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Thu, Dec. 05

All About Pets: Life with an older dog

Walker, my dog nephew, now has a ramp to help him enter into his comfy place in the van as his owners prepare for a cross-country journey. (Christy Powers/Courtesy)

Walker, my dog nephew, now has a ramp to help him enter into his comfy place in the van as his owners prepare for a cross-country journey. (Christy Powers/Courtesy)

As with all of us, age is a factor we must deal with. It is not an easy situation either for the people in our lives or when it concerns our dogs. As we are well aware, they age faster than we do. Normally, during our lifetime, we have witnessed the aging of many of our dear companions. It is never easy.

As I cope with the aging of my own girl, I am surrounded by stories from friends of what they are going through. Arthritis is one of the first things we notice. We watch as they struggle to get to their feet, and as it progresses, they might fall when walking. So heartbreaking.

There are supplements we can give them which help relieve the pain of arthritis. There are many products sold for this purpose, but check with your veterinarian to make sure you are providing the best available. I heard that some products ordered through the internet have been adulterated. Dasuquin is said to be one of the best available right now but you may need a prescription from your vet.

Exercise is most helpful in keeping these joints working, but we must pay attention to the dog. He will let us know what is enough. If a dog has spent his years walking regularly, he will stick to that routine as long as possible.

And it is helpful to us as well, naturally.

It is estimated that 10 percent of dogs are older than 10 years. Unfortunately, the larger the dog, the quicker he ages. But also genetic background, nutritional status and the presence of other diseases are significant in the aging process. Good care throughout a dog’s lifetime is a major contributor to a healthy longer life.

As we know, way too many dogs are overweight. Obesity is a major factor in the aging process, and excess treats and table scraps are frequently the culprit. A healthy diet is necessary throughout a dog’s lifetime, but some adjustments must be made as the dog ages.

The amount of food is determined by the dog’s waistline, which should always be visible when observed from above. There was a rage of senior diets a while ago, but many of those were not providing the nourishment required. The food must be of the highest quality with an adequate supply of nutrients. The diet must be high in protein but lower in fat. Reading the label is vital, as usual.

Frequently, hearing is diminished. My girl is generally deaf unless a meal or her Kong is involved, or unless I open the cookie jar. Failing eyesight also might be observed but generally, this is gradual and not a factor in everyday activities. The sense of smell is still very acute.

One very important issue is care of the teeth. We can provide this ourselves, with regular brushing, but the vet will check this out during our regular visits. It seems that smaller dogs are more prone to tooth loss. Some dogs have teeth cleaning done through the vet, and this usually requires anesthesia, which generally is not recommended for an older dog.

As with our own teeth, the better we care for them throughout life, the longer they will last. Dogs are not keen on having their teeth brushed, but it is so important.

Older dogs can have tremors. My girl has them during the night, but apparently they are not harmful. A pat or two from me usually calms her.

Dementia can appear in older dogs. Strange behavior is observed including staring into a corner or eating things like rocks or pieces of our clothing.

My vet informed me that this was not unusual as dogs age. It can be rather disturbing.

A regular daily routine along with a good diet and exercise are key factors in slowing the aging of our dear companions. (Guess it works for us as well!)

Christy Powers is a freelance writer whose passion is studying and writing about pet health, nutrition and training. She can be reached at cpowerspak@gmail.com.

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