Recognizing Common Signs of Aging in Your Dog

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Age creeps up on all of us, but a surprising number of pet parents don't realize that their dog has already reached their "senior" years as soon as 7 years old. This fact is important to remember since your dog's nutrition needs change over time, and addressing those changing health needs can help ensure your beloved furry friend can live their life to the fullest. Here are some common signs of aging to watch out for in your dog.

Physical Signs of Your Dog's Aging

It may be difficult to believe that your pet has reached old age, but unless you’re prepared for it, caring for senior dogs can be challenging. Because these age-related changes can creep up slowly, you might not realize it at first. Here are some visible clues that your dog is getting (and feeling) older:

Vision Loss and other Eye Problems

Has your dog begun bumping into things, falling uncontrollably or displayed signs of eye discomfort or redness? They may be suffering from vision loss or an eye disorder. Deteriorating eyesight is part of the normal aging process for dogs. There are, however, certain things you can do to help your dog adjust. Ask your veterinarian for tips on handling senior dogs with vision loss and to rule out treatable eye diseases such as cataracts, dry eye syndrome or conjunctivitis.

Increased/Strained Urination

Increased urination or strained urination may be an indicator of kidney disease or urinary tract infection, both of which are more commonly seen in middle-aged to older dogs. Fortunately, urinary incontinence and strained urination can often be alleviated with medication or a change in dog food. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect a problem.

Incontinence

Related to urinary issues, it’s not uncommon to see more accidents around the house as your dog gets older. Keep in mind is that these mishaps are not intentional, and your poor dog may not even have knowledge that they are having these accidents. There are a number of items you can use — such as dog diapers, belly bands, plastic sheets and pads — but the most important action you can do is consult your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause.

Other visible signs of age include:

  • Increased sensitivity to sounds

  • Increased barking/whining

  • A decline in grooming and overall hygiene

  • Increased wandering

Signs of Mental Aging in Dogs

Behavioral aging in older dogs can take many forms, but the most common signs stem from the onset of cognitive decline, confusion, a loss of energy and vision loss. 

Inconsistent Sleep

One of the most obvious signs of cognitive dysfunction for senior dogs is that they will have more trouble sleeping throughout the night. Similar to humans with dementia, your dog may begin to confuse their sleep/wake cycle from day to night, wandering the house at night only to sleep throughout the day. Restlessness may also be a signal that your dog’s joints may hurt more, and so make sure to provide comfortable bedding that supports them.

Irritability

Lack of sleep, dulled senses and overall confusion can make anybody more irritable, and your senior dog is no exception. If you notice your dog getting irritable, have your veterinarian check them for underlying conditions. It may be general behavioral aging, or it could be that your dog is in pain. 

Decreased Interaction

Another unfortunate result of cognitive decline in dogs involves a lack of interest and receptiveness with loved ones. It’s important to remember that this is not an indication that your pet has lost love for you. Rather, your dog may be forgetting previously learned cues and habits, along with decreased energy. 

Other social signs of mental aging include:

  • Decreased response to commands

  • Increased anxiety

  • Confusion

  • Disorientation

How You Can Help Your Aging Dog

The number one thing you can do to help your dog is to simply continue to show them love and patience. Your dog might be struggling with old age, but that doesn’t mean that they stopped loving you or your affection. In fact, they may need it more than ever. Look for ways you can make life easier for your pet, whether it’s keeping their food and water bowls in the same place, providing clean, comfortable bedding or using small ramps and steps to help them get around the house.

Keep their Brain and Body Moving

Playing mentally stimulating games can help slow the progression of mental aging in your dog. Try hiding treats around your home or a puzzle toy, or reinforce commands your pet already knows. Exercise is also linked to brain health and mental wellbeing, so take your senior friend for a light walk and perhaps a little socialization. An active brain tends to be a healthy brain, and it will brighten your dog’s day as well!

Make Sure they’re Getting the Right Nutrition.

No matter what your dog looks like on the outside, it’s important to give them proper nutrition that can help fight the effects of aging. Around 7 years old, dogs should start adjusting their diet to meet their changing needs, and a senior dog food may be the best move to ensure your furry friend gets the nutrients they need.

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