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Show respect to your elders — that includes your dog, who at 13 to 15, has officially entered old age. Even if your dog is moving a bit more slowly these days, there are lots of things the two of you can still enjoy together. And there are many things you can do to help ensure she remains in the best health possible.
A 13- to 15-year-old dog, depending on her size and health, is roughly equivalent to a 70- to 115-year-old person.
In her elder years, it is harder for your dog to learn new things. In fact, she likely will be resistant to changes in her surroundings and routine. Help reduce her stress by keeping such changes to a minimum. For example, carefully consider any boarding, as such a big change in her surroundings could cause unneeded stress.
Older dogs may find it more difficult or painful to move around. You can help byremoving obstacles that make going outside or getting around your house difficult for her. For example, floor runners on slick surfaces can make it easier for her to walk around without fear of slipping or falling. While it's expected for dogs to move a little slower as they age, make sure you still discuss any changes with your veterinarian to make sure there's no underlying condition or illness to blame.Your veterinarian may also be able to prescribe medications to help keep your pet more comfortable and mobile.
At this stage, it is normal for your dog to spend more time sleeping and to respond more slowly when roused. She has earned her rest, so let sleeping dogs lie. Again, report excessive sluggishness or sleepiness to your veterinarian, as some illnesses can cause these signs. And remember, even though dogs at this age may need more rest, exercise is still important.
As she ages, expect behavior changes in your dog. Sometimes, the changes are signs of underlying medical problems; other times, they are simply evidence of aging. Some dogs start to bark or growl for no apparent reason or at inappropriate times. Such behavior canbe due to anxiety, or to cognitive dysfunction syndrome; a condition resembling Alzheimer's disease in humans. As your dog ages, her senses begin to wane, and she can become increasingly anxious about her surroundings. More than ever, she will appreciate familiar things and a stable routine.
Don’t be surprised if your dog starts to have accidents in the house. Your veterinarian can help you determine if such events are the result of a medical condition. Your dog should have a warm, well-cushioned place to sleep. There are beds available that are designed especially for older dogs with orthopedic problems, and there are even pads and diapers to help with incontinence.
Another cause of behavior changes can be pain, which can make your dog more reclusive or aggressive. Other common signs of pain include excessive panting, reluctance to move and suddenly being picky about food. Consult your veterinarian. Even if she can’t cure the underlying cause of the pain, there are many ways to make your dog more comfortable.
Now is a great time to check with your veterinarian about your dog’s diet. In addition to being less active, many dogs at this age begin to develop digestive issues,kidney problems and other conditions that can benefit from diet modification. Only your veterinarian can accurately assess your dog's needs. Do not attempt to correct a suspected gastrointestinal ailment by randomly changing her diet. Doing so could lead to more problems.
As your dog ages, take her to the veterinarian at least twice a year for a complete geriatric workup, including a thorough physical exam and blood tests. Your veterinarian also may want to perform other screening tests, as well as examining her urine and stool. Depending on medical history and findings of the physical exam, other tests may be recommended, such as radiographs (X-rays) or ultrasounds of her abdomen to evaluate her internal organs, or similar studies of the heart and lungs. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend further cardiac evaluation if there are any signs or evidence of heart problems. While it may seem like a lot, such tests can provide your veterinarian with valuable information about your dog’s health. Without that information, many serious medical conditions could go undiagnosed and therefore untreated.
No one likes to admit it, but this is the twilight of your dog’s life. You should discuss with your veterinarian what her golden years are going to look like. What issues are most important to you, and how can your veterinarian support you and your dog as she approaches the final stages of her life?
Go easy on your elderly dog. At this stage, she likely isn’t interested in having her routine changed or in learning new tricks. Instead, continue to play with her to stimulate her, and review routine expectations and commands. Don’t take it personally if she seems unresponsive. You may need to remind any children in the family that your dog is not the playful, young pet she once was. She may be developing physical or cognitive difficulties that make it harder for her to remember commands or even places and appropriate behavior. Be gentle with her.
Now is a good time to work with your veterinarian toward providing the best quality of life possible for an aging dog. Take time to discuss what you and your family would consider an acceptable quality of life and to what extent you are willing to pursue diagnostics and treatments for your dog, should such measures become necessary.
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