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New Tricks for Owners of Old Dogs

old dog care

We love our dogs, from whether they are roly-poly puppies or distinguished seniors with gray coats. As your dog gets older, they need special care and it’s extra important that you make regular veterinary visits. Here’s what you need to know to care for your senior dog.  

What risks do senior dogs face?

As your dog ages, health issues may arise, including the deterioration of their skin and coat, loss of muscle mass, more frequent intestinal problems, arthritis, limited mobility, obesity, dental problems and/or a decreased ability to fight off infection. As your dog heads into their senior years, they may not be able to run as fast, jump as high or have the stamina they once had.

Stressful situations and abrupt changes in daily routines should be avoided. If a drastic change must be made to an older pet’s routine, try to minimize the stress by introducing the change in a gradual manner.

What qualifies as a senior dog?

Dogs may begin to experience physical changes between seven and 12 years of age. Like people, each dog ages at different rates, so yours may stay spry well into double digits. Mixed breeds and many smaller dogs tend to live longer. A small dog of less than 20 pounds might not show any signs of aging until they are age 12 or so. A 50-pound dog won’t “seem” old until approximately 10. Larger dogs begin to show their age at age eight or nine.  

How do you exercise senior dogs?

Older dogs tend to be less active than they were in their younger days. Degeneration of joints due to long-term wear and tear happens naturally, but can be exacerbated by obesity. Certain breeds are more prone to congenital issues like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and rheumatoid arthritis as they age. When your dog is experiencing limited mobility as a result of age or obesity, you may need to adapt your playtime routine.

While indoors, provide your senior dog with an environment full of both physical and mental stimulation to help them feel more youthful and active. Provide their treat toys (like a Kong) to dispense meals in smaller doses to improve both physical and mental function (by making them work for their snack) and to promote weight loss in heavier dogs. If you have stairs, ramps can help an older dog keep moving around the house without causing them too much pain.

Keep your dog healthy with regular outdoor walks throughout the week. Several shorter walks might be a better fit for a senior dog. Find a comfortable distance for them to walk each day.

Swimming is another option to help exercise older dogs without hurting their joints as they age.


Though dogs with physical limitations may want to keep playing, chasing balls and jumping like they did in their youth, senior dogs may not have the stamina anymore and they may also be more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures. Limit exercise and keep older dogs well hydrated and in the shade on our 90°F days. Avoiding heat stroke in the Austin climate is important.

Before starting your senior dog on any exercise routine, check in with your veterinarian on how to safely be physically active and discuss how to work with any health issues they may have.

What do you feed senior dogs?

As dogs age there are metabolic, immunologic and body composition changes that follow. Some of these changes may be managed with their diet. Special senior dog foods help them maintain their health and optimum body weight, slow development of chronic disease and minimize current diseases.

  • Importantly, studies have shown that the protein requirement for older dogs does not decrease with age. Feed older dogs diets that contain optimum levels of highly digestible protein in order to help maintain a good level of muscle mass.
  • Older dogs may be prone to put on body fat, even if they eat less, due to reduced energy expenditure or a change in their metabolic rate. Feed your senior dog a diet with a lower calories to avoid weight gain.
  • We may recommend increasing a senior Dog’s Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) intake through food or supplements. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that plays a role in the maintenance their healthy skin and coat.
  • Aging can affect a dog’s intestinal bacteria, which can result in symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. Senior dog diets should contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS) to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  • Antioxidants, including vitamin E and beta-carotene may help eliminate free radicals, the particles that may damage body tissues and cause signs of aging. A senior dog’s diet should contain higher levels of these antioxidants.
  • A dog’s breed, size and health help your vet determine when it’s time to start buying senior dog food.

Keep your dog healthy with routine care and veterinary exams to assess the presence or progress of any chronic disease. If you’re unsure about what to food or supplements to feed your senior dog or how to give them exercise and care at home, ZippiVet is ready to help you seven days a week. Schedule an appointment online and keep your old dog happy and healthy!

