Senior Citizen Dogs

This was originally written in 2014 about my aging Westie who has since passed. It is important information which is why I am reposting in 2019

So much information is written about puppies and adolescent dogs. I thought it was time to write a bit about older dogs, especially as my older one turns 13 on September 13 2014. 

Just as with humans, aging is a part of a dog’s life. 

It’s not easy to watch our once agile, active, dogs struggle with arthritis, failing vision, loss of hearing and general slowing down.

There are many changes that can occur as your dog ages. These can be so subtle and gradual you don’t even think it’s related to age. You may think he's just being stubborn.

Some changes you may notice are:

  • General slowing down

  • Stiffness upon waking

  • Trouble jumping onto the couch, chair or bed

  • Cloudy eyes (bluish haze) This is different than cataracts which appear white and opaque

  • Change in skin and coat texture (dull or thin) 

  • Incontinence or loss of housetraining (having “accidents” when he never did before)

  • Thickening of the foot pads and change in nail colour

  • Change in desire to play

  • Reduced hearing – he may startle easily when approached from behind

  • Reduced vision 

  • Dental disease

  • Weight gain – nutritional needs change as the dog ages. Fewer calories are needed due to reduced activity level.

A general slowing down due to aging should not be confused with the more serious condition of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, which can be challenging to diagnose, as there are no recognizable clinical conditions. It’s most often diagnosed using behavioural symptoms. One of the important differences is the "lack of connection between behaviour and context". Much like those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. (Dr. Sarah Heath, 2008). 

The more serious condition of CCD includes the following symptoms:

  • Disorientation or confusion

  • Changes in social and environmental interaction. For example: a change in enthusiasm of his greetings, change in response to cues/commands, general decrease in desire to play or interact with other dogs on walks

  • Loss of previously conditioned behaviours (not responsive to sit, down, etc. when once was)

  • Change in sleep/wake cycles

As my older dog exhibits more and more signs of aging, I am reminded to enjoy my time with him while I can and he is still relatively active.

I make adjustments where I can to make things easier for him. I help him up onto the couch or bed. I make sure I am in front of him so he doesn’t startle when I touch him. I allow for lots of pauses on walks for when he’s feeling achy and I carry him home when necessary.

Before you label your dog as stubborn because he doesn’t look at you when you call, take a moment to ask yourself if it may be due to a loss of hearing.

Disclaimer: the information in this article is not meant to be used to diagnose your dog or provide any medical or veterinarian advice. If you have any questions or concerns please contact your veterinarian.