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How Can You Improve An Old Dog's Lifespan?

an older German shepherd laying in the grass

Your dog is an important member of your family, and you want him to be happy and healthy like everyone else around you. When we age, we often need more care than the average person, and the same rule applies to dogs. Senior dogs may develop various health problems and might require more care than the average adult dog. We know that healthy eating, exercise, and routine doctor’s visits are some of the ways to help increase our chances for long and healthy life, but do these same principles apply to dogs? How can you help improve your old dog’s lifespan?

How long does an old dog live?

Just like humans, there is a lot of variabilities when it comes to a dog’s life expectancy. In short, there is no straight answer.  When it comes to the definition of a “senior” dog, small breed dogs are considered seniors after age ten or eleven whereas large breed dogs are considered seniors when they are six or seven. This information is from a study that was published in April 2007 by Texas A&M University, where researchers determined that shorter and lighter dogs tend to live longer than taller and heavier dogs1. This also suggests that the old rule of “seven dog years for every one human year” is inaccurate when it comes to determining your dog’s age.

Sometimes, healthy senior dogs can live well into their early teens, and there are many veterinarians who have patients that are fifteen years of age or older! The development of certain diseases like diabetes, Cushing’s disease, heart disease, kidney disease, etc. will shorten a dog’s lifespan. Healthy weight and good food are important, and mixed breed dogs are less susceptible to various inherited disorders compared to purebred dogs2.   

Signs to look out for

There are many signs that your dog can show as the ages. Arthritis is one of the most common problems, and it can start out with very mild signs. Your dog may appear to walk slower some days, or maybe he is slow to stand up from his bed in the mornings. He might not be able to run as far as he used to, and he may pant more than usual. Moderate to severe arthritis pain can cause limping or favoring one leg.

Coughing can indicate numerous problems like allergies or upper respiratory infections. Collapsing trachea, or narrowing of the windpipe, can cause frequent coughing when your dog is overly excited, and coughing more at nighttime might be a sign that your dog is developing heart disease.

Older dogs can also develop hearing and eyesight problems. Vision can be significantly impacted by the development of cataracts, which is when the lens inside of your dog’s eye becomes cloudy. Personality changes are also possible, but severe changes that result in aggression towards others are especially concerning. This may be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction or CCD, which is caused by changes in the brain similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.  

Two older golden retriever sitting next to each other in a forest

How can you improve an old dog’s lifespan?

There are many health problems that simply cannot be prevented, but there are ways to delay the progression of these illnesses. There are also many ways to keep your dog be healthy overall.

It is critical to help your senior dog maintain an ideal body condition score. This means that he should have more lean body mass than body fat. Keeping a lean body condition score will not only keep excess weight off of your dog’s joints but is also reported to add another year or two to your dog’s lifespan. Make sure to check in with your dog’s veterinarian at least every six months for a full physical examination and at least once a year for blood and urine testing to screen for health problems. Your dog will be weighed, and your vet will determine if your dog is overweight.

If your dog is overweight, then your vet can help develop a diet plan. She might have you switch to a lower-calorie food and can tell you the number of calories that your dog can have each day. You will need to avoid giving extra treats and table scraps. Routine exercise can also help prevent excess body weight and reduce the risk of certain diseases like diabetes. Low impact exercises are preferred if your dog is showing signs of arthritis or has any other orthopedic problems or injuries.

If your dog isn’t acting right, then make sure to contact your veterinarian right away. When health problems are detected quickly, then early intervention can make a big difference in your dog’s outcome. For example, increased thirst and urination can be signs of health problems like diabetes or kidney disease. By detecting diabetes early, you can prevent the development of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a serious consequence of poorly controlled diabetes that requires intensive hospital care. If kidney disease is detected early, then your veterinarian can make diet, medication, and supplement recommendations that can help prevent further kidney damage.

There are numerous medications and supplements that your veterinarian might recommend for your older dog. Anti-inflammatory medications like carprofen can help with arthritis pain, and joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin can help protect your dog’s joints from injuries. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that supports the use of hemp-derived CBD oil for pain and anxiety, and coconut oil is recommended by many veterinary dermatologists for its benefits for your dog’s skin and coat. Supplements containing turmeric can help with inflammation and promote cardiovascular health. Additional vitamins might not be necessary if your dog is on a well-balanced diet, so be sure to ask your veterinarian before starting any new medication or supplement for your dog.

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There are many similarities between aging in dogs and aging in people.Diet and exercise are some of the best ways to help keep your dog healthy, and early intervention is best when it comes to health problems. Make sure to schedule semi-annual physical examinations for your dog and be sure to ask your veterinarian about other ways to help improve your senior dog’s lifespan. You know your dog better than anyone, and with a little assistance, you can help him live the best years of his life!

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Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine

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