior dog stays at a healthy bodyweight.
- Reduced levels of phosphorus to help support healthy kidney function
- Rich in antioxidants to help slow down the ageing process
- Strong smelling diets to help entice older dogs and support a healthy appetite
- Specific nutrients such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil to support joint health