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How to help your dog age gracefully

By Morieka Johnson, MNN.com
Bring out your older dog's inner puppy.
Bring out your older dog's inner puppy.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • For the best quality of life, your older dog requires special care
  • Don't feed your pet table scraps -- 45% of U.S. dogs are overweight, a study finds
  • Socializing benefits your dog at every age
RELATED TOPICS
  • Dogs
  • Pet Health
  • Pets

(MNN.com) -- While every dog is different, most canines enter their geriatric phase at seven to eight years of age. As with humans, advanced age can lead to arthritis, decreased mobility and decreased organ functions.

An expert from my pooch's veterinary clinic offers the following tips to help embrace your dog's inner puppy as the years go by:

Keep up the exercise

Don't discount those daily walks. Even if the pace is a little slower these days, it's a way to bond with your dog and burn calories together. Just be sure to monitor your pet during and after the walk. Dogs don't sweat the way humans do, so be mindful of excessive panting or signs of exhaustion.

If your dog is like my sister's 10-year-old dog, Daisy, it will simply stop when enough is enough. If you have a couch potato, introduce exercise on a gradual basis. A few minutes of fetch each day can keep dogs active and mentally stimulated.

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Watch the weight

On a small frame, an extra three to five pounds can strain hips and joints. Since older animals are less active, they also require fewer calories so resist the urge to over love them with food. In a 2009 study, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention noted that 45 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese and the numbers have been increasing steadily.

As with human companions, pooches also face weigh-related health hazards such as diabetes, heart and joint issues. Talk to your veterinarian about reducing portions or switching to a senior formula, which has fewer calories and often includes joint-friendly supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. A smaller-size kibble or softer food also may be necessary to aid in digestion. I've added a bit of warm water or veggie broth to help soften Daisy's food during her visits.

Schedule regular checkups: An annual veterinary exam is recommended for all dogs. Older dogs also should undergo blood work so vets can catch any internal issues such as kidney or liver damage. In some breeds, biannual blood work is recommended. Talk to your vet about blood tests during the next visit. It's a great way to monitor breed-related health issues before they become serious.

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Keep it simple

A dog's vision and sense of smell can diminish with age. Be sure to keep things simple by removing obstacles from around the house. It also helps to establish a routine for older dogs and avoid sudden schedule changes.

Pet steps or doggie ramps also provide easy access to your dog's favorite spots without risk of injury. Make sure that pet bedding is soft to cushion old joints or an elevated bed, which you'll often see in animal shelters because they offer easy access while keeping dogs off the floor.

Take note of toys

Try toys that are gentler on your dog's teeth and jaws. Contrasting colors make balls and plush pull toys easier for older eyes to track down. Eco-friendly pet company PlanetDog.com has a line of toys for "old souls" that feature "slobber-wick" technology, super loud squeaks and softer material for older jaws. Also, make sure playtime is still fun by adding new activities. You really can teach an old dog new tricks.

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Protect those chompers

Teeth become more brittle with age. Make sure to check your dog's teeth regularly and watch for signs of tartar or gum disease. Check out tips from an earlier column on keeping those teeth pearly white and avoiding "dog breath."

Socialize, socialize, socialize

Older dogs need love, too. They make the best cuddle bugs, especially for elderly relatives. Interacting with younger dogs also may help your pooch stay young at heart. Try one-on-one play dates with other dogs. Also, consider fostering a dog from a local rescue group. It's a short-term commitment that allows your pet to help another dog learn the ropes and -- hopefully -- land a forever home.

© Copyright 2011 Mother Nature Network

 
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