Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Aging and The Mature Dog

By Debbie Ray
Just as with you and I, your pets age is a consideration that must be thought about as your dog matures. It is easy to overlook, especially if your dog is in its prime, however, your aging animal has new needs that must be met just as with any other aging animal or human being.

A change in lifestyle, preventive measures and lots of love can help your dog in its journey from prime time to down time. First, just how old is your dog - really?

Depending on the breed and size, your pet may have a life expectancy from around eight years (for most of the giant breeds) to fourteen or more (for the toy/smaller breeds). Keep in mind that these are only approximations- your pet, depending on its health and quality of life could live longer (or shorter) than these figures. Most dogs fall anywhere between these two.

Additionally, your dog will begin to show signs of aging based on its quality of life, condition of health, size, breed and hereditary considerations. Medium sized dogs,such as spaniels, may begin to show signs of aging around 7 or 8 years of age. Giant breeds may do this as early as 5 or 6 while small/toy breeds may wait around until 9 or so. Again, remember these figures are approximations.

It seems that in many dogs, work is one key to living a long and full life. Most dogs recorded for living long periods of time were working animals- active herding dogs, movie stars/ actors, or involved in other types of mental and physical stimulation. This above all seems to be a key factor in helping your dog live to a point closer to its true life expectancy- and in a way of better and fuller health.

In a mixed breed animal, age is harder to predict, but an active knowledge of their background or size does help in predicting this figure.

Changes in dietary requirements, an understanding of potential diseases and of your dogs potential needs is your best defense in helping your dog in this time of change. Many things may hamper your dog from play or simple day to day activities as it ages. Arthritis is just one example. Also, as with humans, dogs will tire and slow down much faster as they age which leads to one of the most common mistakes people make with their aging pets- OVER FEEDING.

Just how this happens can be quite easy. The pet teaches its human to feed it by begging, looking cute, doing a favorite trick, etc. until the owner gives in. Over time this added caloric intake can take its toll and result in extra weight. This is one of the major areas that can cause health problems as the dog grows older.

To detect if your dog is overweight simply run your hands down the animals sides. If you can easily feel the ribs and there is a degree of tapering near the dogs mid section (just in front of the hind legs) your pet is probably not overweight. If you are unable to feel the ribs and there is to tuck up, chances are your dog is overweight. Your vet can offer you ways to alter your dogs diet if it is too heavy or can answer any other questions you may have concerning your pet and obesity.

Exercise is an invaluable component for any type of weight loss- for animals or humans. Initiate play with your pet. Encourage it to play catch, fetch or whatever games you played with it when it was younger. Even walking your dog can be quite beneficial- for both you and your pet. Remember not to overdo it, however. If your dog begins to pant heavily, allow it to rest. Some animals, like children, dont know when to stop once they begin to play.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR:

If your dog shows any of the following symptoms:

Clouding of the eyes(beware the whitish, hazy discolorations)

OR

New lumps underneath, or on top of, the skin

OR

Troubled breathing/ extensive coughing

OR

Has problems eating hard foods/ bad breath

OR

Shows signs of controlling its urinary capabilities

OR

Has problems of stiffness/ lameness in getting up(especially after sleeping)

IS

Unresponsive to verbal commands or you calling its name

Consult your vet

The benefits of a healthy and fit dog highly outweigh that of an unfit animal. First, the risk of getting heart disease or other health problems such as diabetes, is much lower. Also, with early prevention, many age related health problems can be averted. Consult your vet with any questions or at the first sign of any health problems concerning your animals.

Debbie Ray, owner of http://www.pedigreedpups.com and http://www.total-german-shepherd.com, is a lifelong animal lover and dog enthusiast. Interested in more dog information? Training and health tips? Thinking about getting a purebred dog? Interested in the German Shepherd Dog in particular? Check out http://www.total-german-shepherd.com for more information.

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