As the proud dog mom of five Siberian Huskies that over the past 15 years all reached various ages of being a senior, the close bond that develops with our beloved canine companions is a cherished one. While their gait may be slower in their golden years, their loyalty and enjoyment to be with their humans never slows down!
What is one of the most important things a caregiver of a senior dog, or any senior pet, can do to ensure their beloved companion stays healthy?
Lisa Hindson, DVM, founder of Hometown Mobile Veterinary Practice in Queensbury, NY, addresses this question. “Most pet owners would agree that what they want the most for their aging companion is for them to be as physically and mentally healthy and as comfortable as possible in their ‘golden years.’ To better understand the aging process in our pets, it may be helpful to consider the physical and mental changes that may happen to a human as they age and realize that our pets often experience similar changes.”
“One of the obvious differences is that our pets cannot tell us how they are feeling and what their needs might be, at least not with ‘words,’” states Dr. Hindson. “As our pets’ advocates, we are responsible for observing their behaviors, interpreting the meaning, and then taking action on their behalf.”
Veterinary Care and the Senior Pet
Naturally, as our pets grow older, it is especially important to continue their check-ups as a preventative measure. “More frequent veterinary care will address the changing medical needs of your pet,” explains Dr. Hindson.
“Examinations and routine laboratory tests can identify the onset of diseases such as over or under active thyroid illness, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, and arthritis or neurologic decline. Working with your veterinarian you can formulate a plan to address any disease or illness that might include medications, supplements, dietary modifications, and any exercise/activity limitations or therapies.”
Changes in a Senior Dog
Your beloved dog just celebrated a big birthday, but along with the party and doggy cake comes some changes. Older dogs may develop vision and hearing loss, problems with mobility, and increased anxiety. “These physical changes often result in new behaviors that are challenging for an owner to understand,” explains Dr. Hindson. “It is here where it may be necessary to modify your pet’s environment to improve their quality of living.”
Mobility issues can be one of the most disturbing changes seen in older dogs. Dr. Hindson explains that this can occur for a multitude of reason including, arthritis, tendon and ligament soreness and neurologic and/or nerve degeneration. “These changes become clear when a pet can no longer easily navigate stairs, has trouble getting up from laying down, can’t jump up onto furniture or into the vehicle, won’t walk on slippery floors, can’t stand to eat or drink, won’t lay in their favorite bed, and generally seems more anxious.”
As a mobile or “housecall” veterinarian, Dr. Hindson has “the privilege of being able to observe many of my patients in their home environments. When considering elderly and senior pets, I have found that apart from regular vet care, one of the most important things for owners to understand is what their senior pet needs to be as comfortable as possible in their own home.”