Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Senior Dogs still rule the world

by User Not Found | Jan 01, 2014

Gus is getting older….I’ve had him since he was 9 weeks old and he just turned 11 in August.  No one wants to say it out loud, especially when it is upon you, but the average life span for a big dog like a golden retriever is about 12 years.  I actually love being around all the people of NRGRR because I hear about all the dogs that were 15 or 16 years old when they crossed the bridge, which is awesome.  Much of it is genetics of course and beyond our control, but there are certainly things that you can do to help your loyal companion enjoy his or her golden years….

1.   Why does my dog seem to nap all the time, or more than they used to?

Think about it, what stimulates your dog?  When you call them or when you come home from being away they jump up, wag their tail and come to you for pets.  With increasing age, dogs can lose their ability to see or hear as well, so you may have to try a little harder to make sure to interact with them.  If you don’t, they get bored and if they get bored, they sleep.  Also, arthritis can slow them down and they may not want to move around as much, so make sure you keep up the exercise and provide them with a soft bed so they can sleep better and more comfortably at night.  I don’t know about you but I have to cut myself off drinking water at night, otherwise I have to get up in the middle of the night, we can all speak for the interruption in sleep because of that!  They nap during the day to catch up, my employer, however, seems to frown on that.

2.   What’s with the horrid breath??

We sometimes assume that the reason our dog has bad breath is because they are getting older, more plaque on their teeth and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Not exactly.  It’s never too late to start brushing teeth because it’s true that tooth or gum disease is one of the most common reasons for bad breath.  I’m currently experimenting with a new product that does not require brushing but only application once daily.  Look around and talk to your vet about the many options available for keeping your dog’s teeth healthy.  Not only will it keep their breath smelling better, it will help them keep their teeth!  You know, for eating.

Another cause of bad breath is medical, like kidney or liver disease or even diabetes.  Make sure that your dog is regularly visiting the vet.  Even if they seem to be acting normal and may not be due for vaccines, it’s a good idea to get them in to see your vet for a full exam at least once a year.  They may see something you didn’t.  Something as simple as a urine test can diagnose many of these things.  I know it’s a running joke that you can’t get out of the vet office for under $150, but it costs that much just to walk thru the door of the Emergency Clinic and that’s before they have even treated your dog! 

3.  Why is my dog bumping in to things?

As dog’s age, they experience changes in their eyes as part of a natural process.  This is not the same thing as cataracts, but a normal pattern that occurs.  Dogs are very able to adapt, but you can make adjustments to make it even easier for them.  Clear walkways that they use to their favorite sleeping spot, the door to go out and their food and water bowls.  If you need to rearrange furniture, help them by leading them around until they get a feel for their new surroundings.  Don’t startle or scare them with your touch, use your voice more prior to petting or to wake them from sleeping.  If you have stairs, try to keep them blocked off unless you are there to help navigate and/or build a ramp to help them go up and down.  I’m no carpenter, but a sturdy piece of wood with some outdoor carpeting will do the trick.  If your dog is outside, especially in unfamiliar territory, keep them on a leash and with you at all times.

4.  Why has my dog regressed with basic commands?

Most likely your dog’s hearing is affected.  You can try teaching hand signals, especially when they are younger to help them understand, but many dogs are much more sensitive than we are to vibrations.  Clapping or stomping the floor may also get their attention.

5.  What about weight gain?

I find myself grunting after prying myself out of bed in the morning, your dog probably does the same as those aches and pains of old age catch up.  Laying around makes us stiff and sometimes a little painful if arthritis is present, but you’ve got to keep moving!  Although we can’t run and jump and play like when we were younger, not moving at all can make the problems worse.  Walk your dog daily, as much as they can tolerate, you’ll see huge improvements in their ability to get around on a regular basis.  EASY ON THE COOKIES!  As your dog ages, metabolism slows down so you’ll have to be extra vigilant about the amount of food and treats you give, even if its “what you’ve always done”.  It’s your job to keep their weight down since obesity can compound problems and make them more susceptible to disease.  Do some research and talk to your vet about diet changes and if they are needed.  Lean proteins like fish and bison are better than fattier proteins like lamb.  Additional fiber may be helpful, but the food must be lower in calories and fat.

