Your dog is considered geriatric when they reach their expected life span. This age will vary between dog breeds, as smaller breeds have considerably longer life expectancies than larger breeds. For example, a small dog’s life expectancy may be 12 years, whereas some giant breeds are expected to live for only seven years. However, no matter the number of years your dog is expected to live, excellent lifelong care and dedication often allows pets in good health to live months, or years, past their life expectancy. Of course, geriatric dogs will require extra TLC and more frequent veterinary care, to ensure they remain healthy and happy. As your beloved pet slows down, has trouble walking, and develops age-related health conditions, they will need your help navigating their final years with grace and dignity.
With so many options, choosing a diet for your geriatric dog can be overwhelming. As your dog ages, their nutritional needs will change, and their diet should be appropriate for their life stage and breed. Your geriatric pet should not eat the same food as when they were young or middle-aged—they require a diet made specifically for geriatric dogs. If you are not sure which food to choose, a veterinarian is the best source of advice.
Whereas overeating and obesity is a concern for most dog owners, geriatric pets often have a decreased appetite, and lose weight. To help your dog maintain adequate muscle mass and strength, you’ll need to ensure they consume a sufficient number of calories each day. A veterinarian can help you calculate your geriatric dog’s daily calorie allotment. To determine how much to feed your dog at each meal, divide their total daily calorie allotment by two and, using the calories per cup on the dog food label, calculate how many cups of food to give your pet. At meal time, measure your dog’s food with a measuring cup, to ensure they receive the proper amount.
If your geriatric dog has a decreased appetite, you can make their meals more appealing by adding canned food, warming the food to increase its aroma, or hand feeding your dog. Speak with a veterinarian about your pet’s appetite loss, as many medical issues, including dental disease and organ failure, could be responsible, and a veterinarian may be able to prescribe an appetite stimulant. Also, ensure your geriatric dog can easily access their food and water. Geriatric pets with mobility issues may have difficulty getting to their food and water bowls, particularly if they need to go up or down stairs. Place food and water bowls in easy-to-access locations on each floor of your home to ensure your geriatric dog can eat and drink adequate amounts.
Many geriatric dogs develop conditions that lead to frequent house-soiling. For example, arthritic dogs may not be able to get outside in time, female dogs who were spayed young may develop hormone-associated incontinence, and dogs with cognitive dysfunction often forget they are supposed to eliminate outdoors. In addition, older dogs cannot hold on as long as younger dogs, and require more frequent potty breaks. Take your geriatric dog outside frequently, or provide an inside area that is appropriate for elimination, with puppy pads or artificial turf. If your geriatric dog has mobility problems, you can use a sling to help them walk outside to eliminate. When your pet does have an accident, clean it up quickly with an enzyme-based cleaner to completely eliminate the odor, which will remove their temptation to go again in the same spot. Understand that accidents may become more frequent for your geriatric dog, but never punish them for an accident.
In addition to cleaning your house, you’ll need to keep your geriatric dog clean and dry. Accidents, particularly those that occur when your pet is lying down, can cause urine scalding and skin infections, if waste contacts their skin for prolonged periods. Clean all urine or feces from your pet’s skin and fur as soon as possible to prevent these complications. Consider having your geriatric dog groomed with a sanitary cut, which keeps the hair around their hind end and inner thighs cut short, so the skin can dry faster. You can also use a zinc-free, pet-safe diaper cream to protect your pet’s skin and make clean-ups easier.
Your geriatric dog will spend more time relaxing and sleeping, and needs a comfortable bed. Choose one made of supportive material that’s washable, especially if your pet has frequent accidents. For larger dogs, a crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet makes an excellent dog bed. Your dog most likely wants to be near you, although mobility problems may prevent them from following you through the house as they once did. Place your geriatric dog’s bed in a common family area, where they can be near family activity and comforting noises.
Geriatric dogs often can’t thermoregulate as well as younger pets, and don’t handle temperature extremes well. In the winter, limit your geriatric dog’s time outdoors, and ensure they are warm enough indoors. You may need to place their bed near a heating vent, or use a small heater, to keep them warm. In the summer, geriatric pets are more likely to overheat, and should be kept in the air conditioning on hot days, except for short potty breaks.
