Experience has demonstrated that most “elderly” or “geriatric” dogs reach their advanced age only due to a lifetime of good care, advances in pet nutrition and veterinary care, and good genetic makeup. An August 6, 1995 Gannet News Service article, “From Hearing Loss to Loss of Appetite: Caring for an Aging Dog,” by Ray Weiss reported research that “indicated that more than 40% of all dog owners have a pet that’s seven years or older.” Younger animals commonly may pass away due to disease, accidents, or lack of a suitable diet or proper veterinary care. Remember — “There is no friend like an old friend.”
The definition of “old age” will vary with each dog based on a number of factors including its breed, size, and health. Giant and large breed dogs commonly live from 7.5-8.9 years and occasionally up to age ten. Medium-sized breeds show obvious signs of aging when they become about 10.2 years old. Small and toy-size dogs may show signs of aging at about 11.5 years, but can live to fifteen years of age or older.
The older dog requires your continued quality care and medical attention to insure that its continuing years are as healthy, comfortable and happy as possible. Advancing age typically brings about graying of hairs around the muzzle, the hair coat may become less shiny, its eyes may become hazy with a bluish tint, glaucoma or cataracts and it may suffer from muscle strains, aches, arthritis or other mobility-related disorders.
Older dogs may also be subject to tooth and periodontal disease, loss of enamel, normal wear or a buildup of plaque; loss of hearing acuity, dietary disorders, skin growths, fatty tumors, prostrate tumors, cancer — the number one killer of older dogs —, diabetes and heart problems. It may have the need for more frequent urine or bowel movements. It may respond with pain to rough treatment due to joint pain or other ailments. Spaying and neutering your dog may help to prevent future health problems, including mammary tumors, testicular tumors and other reproductive-related issues.
Adjust your animal’s lifestyle to its activity level, diet, body type, and environment. If possible, allow your older dogs to live inside to enjoy its “twilight years” with your family. If it has to be kept out-of-doors; provided it with a dry, well-bedded and weather/water-tight entry to keep your animal comfortable and sheltered from the elements: during any inclement weather, whether hot, cold, blowing, or wet. Resting pallets, bedding and the shelter interior must be kept dry, as dampness won’t allow the dog to maintain its body temperature and may make arthritic conditions worse. Raise the dog house several inches off the ground to prevent ground cold from chilling the animals in winter.
Be sure to check with your veterinarian at your dog’s next check-up or vaccinations to determine the best diet recommendations and exercise as your animal ages. Your veterinarian may recommend twice-a-year examinations due to your pet’s increasing years to catch problems early when they are most easily treated.
Provide a balanced, nutritious diet formulated for the age of your dog, fresh water at all times, prevent obesity, exercise in moderation, provide regular grooming and brushing, provide a safe and comfortable environment and watch your animal frequently to observe changes in behavior or health.
When exercising your dog, avoid the hottest times of the day to prevent heatstroke and heat prostration and excessive stress to your dog’s heart, lungs, muscles and joints. You may want to consider portable ramps if your pet presently has to jump into your vehicle for trips to and from the dog park, veterinarian or elsewhere. Never leave any dog, but especially an older dog, in a vehicle during warm weather as they are highly susceptible to heat-related stress or death.
A time may come when you and your family will decide that it is time to provide your long-time family member with euthanasia if it is suffering from one or more of the following: the inability to control its elimination of body waste, senility or canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), loss of balance, non-treatable cancer or extreme physical pain. Don’t just sit back and “let Nature take its course.” Your dog has earned your cherished love and respect and deserves to continue receiving your such care up until the end.
There are several humane options available for you. The first is to contact your family veterinarian and discuss an injection of a barbiturate or other anesthetic. You may wish to be present during the procedure or not. The second is to contact your local animal control or animal welfare shelter. Most shelters do not allow the owner to be present during euthanasia, however, a few have their own staff veterinarians and may allow the presence of owners during this procedure.