6.  How can I help a dog who is losing weight?

I know, Captain Obvious, but is he/she eating?  Watch carefully and make sure they are able to chew their food and able to reach it.  Neck or back pain reaching for the bowl can make them not want to eat.  Let them eat lying down or raise the bowl a bit if that seems to help.  Also check their mouth for sore teeth or gums.  Are they on any new medications?  Those can decrease appetite as well.  Try feeding smaller, more frequent meals and of course make sure to rule out any medical causes with your vet.  I don’t know about you but when I’m about to eat something delicious, the first thing I do is smell it and take it all in.  As we age, our sense of smell and taste decrease which consequently makes you actually less hungry.  I often add a little canned food to dry kibble if they have trouble chewing or smelling the food.  You can also moisten dry kibble with water (or salt free chicken broth—but you didn’t hear that from me) to help soften it.  Seriously, just all things in moderation with the special treats like chicken broth.

7.  Why does it seem like my dog has forgotten her house training?

Forgetting long-time habits can be a sign of CCD or Canine Cognitive Disorder.  As we have advanced medicine for dogs, they are living longer lives, but inevitable aging changes still occur in all organ systems including the brain.  CCD is the same essentially for humans and dogs and is mostly compared to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.  We’ll talk more about this later but there are good sources of information on this on the internet or thru your veterinarian.  Medical issues can also cause house-soiling but letting them go outside more often helps tremendously.

8.  My dog won’t go outside or won’t go outside without me.

Aging affects skin and hair as well.  It’s not as thick and protective as it used to be so temperature changes can have more impact.  During really hot or really cold weather, limit time outside.  Dogs pant to cool off, but older lungs are not as efficient so they have a tougher time controlling their body temperature.  Perhaps it is painful for them to urinate or defecate.  Make sure to have them checked out by a vet as they could have a UTI or painful hips or back.  Vision and hearing loss can make them scared to venture out on their own.  Remember you are the protector as the pack leader, so they look to you for comfort when they are feeling scared or frightened. 

9.  Dog’s that bite or snap.

These stories break my heart.  A long-time family pet is surrendered or worse euthanized because they snapped at another dog, a human or a child.  This can be for several reasons.  Loss of hearing or eyesight can frighten a dog that was sleeping or simply not paying attention.  Losing your ability to do things that you used to be able to do and not being able to cope with big changes because of this can raise stress levels and result in actions that appear to be aggressive.  If your dog is hurting from arthritis, they may not be able to move themselves away from a situation that is annoying.  Don’t leave a child or visitor alone with a senior dog, even if there hasn’t been a problem in the past.  Continue to protect your dog as the pack leader so they don’t have to worry about defending themselves.  Be patient and understanding with the changes your dog is going through and remember that your dog has been a loving and loyal companion all of his life.  Be a loving, loyal and understanding companion to your dog when they need you the most.

10.  What about medications?

Every time I turn around there is a new drug or supplement being developed.  I can’t keep up and that’s impressive because I work in the medical field.  Talk to your vet about any changes you notice, even if you think they aren’t a big deal and they can talk to you about ways to make your senior dog more comfortable.  Medications that are available now range from, NSAIDs for arthritis to pain medications, heart and blood pressure, and even those that can help with the symptoms of CCD.  But make sure you get ALL the information from the vet, not just the benefits.  Medications can cause weight gain or loss, lethargy, loss of balance, increased thirst, vomiting or other symptoms.  If your dog is already taking any medications or supplements, make sure you mention those too.  The good news is that not only are these drugs available to our pets, there are also alternatives in case your dog can’t tolerate one.

Getting old isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but senior dogs are instant companions who again and again prove their loyalty.  If you have a young dog, that dog will be a senior dog someday too so this information is just as important.  Remember all the times you were feeling down or angry or even sad, your dog was there for you, they showed you kindness, patience and unconditional love.  Now is your chance to do the same for them.  There’s something about knowing that your dog won’t outlive you, but loving them with all your heart anyway.  That’s what we can do for them, especially after all they have done for us.



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