Just like humans, dogs age at different rates. They're affected by their environment and lifestyles, along with their breed, weight and activity levels.
But one thing is the same: When your dog reaches his senior years, it means that they're facing new health challenges and are in need of a different diet and care. Knowing what to look out for and how to make adjustments can keep your aging pet happy, healthy and comfortable.
The average dog begins to show gray hair on the muzzle around 5 years old, but this can vary. Some dogs, particularly those with black and dark fur, start to gray sooner than others.
Just like humans, a dog's follicles no longer produce the pigment cells (specifically, melanin) that give the coat color. The strands turn to a lighter hue, and eventually, white.
Similarly, greying can also be a symptom of stress. According to a study published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, young dogs that owners regarded as anxious or impulsive were more likely to display prematurely gray muzzles than those that weren't.
If your dog is displaying signs of aging, it's important to find out the cause. If it's something underlying, your vet can help you with proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. If it's due to stress, you can reduce that by keeping him mentally and physically stimulated. Your vet can also recommend calming medications, or suggest a stress-reduction therapy such as meditation or exercise.
Dry skin is a common issue for dogs of all ages, but as your dog ages they may experience it more frequently. It can be caused by a number of things, including allergies, parasites, and more serious health conditions like Cushing's disease and hypothyroidism.
One of the most obvious signs of dry skin in your dog is dandruff. This is a layer of dead skin cells that fall off of your pet's body, typically on the stomach or underarms.
Another symptom that might indicate dry skin is an itchy, red or inflamed rash. If your dog is constantly itching, you'll need to take them to the vet for a skin scraping and a thorough examination.
Scaly patches of skin can be an indicator that your dog has a medical condition that is affecting their liver or kidneys. They can also be a sign of superficial necrolytic dermatitis, a common underlying problem in older dogs. This can include rashes, redness, crusting and fluid leakage on the face, hocks, genitals and lower legs.
As dogs age, they become more susceptible to joint issues that can negatively affect their mobility and quality of life. The most common symptom is arthritis.
Painful inflammation in a dog’s joints can cause a variety of symptoms, from limping to difficulty getting up or down stairs. If your dog seems to be in pain or has any of the above symptoms, it’s important to see your veterinarian right away.
Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or meloxicam, to reduce pain and help decrease the inflammation in your dog’s joints. Your vet will likely recommend regular blood work during this process to make sure your pet’s body is handling the NSAIDs safely.
Your veterinarian can also recommend dietary supplements for joint health, including ones with glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate. These supplements are designed to reduce cartilage deterioration and promote the repair of damaged cartilage. They can also help your dog to maintain mobility and flexibility by increasing the fluidity of their joints.
Senior dogs often develop anxiety because they are in pain or may be struggling with cognitive decline, which can affect their ability to deal with changes. It is important to speak to your vet if you notice that your dog has developed any anxiety issues.
Anxiety is a very common problem for older dogs, but it can be managed. There are a number of natural anti-anxiety treatments, including supplements that can help reduce the symptoms of this issue.
Alternatively, your veterinarian may recommend desensitization and counterconditioning training with the help of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
A dog with separation anxiety should have their underlying medical issues dealt with first before any form of training can be considered.
Anxiety can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as dementia or CCD, which is another reason that you should consult your veterinarian to identify any problems with your pet.