Your geriatric dog may be slowing down, but this does not mean you should stop exercising them regularly. In fact, physical and mental activity is more important than ever for your geriatric dog, as the movement and stimulation will keep their body and mind agile. Your dog may not be able to accompany you on your daily run, but you may be able to incorporate a number of activities into their routine, including:
Encourage your pet to interact with your family and other pets often. If mobility problems interfere with their ability to access favorite spots, make navigating your home as easy as possible. Place rubber-backed rugs in a path on slippery floors to prevent a fall, or use toe grips to provide traction. If your dog can no longer jump onto the bed or couch, use ramps or steps to help them get to their resting spots.
As your dog ages, health problems become more common, and keeping them healthy requires more effort. Although medical issues may develop, staying on top of your geriatric pet’s health care, and addressing problems immediately, can help them maintain a good quality of life.
While annual veterinary visits may have been sufficient to monitor your adult pet’s health, your geriatric pet’s health status can change quickly, and more frequent visits are necessary. Most healthy geriatric dogs should visit a veterinarian every three to six months, to help ensure diseases are detected in their early stages when treatment is most effective. During your pet’s visit, a veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam, oral health assessment, and lifestyle risk assessment. Routine screening tests, such as a heartworm test and fecal analysis, are typically performed to detect dangerous parasites that can impact your dog’s health. A veterinarian may also perform comprehensive blood work to evaluate your dog’s blood cell counts and organ function, and screen for diseases, such as diabetes and liver failure. If your geriatric dog has a chronic health condition, they will likely need more frequent veterinary visits to monitor their progress and adjust treatments.
You may be tempted to skip your geriatric dog’s vaccines, but as your pet ages, their immune system can weaken, leaving them more susceptible to common infectious diseases. A veterinarian will base your dog’s vaccines on their current lifestyle and exposure risk to specific diseases, although all dogs will receive core vaccines, including:
Optional vaccines that can be administered, based on your geriatric dog’s lifestyle and risk, include:
A number of internal and external parasites can threaten your geriatric dog’s health, and require regular prevention and screening.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dental disease is the most common medical problem of dogs, and without regular dental care, most pets will develop dental disease by 3 years of age. Regular dental care consists of daily toothbrushing combined with regular dental exams and professional veterinary cleanings. Most pets require annual dental exams and cleanings, although some may need more frequent care. If your geriatric dog has not received consistent dental care throughout their life, they likely have advanced dental disease that is causing pain. Many owners assume their pet who is able to eat is not in pain, but dogs frequently mask pain, and will not stop eating until the pain becomes unbearable. For geriatric dogs with a decreased appetite, dental pain may be the cause. Owners of geriatric dogs are often hesitant to have their dog’s teeth cleaned under anesthesia, but many geriatric pets can be safely anesthetized. Allowing dental disease and infection to progress is typically more detrimental to your pet’s health, and a veterinarian will perform a thorough pre-anesthetic workup to determine whether your geriatric dog can safely undergo anesthesia.
Health problems are more common in geriatric dogs, and regular veterinary monitoring is essential to detect diseases as soon as possible, when treatment can provide a better quality of life, and afford you more time with your beloved companion. Common health concerns of geriatric dogs include:
progression, and provide you more time with your pet.
As your dog ages, they may develop chronic, debilitating health conditions, and despite your excellent care and devotion, the inevitable will eventually occur. If your pet is nearing their final months, weeks, or days, you may consider hospice or palliative care, which provides pain control and comfort, and minimizes a disease’s effects during your pet’s last days. You will likely function as your dog’s hospice caregiver, and will partner with a veterinarian to manage their care. Treatments, such as pain medications, appetite stimulants, anti-nausea medications, and subcutaneous fluids, can keep your pet comfortable, and give you more time as you prepare to say goodbye.
As your geriatric dog nears their final days, you may consider euthanasia, which will allow your pet to pass comfortably, and with dignity, as opposed to suffering. Many pet owners struggle with choosing the right time to have their pet euthanized. Although there is no perfect time to make this decision, you should consider making arrangements before your pet’s quality of life significantly declines, and you are forced to rush them to a veterinarian for emergency euthanasia when they are suffering.
By maintaining a veterinary relationship and providing excellent care, your pet can thrive past their life expectancy. But, as your geriatric dog ages, health problems become more likely, and diseases can develop. If your geriatric dog isn’t acting normally, or you have questions that need immediate answers, download the Airvet app and speak with one of our experienced veterinarians in minutes.