Whether we realise it or not, sooner or later the day will come when we as dog owners become aware that our beloved ‘Rover’ or ‘Lady’ are no longer young puppies. It may be the appearance of the first white hairs on the muzzle which strikes us first. Or we notice that for some time now, the usual morning walk has taken 5 minutes longer than it used to … And our dog does not react as ferociously as in his younger years to his “archenemy” from the neighbourhood!
Although it may be a reality hit for us, growing old is a natural stage in the life of our pets. Nonetheless, we should take every care to ensure that we are fully aware of the changes which are a part of this stage in our dogs’ lives. Only by doing so can we estimate the actual needs of our dog during this phase in his life, for example, whether and when we should change the type of food we give him. And what else can we do to assure a long and valuable life for our faithful friend? We offer you these guidelines to help familiarise you with the needs of your older dog, and give you some useful tips to help ensure that you and your dog enjoy even many more happy years together!
The Older Dog’s Senses
The performance of the sensory organs reduces as a dog ages, however in familiar surroundings dogs can get about surprisingly well, even with seriously reduced vision. Only if an item of furniture is moved from its usual place and the dog bumps into it does it occur to us that his senses are not as they once were! Other signs you may notice:
Impaired Vision in Your Senior Dog
- When playing ball, your senior dog may run off in the wrong direction, or only find the ball after a long search.
- Unusual fear or uncertainty when out walking – particularly in the dark – may also be a sign of failing vision. It is typical for blind dogs to reach out further with their front paws when walking. This gait, like a parade march, helps animals with orientation, as the front legs will feel an obstacle before the body bumps into it. Hearing is starts to fail with time.
Deafness in the Ageing Dog
- If your dog no longer reacts reliably to a call or whistle, it may not necessarily be a sign of deafness, but this is definitely a possibility which should be considered! Often a dog can still hear, but only sounds of a particular volume or pitch. In an emergency he may not hear the sound of an approaching car, or if he is some distance away when out for a walk, he can no longer hear you calling. Therefore try out typical sounds (the doorbell, rustling paper, etc.), commands (without gestures!) or whistling – at different volumes – on a regular basis to see whether and when your dog reacts. If you suspect that the dog’s hearing really is deteriorating, you should only let him run off the lead within ‘hearing range’ and as a precaution keep him on a lead near the road.
Be Aware of All Senior Dog Changes
It’s important to note that dogs that can no longer see and/or hear are likely to react with surprise, or even snap, if anyone - even people they know - approach unnoticed. This is a protective reflex. You should not punish your dog for this, but make sure that all family members are aware that your pet is now older and should be approached carefully. For this reason as a matter of principle, children should never be left unsupervised even with the best-behaved dogs! Many of the senior dog changes creep in gradually and we only tend to notice them at a late stage or sometimes not at all. Therefore, it’s advisable to have your vet carry out regular tests on your senior dog to check whether they can still see or hear. As his mental abilities begin to fail, even in familiar surroundings an older dog will in time become more insecure and seek to be close to us more often, as nothing can happen to him when we are there. Old dogs in particular rely more on the love of ‘their people’ and need understanding of their situation. Thank him for the many years you have enjoyed with him with the necessary patience!
Deterioration of Bodily Functions in the Senior Dog
As age increases other bodily functions deteriorate – often more or less unnoticed:
- Standing up after extended rest periods becomes more laborious over time, and the speed of walking becomes slower.
- Rest periods after exertion now last longer.
- The coat is often no longer so silky and shiny.
- Vomiting and diarrhoea occur more frequently than before.
- With the same nutritious feeding, older dogs tend to become overweight.
- Problems with joints and the back are typical symptoms of age, which particularly affect large breeds of dog, and smaller breeds with short legs and long backs such as the dachshunds
In these cases it is important to ensure that affected dogs should avoid stairs wherever possible and that you do not allow them to jump off the sofa or out of the car. Sudden movements such as when throwing sticks for them or playtime with other dogs should be reduced as far as possible and any other overloading of the joints avoided. Special complete foods with ingredients which stabilise the connective tissues, e.g. Supreme Fit&Well or Sensible Nutrition-Products (or the Happy Dog Care-Plus supplementary food ArthroFit) can alleviate the symptoms, provided that the changes are not too serious. However, the most important measure is to be careful of your dog’s weight and take sensible action if the dog is already carrying excess weight! Longer rest periods after exertion, coughing when excited or happy and also increased tiredness may be indications of a heart condition. If you suspect this is the case, have your dog thoroughly examined! Medication to support the heart has improved significantly over recent years, so that even dogs with heart problems can usually enjoy many more years of relatively normal life! Often functional problems of the liver and/or kidneys are the cause of increased vomiting, more frequent diarrhoea, skin and/or coat problems, body odour or bad breath, increased thirst and fatigue. In all cases, the routine examination of an older dog should always include a blood test, to give an indication of the performance of the internal organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Feeding Management of the Senior Dog
Reduced performance of organs such as the liver and/or kidneys often means that waste products from certain nutrients can no longer be disposed of by the body. A build-up of then these waste products can lead to health problems and in these instances the best solution is food management- taking care to only provide ingredients that don’t overload the liver and/or kidneys. There are many specially formulated foods available for the senior dog e.g. Happy Dog Sano-Croq N
for liver, kidney and heart problems. In addition, there are of course products for older dogs which prevent these problems. These are characterised by particularly easily digested raw ingredients, an adapted content of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, and a reduced protein and moderate fat content e.g. Happy Dog Fit&Well Senior
with mussel extract and valuable l-carnitine. In order to prevent deficiencies in old age, which is due to a reduction in metabolism, it may be advisable in individual cases to feed an older dog with special supplementary food (e.g. Happy Dog HairSpezial
for skin and coat problems) for a short time, in addition to his complete food. It is not easy to prescribe a specific age as the best time to change to a complete food for older dogs. This is because age becomes apparent at different times (according to the breed or size of the dog): for very large breeds, this is often after the 6th to 8th year of life. Small breeds often ‘age’ considerably later than large dogs. It’s not rare for small dogs to reach an age of 14 or 16 years. With these, the symptoms of age do not appear until later (after about 10 years). There are also many older dogs – large or small – who, because of their excellent condition, continue to enjoy a greater level of daily movement than the average family pet, and therefore continue to have a relatively higher protein and fat requirements, even as they get older. Therefore the decision to transfer the older dog over to a special, lighter diet should not be dependent on age alone.
The most important criteria – regardless of age – are:
- Evidence of deteriorating organ performance - Excess weight (the food quantity must be calculated according to the dog's ideal weight!) - Joint problems, which require special care, i.e. the dog should only be allowed restricted movement (with severe symptoms, ArthroFit
should be fed as a short-term supplement, or permanently in lower doses) - More frequent vomiting and/or diarrhoea (feed in 2-3 separate meals, before feeding, pour water heated to approx. 40°C over the food (or fat-reduced Fit&Well Light
) and allow it to soak for approx. 20 minutes. - Long rest periods for just a little activity (the dog sleeps a lot and when out walking only moves slowly If you are not sure whether or when the right time has come to change your dog’s diet and nutrition, it is advisable for dogs over 6-8 years of age to have a preventative check-up with your vet 1-2 times per year in order to detect any changes at an early stage and be able to react to them appropriately. In this way you can enjoy the autumn of your canine friend’s life with complete peace of mind! We wish you many further years with your dog. Your HAPPY DOG Team © C.C. Günther