As your dog reaches his mature years, remember these tips:
- Minimize stress and change. Avoid big moves or changes in your dog's schedule. If you must disrupt a routine, give your dog some added attention to ease the adjustment.
- Give him regular exercise. Take him for two 15-minute walks each day to help maintain muscle tone, enhance circulation, promote digestion, and prevent weight gain.
- Feed him smaller, more frequent meals. Instead of one large portion a day, try two or three smaller meals, which will help your dog burn calories by stimulating his metabolism.
- Take him for routine veterinary checkups and immunizations. Regular dental care and thorough physicals will reveal subtle changes in your dog's health. At home, frequently examine him for any odd-shaped bumps or lumps. If you discover something unusual and it seems to be growing rapidly, call your veterinarian. Early detection and preventive treatment can go a long way toward extending your friend's life.
- Give him great-tasting, premium pet food. As your dog ages, he may become less interested in eating. Make sure he gets tasty, nutrient-dense food that's gentle on his digestion.
As Dr. Michael Hayek, an IAMS™ research nutritionist who specializes in geriatric nutrition, points out, there's still much to learn about canine geriatric nutrition. For now, realize that every animal ages at a different rate and in different ways. Monitor your dog and especially watch for changes at around 7 years of age (5 years for large breeds). If necessary, adjust his diet accordingly. With the help of your veterinarian and responsible pet food manufacturers, your mature pal can live to a comfortable, healthy old age.
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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