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An Introduction To Living With An Older Dog

One of the most common queries older dog owners have relate to caring for their dog – how much exercise is right, is the diet right, is there anything else I should be doing?

We’ve been lucky enough to get an insight into a brand new dog book, Living With An Older Dog – Gentle Dog Care to bring you some top tips on living with older dogs.

It can sometimes be quite difficult to define exactly what we mean by the term ‘older dog.’ After all, a two-year-old dog is older than a one-year-old dog, but, in this case, both would be thought of as positively youthful in canine terms. We must also consider the fact that some kinds of dogs are much more long-lived than others, and therefore, the number of years at which elderly or senior status is recognised varies from breed to breed.

In some large dog breeds, such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds and St Bernards, senior status is reached at about five or six years old. By contrast, a six-year-old Chihuahua – a breed that may live for sixteen years or longer – is more or less still in his adolescence at this age. Overall, the longer a dog lives, the later he achieves senior status. Nevertheless, the average age by which we assume that a typical dog has reached senior status is around seven or eight years. Determining the age expectancy, and thus the likely time at which senior status is reached, is of course much harder where crossbred dogs are concerned. Their heritage is not only mixed, but sometimes not even known for certain – although many experts put the average life expectancy of a typical crossbreed at about thirteen years.

Then there is our own human perception of canine age to consider. If we have owned a dog from the time it was a boisterous and mischievous little puppy, we often still consider him to be extremely youthful, even when he has reached quite an age. Provided he is still active, enjoys playing, looks trim and still does the endearing things that give each dog his individual character, nothing much will appear to have changed.Eventually, however, the signs of ageing will begin to manifest themselves, even in the fittest, leanest and most youthful-looking of dogs. There will be noticeable physical changes, such as a greying of the fur, especially around the head, and a hazy coating over the eyes, as well as certain behavioural changes, such as the propensity for your dog to want to sleep longer, run around less, and perhaps to drink more water.

A new beginning

However, these are rarely signs that we need to worry about unduly. After all, if a dog lives until, say, thirteen or fourteen years of age or more, then when ‘older dog’ status kicks in at around seven years or so, he’s only about halfway through his lifespan! Instead, we should come to regard this canine ‘coming of age’ as a cause for celebration and simply another phase in his life; we can think of our companion as a wise and trusted friend, instead of an unruly teenager, and look forward to our golden years together. If anything, the bond between dog and human becomes stronger at this time, giving us a chance to re-evaluate and appreciate the contribution that our dog brings to our lives. Your faithful friend will gradually make his own adjustments as he gets older, and we should be prepared to do the same. By understanding what is going on at the canine level, we can help to enhance his lifestyle, improve his health, and make him an even more valued member of the family.

By understanding what is going on at the canine level, we can help to enhance his lifestyle, improve his health, and make him an even more valued member of the family. If for example, our dog wants to play less often, we must respect his wish, rather than try to encourage him to play, simply because that’s what he always used to do. Instead, make play time with your dog a shorter, quality experience for all concerned.

There is also an important role we can play in a dog’s early years to help offset the effects of ageing. In this respect, dogs are somewhat like humans: a dog that has been given plenty of exercise – both physical as well as mental – and lots of interaction with humans and other animals, will often be slower to show the effects of the ageing process. His diet throughout his earlier years can also play an important part in determining how and when the signs of ageing begin to show, for example using raised dog bowls as early as you can could help to keep arthritis at bay. An overweight dog will be less likely to actively exercise, and this, in turn, will mean that he may begin to show his age much earlier, and may even succumb more quickly to some of the diseases to which older dogs are often prone.

Living With An Older Dog – Gentle Dog Care is published by Hubble & Hattie.

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