Your family dog, once spry and playful, will start to show signs of aging as the passage of time takes its toll. Depending on your dog's breed and size, he will enter his senior years between the ages of 7 and 10. Larger dogs tend to show signs of aging earlier than smaller breeds; they have correspondingly shorter life spans. Aging is inevitable, you can help to keep your dog happy, healthy and active through his golden years.
It may come as a surprise the day you first realize your dog is graying on his muzzle or around his eyes. As he ages further, the graying might eventually cover his entire face. Senior dogs often develop dry, coarse hair or thinner coats. Brush your dog frequently to help distribute natural oils through his coat; discuss adding flax or fish oil to his food with your vet. Benign cysts and fatty lumps are common skin changes in the elderly canine. Though these are usually harmless, always have your vet examine a new lump or a change in your dog's skin. Your dog's toenails can become brittle with age, so keep them clipped to avoid tears, splits or breaks.
As your pet ages, you may notice he doesn't respond to commands or sounds the way he used to, even noises that once would have brought him running. Be patient with your dog if he doesn't obey as quickly as he did when younger. You may notice Rover doesn't see things the way he used to. Like humans, canine vision tends to weaken with age. Many older dogs develop nuclear sclerosis, which gives a cloudy appearance to the dog's eyes. Nuclear sclerosis doesn't affect vision, but cataracts -- which also cause a cloudy eye -- do, so have your dog's eyes examined by his veterinarian.
Just like an elderly human, your senior dog might feel stiff or sore when rising in the morning, when walking or during extended exercise. Common signs of arthritis include limping, walking very slowly, refusal to walk up or down steps, whining or crying, and lack of appetite. Your vet can advise you on the proper dosage of pain medications for your pet. Other ways to make Rover more comfortable include a ramp to help him get into the car or on the couch, an egg-crate cushion or pad in his bed, and an extra blanket when the weather turns cold.
Many dog owners attribute any changes in appearance or behavior to the normal aging process, but several conditions common to aging dogs are treatable. If your dog loses significant weight, is very thirsty and urinates more than usual, he might have diabetes. Excessive fatigue after minimal activity, panting and coughing can be symptoms of heart disease. Unusual behaviors such as pacing, confusion, barking or crying at night, lack of appetite and aggression are sometimes signs of cognitive decline similar to human Alzheimer's disease. Your veterinarian can diagnose these conditions and prescribe treatment.
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