14 Changes Dogs Go Through As They Age That All Pet Owners Should Know About
When I got my first dog, I was in denial that I would outlive him. For years, my German shepherd Lucas effortlessly jumped into my Jeep for hiking adventures and trips to the beach — until one day he couldn't make the jump. Changes that your dog will go through as it ages are a reminder that your beloved four-legged friend will one day become a senior — and while it's easy to stay in a comfortable of state denial, it's important to recognize the signs so you can make sure your fur-baby bestie is as comfortable as possible. When it became clear that the Jeep was too high for Lucas to jump into, my then-boyfriend and I picked him up and put him in the car. After all, he still loved to be included in everything outdoors. Eventually, his back legs started to cross, he had trouble getting up, and sometimes his hind quarters even collapsed.
Lucas was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, which is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. Basically, his brain stopped communicating with his back legs, and he was unable to control his movements. I immediately bought a harness that went around his hips so I could keep them upright during our walks, but it eventually became clear that Lucas' quality of life wasn't great. He couldn't walk unassisted, and I was forced to admit that I was keeping him alive because I didn't want to say goodbye to my best friend. I reluctantly let him go, and even though it was beyond devastating, every second we spent together was worth the pain of losing him. If your dog is getting older, these are some things you should look out for so you can get your best friend the care they need.
1. Weakness In Your Dog's Hind Legs
When large-breed dogs get older, weakness in their hind legs can signal problems like hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, and even cancer. It's important to notice possible signs of this so you can take your pup to the vet as soon as possible.
2. Your Dog Develops Vision Problems
Dogs are incredibly adaptable and stoic, so you might not notice a problem until it's been going on for awhile. This does not by any means make you a bad pet parent. You dog is good at hiding problems from you, so when health issues do become apparent it's a good idea to get your pup to the vet ASAP. A lot of dogs begin to lose their vision as they age, according to PetMD, and this is totally normal. Reluctance to climb stairs, bumping into things, or suddenly being fearful can all be signs of vision loss. However, most dogs adapt pretty well to being blind, and you can ask your vet for recommendations about how to make things easier for your little fur baby.
3. Your Dog Has Problems Going To The Bathroom
If your aging pup suddenly develops problems going to the bathroom, consult your vet to make sure there isn't another underlying problem like an infection. As dogs age they sometimes have to go to the bathroom more often and could begin having accidents in the house. Additionally, strained urination could be a sign of kidney disease, according to PetMD. The good news is that a lot of potty problems can be alleviated with dietary and lifestyle changes, like not offering water after a certain time at night, and making sure your pup goes to the bathroom right before bed.
4. Your Dog Isn't As Active
As dogs age they often aren't able to go on the same long walks and steep hikes they enjoyed as pups. While slowing down is a normal part of aging, it's also a good idea to get your dog annual check ups so the vet can look for things like arthritis or other issues that could be making your dog tired, according to iHeart Dogs.
5. Your Dog Doesn't Respond To Your Voice
While it's common for cats to ignore you on the regular, dogs are generally known for being super responsive to their owners' voices. There was a point where I thought Lucas was losing his hearing, and the vet clapped her hands right next to his ear to check it out. He immediately reacted, which was a big relief. However, according to iHeart Dogs, if your dog doesn't come when you call, you might want to get their hearing checked. Deaf dogs can still have a good quality of life, and you and Spot can learn to communicate via hand signals instead.
6. Your Dog's Breath Smells Like Hot Garbage
If your dog's sweet puppy breath is starting to smell more like hot garbage, ask your vet if your aging pup needs a teeth cleaning or is starting to develop other oral problems, PetMD recommended. You can get ahead of any problems by regularly brushing your dog's teeth. However, sometimes, despite your best efforts, older dogs need to have some or all of their teeth pulled. Don't worry; dogs can still eat and enjoy life without their chompers. There's a great human-grade dehydrated food that I feed my pup called Honest Kitchen. You just add water, and in three minutes the food expands into a stew that your fur baby can easily eat with or without teeth.
7. You Notice New Lumps Or Bumps On Your Dog
Often, skin lumps or bumps on your dog are benign and don't need any attention — however, if your dog has never had any lumps before, and you find one, it's important to get it checked so you can rule out more serious problems, like cancer. According to PetMD, if you dog starts to develop other skin problems, there are things your vet can recommend, like supplements or changes in diet to make them more comfortable.
8. Your Dog Starts Behaving Differently
If your dog suddenly experiences behavioral changes, they could be trying to alert you to an underlying health problem. "Mild-mannered dogs who start to show aggression may be signaling that they don't feel well or are even developing dementia," Vet Street noted on its website. "The causes of this type of symptom can be treated or medically managed. Therefore, it is important to note changes in your dog’s behavior or preferences and communicate them to your veterinarian."
9. You Notice Significant Changes In Your Dog's Weight
When your dog slows down, you might notice that they start to gain weight. It's totally normal for your dog's nutritional needs to change as they age, according to the website Pet Coach. It's also important to make sure your pup doesn't put on too much weight because that can put a strain on their joints and exacerbate other conditions, like arthritis. If your senior dog loses a lot of weight, your vet might check for thyroid or kidney problems, which can usually be managed with diet and medication.
10. Your Dog Gets More Infections
If your older dog doesn't have any medical conditions, and they suddenly seem to be getting a lot more ear or respiratory infections, it could mean their immune system isn't working as well, which is a normal part of the aging process. If you notice this, make sure you get your pup treatment ASAP so the infections don't worsen. Pet Coach also recommended keeping your dog up to date on its vaccinations, but you and your vet can decide together what's best for your dog.
11. Your Dog Is More Sensitive To Temperature Changes
Kind of like humans, as dogs age they have difficulty regulating their body temperatures. "Dogs who could handle cold temperatures when they were young, may not be able to as they age. Monitoring the environmental temperature around your dog, and making adjustments will help your older dog be more comfortable," Pet Coach explained. "You may need to move his bed closer to a heat register, or keep him indoors during hot weather."
12. Your Dog Has Wounds That Won't Heal
If your aging pup has a wound that doesn't seem to heal, it could be a sign of decreased immune-system function, which might point to something more serious. "Keeping a close eye on your dog’s wounds is a good way to gauge for cancer, since the decreased immune function associated with cancer will keep your dog’s wounds from healing in a normal amount of time," Pet Care RX noted on its website.
13. Your Dog Seems Confused
In many ways, dog really are just like us. If your dog starts showing signs of confusion, your pooch could have dementia. According to the website Caring for a Senior Dog, signs of dementia in your canine companion can include pacing or wandering aimlessly through the house, appearing lost or confused, becoming trapped under or behind furniture, standing head first in corners or tight spaces, having trouble finding and using doors, howling, barking or whining for no apparent reason, seeming scared of people they know, walking in circles, and more. If you notice these signs in your pup, you can work with your vet on a treatment plan.
14. Making The Best Decision For Your Pup
If you notice any of the above signs in your dog, ask your vet for advice. Because, the sooner you know what's a normal part of aging and what's not, the sooner you can do what's best for you and your fur baby. "Many people attribute changes in behavior and physical abilities to getting older and they leave it at that. While sometimes the explanation is as simple as that, other times it’s a sign of a problem and should not be ignored," Hindy Pearson wrote for Caring for a Senior Dog. "I always urge pet parents to take their animal to the vet when they see or feel something isn’t quite right. Seniors in particular can go downhill quite quickly, so the sooner a problem is attended to, the better the outcome is likely to be." And, it goes without saying, make sure you give your senior BAE lots of love and attention. #TheMoreYouKnow!