Why Does My Dog…?

why does my dog

At ZippiVet, we get asked the same questions by dog owners every day. You wouldn’t believe how many times we hear, “Why does my dog…” As dog behavior experts, we’re always glad to help!

Why does my dog have whiskers?

Whiskers, the long, coarse hairs protruding from a dog’s muzzle, jaw and above its eyes are filled with nerves that send sensory messages to a dog’s brain. A dog’s whiskers serve as receptors for important information about the size, shape and speed of nearby objects. This helps dogs “see” objects more clearly, even in the dark. Being able to feel vibrations in the air also helps dogs sense approaching dangers.

Why does my dog howl?

Howling is another way dogs communicate, along with barking and shrieking. Dogs howl for a few key reasons:

1) For attention

2) To alert their owner to danger

3) To make contact and acknowledge other dogs

4) In response to high pitched noises or sounds.

Why does my dog eat grass?

There are several theories for why dogs eat grass. Dogs don’t actually have the means to digest grass. They lack the enzymes needed to break down the fibers and it has little to no nutritional value. One reason for eating grass may be due to a feeling of nausea. It is possible that dogs learn this is a temporary solution for stomach irritation. Grass eating is a common behavior of normal, healthy dogs. If your dog seems sick or vomits more than occasionally (whether associated with grass eating or not), you should see a veterinarian.

Why does my dog lick?

Dogs lick their owners, other dogs, and themselves for a variety of reasons ranging from love and submission to a possible medical condition. Some of the more common reasons your dog might be offering up canine kisses include:

1) You taste delicious. As gross as it sounds, sweaty, salty skin can be intriguing to dogs, who often explore the world with their mouths and are comforted by the scent of their owners.

2) You inadvertently reward the behavior. Once licked consider your own behavior –  Did you reach down and pet or scratch your dog? Offer the dog food? Say something to them, even like “Stop licking me, would you.” These are all forms of positive reinforcement.

3) When a dog licks, it releases endorphins (the “feel good” hormone), which adds to the reward.

4) Your dog might be licking to show submission, especially while licking another dog’s muzzle.

5) Dog’s skin allergies or some anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder come out in licking. If you notice your dog obsessively licking themselves, a person, or an object (i.e. bed sheets), see a veterinarian, who may recommend medical treatment or a consultation with a behavior specialist.

Why does my dog pant?

With our many hot days in Austin, local dogs are typically panting to try to cool down. Pugs or Bulldogs with short snouts naturally pant more than other breeds, There may be other causes for panting in dogs, including:

1) When dogs are excited or are engaging in heavy exercise (like running or playing fetch) they will pant, much like a human can become out of breath after a vigorous run.

2) Dogs do not sweat like humans do so they pant to keep themselves cool. If it’s very hot outside or if the dog is dehydrated, it can be much harder for them to breathe, thus they will pant heavily to cool down. Read more about heatstroke in our blog.

3) When a dog is in pain they may pant excessively, especially if what they have just experienced is traumatizing.

4) In older dogs in particular, panting is a sign of other ailments. Signs of heart failure, lung tumors, and even choking in a dog will include heavy panting, breathing difficulty, and coughing. Read more about caring for senior dogs in our blog.

5) A dog that has eaten something poisonous may pant, as well as drool, vomit, or become lethargic. See your vet immediately to treat poisoning.

Why does my dog eat poop?

Coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh) is the scientific name for this nasty habit. There are both behavioral and physiologic reasons why some dogs view dung as a delicacy. Mostly it is about exploring their world and common among puppies, who typically drop the habit at about nine months of age. It is, however, a normal, natural behavior at some canine life stages. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate, and clean their feces for about the first three weeks. Dogs’ eating their own poop is harmless, but consuming that of other animals may cause health problems if the stool is contaminated with parasites, viruses, or toxins. We discuss parasites, including those that spread to people and how to treat them in-depth in a recent blog.

 

At ZippiVet, no questions are considered silly. Helping you to care for your dog is our top priority. Our Pet Wellness Exams offer plenty of time to get all of your nagging questions answered too. ZippiVet makes it easy to schedule an appointment in North Austin or our new location in South Austin.