Q. My dog just turned 8 years old, and the veterinarian said he was a geriatric! How can that be because he is so active? Is there anything special I should do for him at this stage of life?
A. Dogs that are smaller, less than 50 pounds, are considered seniors at 9 and geriatric at 12 years of age. Medium dogs are considered senior at 8 and geriatric at 10 years of age. Large dogs are seniors at 6 and geriatric at 10. The definition of a senior is the age of the individual and geriatric is the status of their health. Geriatrics are usually more frail.
Something to remember through your dog’s entire life is to be a good weight, active, and have good mental stimulation. The old adage, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it” is good for humans as well as dogs.
For our senior dogs you should take into consideration their health status, which your veterinarian will help assess. There are several things you can do too.
Let’s start with diet. Eating well should start as a puppy. Ideally fresh real food is the best but not everyone can afford the time or money. By feeding a quality kibble you can add a handful of fresh food to the meal. Blueberries, ground up vegetables, beef, chicken, and egg are few good choices. When you do this addition, be aware you should cut back on the amount of kibble you feed. Just like us, being overweight can lead to joint and other health problems.
Exercise is another important part of good health for all life stages but especially for the older dog. Many dogs are born with joint issues such as hip dysplasia. Take your best friend for walks through the neighborhood, woods, and beaches. It doesn’t need to be miles or a long time. If you can do a couple 20–30-minute sniff walks a day, it would be enough. What is a sniff walk? Instead of going out with your dog and do a power walk, how about letting him sniff along the walk? This is an awesome way to keep the joints moving, the mind sharp, and the immune system strong by using his nose. On bad weather days you can buy or make a snuffle mat that will keep him sharp. Another form of exercise is core fitness. These are gentle bending exercises to keep Fido flexible and strengthen his muscles to ease the stress on his joints.
Quiet interaction with your dog is also keeping him healthy. Snuggling on the couch or in bed and doing body rubs strengthens your bond and mental health.
As our best friend ages, we will start seeing changes, such as stiffness on getting up in the morning, less energy, a change in thirst or appetite, a change in behavior, and changes in his coat. All of these are signs of aging. It is best to talk with your veterinarian before these symptoms develop to figure out a plan to address or prevent them.
Early detection of health problems can give you treatment options that you may not have if allowed to go on. When your dog becomes a senior, doing a basic blood work-up is a good idea. It gives you and your veterinarian a baseline on where Fido is at that moment. If anything is amiss, you can address it. If all is fine, you can talk with your veterinarian about supplements to help with stiff joints, digestion issues, behavior changes, and other metabolic problems.
It is best to be proactive your dog’s entire life, but taking that extra step to boost nutrition and to provide gentle movement throughout the day and good mental stimulation will keep that senior young.Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center