Back in November I wrote a post asking 10 Questions About Senior Pets. November was Adopt a Senior Pet Month and my parents’ dog Keto is turning eight this Thursday. Although Luna is still very young at just under three years old, those two things got me thinking about what is important to know when caring for a senior pet.

Since the holidays are over, I finally got some time to sit down and do some research on my own questions.

10 Questions About Senior Pets

When is a pet considered to be a senior?

Beagles and Bargains reader Sandy W. shared that studies now show that the commonly referred to 7:1 dog to human age ratio is not quite correct. The correlation depends on the size and age of the dog and the older they are the ratio increases. For that reason the term “senior” is also dependent on a dog’s breed, size, genetic background, and care received. Typically the term “senior” is used to describe the last 25% of a dog’s life expectancy. This means a giant breed like a Great Dane with an life expectancy of 8-10 years become senior dogs around 6-8 years. Medium-sized dogs such as Labrador Retrievers have an average life expectancy of 10-13 years and become senior dogs around 7-10 years. Toy breeds can live over 16 years and not become senior dogs until 9-13 years. has a great break down of senior years for each breed.

Can old dogs learn new tricks?

Beagles and Bargains reader Danielle M. shared that she adopted her dog Sissy as an adult dog. Since then Sissy has been able to learn tons with Danielle. Another reader, Roxy the Traveling Dog agrees and has learned new tricks as a senior dog. In addition to normal tricks like sit, stay, and down, senior dogs can still compete in agility with lower jump heights. Tracking and swimming are two other activities a senior dog may enjoy. Swimming helps take pressure off joints, so it is great for dogs with arthritis and tracking is easy enough for a dog to start at any age.

How do you know if a senior dog needs hip and joint supplements? What brand works the best? Will glucosamine help?

Supplements such as vitamins, fatty acids, digestive enzymes, glucosamine can be used to counteract degenerative changes that occur during the aging process. Senior dogs can experience a higher quality of life and energy levels while taking supplements. However, Beagles and Bargains reader Roxy the Traveling Dog points out that some dogs have allergies and cannot take certain supplements. Before starting your dog on any supplements it is important to take into account their individual health and watch them carefully when starting something new. Consulting your veterinarian is also a good idea. I don’t have much experience with supplements yet, so I cannot recommend a specific brand, but will keep you updated when I learn more.

Could a raised food and water bowl help with a dog’s joints? How high should it be?

This was the question that really started it all. For as long as my parents have had Keto, he has eaten from bowls on the ground. However, in his old age he has started to move slower and I wondered if his joints may be bothering him. What I found when I did a bit of research was controversial on the topic of bloat. I’ll present both sides and links below, so you can make the best decision for you and your dog.

There are numerous noted benefits of raised pet feeders. These include:
Bone and joint strain reduction especially in the neck
Better posture
Improved digestion
Easier digestion for pets with swallowing disorders
Improved comfort for pets with existing joint and bone disorders
Better hygiene and cleanliness from less food and water on the floor

However, studies indicate that dogs who are at risk for bloat should not be fed out of an raised feeder. These studies suggest that at risk dogs be fed at floor level.

According to these studies, dogs most at risk have several characteristics including:
Large or giant breeds
Middle aged or older
Relatives who have bloated
Speed eaters
Raised food bowl diners

Is there anything senior pets can do that young pets can’t?

Senior pets have already lived and learned a lot, so whether you are adopting a senior pet or your little puppy has grown up you will find many positive attributes of having a senior pet. Because of their increased calmness can they can be much easier to train. They are more capable at focusing on you and the current task. More experience with humans also allows them to more easily understand what you are asking. Beagles and Bargains reader Emma the GBGV and her family share this opinion. According to her senior dogs may have special needs, but overall they are much easier dogs.

Should senior pets see a veterinarian more often?

Younger dogs typically only visit their veterinarian for annual checkups. Senior dogs require increased attention and need semi-annual visits instead. This allows signs of illness or other problems to be detected early and treated appropriately. These semi-annual exams are very similar to younger dogs’ annual visits, but may be a bit more in depth and include dental care or blood work. In between the six month visits, it is important that pet parents keep an eye out for possible behavior changes or warning signs of disease. If any changes are noticed, contact your veterinarian right away with a description of the changes. AVMA is a wonderful resource for known warning signs and symptoms of possible illnesses.

Is all the testing veterinarians recommend necessary? What tests should be done and how often?

This is a very personal question that requires many underlying questions to be asked. How much do you trust your vet? What are your pet’s symptoms? Getting a second opinion on serious procedures may be a good option. Pet owners can expect some changes in their pet’s health needs as they age including a change in vaccinations.

What accommodations should be made in a household with a senior pet?

The accommodations required for a senior pet will depend upon his or her own health situation. A pet may need more trips outside, so installing a pet door if you have a fenced backyard may help. Hearing loss and failing eyesight may also occur. You can eliminate some safety concerns by removing dangerous objects such as tables with sharp corners, tripping hazards, or holes outside. Announcing your presence and avoiding sneaking up on your pet can help reduce stressful and startling situations. Avoiding all stressful situations can prevent your dog from becoming irritable. Other changes may include avoiding stairs and spending more time inside. Beagles and Bargains reader Emma the GBGV’s mom made many changes for her senior sister Katie including food choice, slowing down daily activities (but not stopping completely!), and increased patience.

Do senior pets cost more than young pets or vice versa?

Senior pets may cost more than a younger pet. You may see increased vet bills, but a pet at any age can have health problems and emergencies. Money may need to be spent on supplements and other modifications for your pet’s comfort. Supplements along with other possible medicines may increase your pet’s monthly costs.

How much will a pets energy change as they get older?

Beagles and Bargains reader Roxy the Traveling Dog admits to seeing a change in her energy level and having more painful joints. Less energy may require a change in your pet’s diet. Senior pets typically require 30-40% less calories than younger dogs of the same size and breed. Many companies make food specifically for senior pets, which has fewer calories and protein to help avoid weight gain.

Adjustments to activities may need to be made, but it is important to keep your dog active for as long as possible. Slow jogging down to walking or even limit the amount of exercise time, but as soon as a dog stops being active, they will lose the ability to be active. Keep an eye on your pet’s actions to see more modifications need to be made or if they are struggling to keep up.

What answer were you most surprised by? Did I miss anything?

Comments from 10 Questions About Senior Pets
Peto – The Senior Dog
Halo – When is a dog considered senior?
AVMA – Senior Pet Care (FAQ)
PetMD – Raised bowls and bloat
Neeter Feeder – Benefits of Raised Pet Feeders
DFS Pet Blog – Do Dogs Really Need Raised Dog Bowls?
ASPCA – Top 10 Reasons to Adopt an Older Dog
Eyes on the Dollar – Puppy Or Older Dog: Which Costs More?
PetPlace – When is a Dog Considered Senior?

Jessica Shipman
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