Caring for an older dog

Here are some helpful tips from our partners in pet nutrition - Eukanuba on how to take care of your older dog.

Why is my dog drinking so much water?

Excessive drinking, increased urination, unexplained weight gain or loss, reduced vision and lethargy could all be signs of diabetes. (Although please note other disorders also present with similar symptoms - please check with your vet.) Equally, elevated blood sugar levels can manifest without any visible symptoms. So, as your dog matures make sure he has regular blood sugar tests. Obese dogs, particularly females, are at risk, but diabetes can be managed through diet and drugs. Preventative measures include slowly increasing exercise and switching to a lower-fat formula like Eukanuba Daily Care Overweight/Sterilized

Does an older dog need more vet visits?

Yes. A quality diet, exercise, regular worming and annual core inoculations are the basics that will help your dog stay well, but as he matures you should also add four- to six-monthly vet screenings into his calendar.

The vet will check for heart problems, blood sugar levels, renal function, hip dysplasia and the hormonal illness Cushing's disease (to name but a few). A dog's immune system naturally weakens with age but your vet can help spot issues before they develop.

Mature dogs need different food - why?

From seven (five for giant breeds) dogs slow down. A high protein, lower-fat diet that's easy to digest but leaves him feeling full is needed to control weight. A number of other nutritional essentials can help support his well-being. Use Eukanuba Mature & Senior as it includes: L-Carnitine to help burn fat; omega 6 and 3 fatty acids to keep a greying coat shiny; and natural sources of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate to support joints. Quality protein from an animal source (such as fish, lamb or chicken) is vital to maintain lean muscle mass.

Your dog is starting to look like he should be wearing slippers, not chewing them. Here's how to keep him fit and active for years to come.

Fit not fat

As your dog starts to run around less and his metabolic rate slows you'll need to keep a sharp eye on his weight, as obesity is only ever a few months of inactivity and extra treats away. (And just as obesity can cause health problems for us, so it can lead to a whole world of pain for your dog, including diabetes, heart and respiratory problems and joint issues.)

To keep him trim, switch to nutrition that's been created with mature and senior dogs in mind (it'll have less fat than you'd find in formulas for younger adult dogs). Splitting his daily food allowance into two portions in the morning and evening will help keep his digestive system ticking over nicely.

As dogs age at different rates, decline in fitness is very individual, but nevertheless there are some signs to look out for. You will notice that with age heads and tails droop more quickly and panting increases more rapidly - all of which indicates tiredness. And although your dog may be getting older, he'll still try to please, so be mindful not to throw the ball as far or for as long as you used to.

If he likes swimming (which is great for his joints) remember to take a towel, as older dogs may cool down faster. Also, consider splitting his exercise into smaller, less strenuous, bursts throughout the day.

Become your dog's dental hygienist

The way to a dog's heart may be through his stomach but the food has to get past his teeth first. Gum disease - which is all too common in older dogs - and mouth infections are never great and can migrate to the vital organs to cause serious harm. So worth preventing, in other words. (Ideally you have started dental hygiene when your dog was a young adult.)

Chew toys and crunchy kibble help to remove plaque but as your dog ages his desire to chew lessens. Vets can provide professional care, but a brush every six months won't do the trick either. So it's down to you, and the daily clean you can administer, to stop plaque building up.

Using dog toothpaste (specially formulated and often beef or chicken flavoured) and a soft brush, gently hold his jaws and slide the brush under the lips and along the teeth, paying particular attention to the back molars. Start slowly and build up over time. If your dog suddenly stops chewing or eats more gingerly take him to the vets - he may be suffering oral pain.

An anti-flea plan

His silver fox whiskers are, of course, a sure sign that he's aging and there's a good chance that they're a tell-tale for dry skin and coat. Given that a dog with dry skin is more sensitive to flea bites, which in turn can become infected, keeping his coat in good shape is time well spent.

Regular grooming sessions, high quality protein and fatty acids in the diet are the cornerstones of a shiny coat (Omega's 6 and 3 being as good for dogs as they are for us, albeit for slightly different reasons). Monthly anti-flea and tick preparations (available from good pet stores or the vet) will also help.

Fleas don't live on your dog, they just feed on him, so if you ever do spot them, it's time to put his bedding on a hot wash. Use de-flea treatments throughout your house, car, and garden, and pop a flea collar inside your vacuum.

As he changes, keep everything the same

As your dog ages he'll appreciate a bit more routine and sameness around the house. Treat him to a memory-foam mat that moulds to his body and put cosy cushions in his favourite snooze spots around the house. Ensure his water bowls are in the same place and that your furniture isn't moved around (especially if his eye sight is failing). And if it looks as if his joints are stiffing, help him in and out of the car (without letting next door's cat see what you're doing, of course).

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