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How to Help Your Senior Dog Stay Young at Heart

June 23, 2010 | 17,009 views
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senior dogDid you know dogs as young as six can begin to exhibit the signs and symptoms of an aging brain?

These changes involve increasing brain pathology (disease), as well as cognitive decline and associated dysfunctional behavior, including:

  • Confusion and memory problems
  • House soiling
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Socialization problems
  • Changes in activity level
  • Anxiety

Research into how to stave off age-related decline in canines is underway. A combination of approaches seems to be most beneficial and includes:

  • Dietary therapy
  • Environmental modification and enrichment
  • Behavior modification
  • Supplementation with agents known for their antioxidant and neuroprotective effects
  • Adjunctive therapy for specific aging-related problems

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Every dog is an individual, but (as sad as it is to say this) it's generally assumed if your pup is around seven or eight years of age, he's entering his senior years. Some breeds live a lot longer than others, but by 7, your dog is probably in the second half of her life.

Even the little guys with long average life spans are considered geriatric once they reach seven or eight.

Your furry pal may still boast a puppy-like appearance and behavior, but there are age related changes taking place inside him despite his youthful good looks and high energy level.

Your Dog's Age in Human Years

The chart below gives you an idea of how old your dog's body is depending on her age and size.

As a general rule, giant breed dogs are deemed senior citizens at five years of age, and dogs under 20 pounds move into the range at about seven.

Again, every dog is different, but the following chart is a good guideline.

A Dog's Age in Human Years
Dog's Age Up to 20 lbs 21 – 50 lbs 51 – 90 lbs Over 90 lbs
5 36 37 40 42
6 40 42 45 49
7 44 47 50 56
8 48 51 55 64
9 52 56 61 71
10 56 60 66 78
11 60 65 72 86
12 64 69 77 93
13 68 74 82 101
14 72 78 88 108
15 76 83 93 115
16 80 87 99 123
17 84 92 104  
18 88 96 109  
19 92 101 115  
20 96 105 120  
Ages in yellow = Senior  Ages in red = Geriatric
Chart developed by Dr. Fred L. Metzger, DVM, State College, PA.
– Courtesy of http://srdogs.com/

This information isn't intended to concern or discourage you. Having good information about what to expect from your dog will help you make healthy, helpful adjustments to her lifestyle as the two of you age gracefully together.

Early Signs of Aging in Your Pooch

One of the first things most dog parents notice is that their pup is slowing down a bit.

It may take him awhile to get from a lying down position to a sitting or standing one. You might notice he doesn't jump into or out of your car with his usual burst of energy. Maybe he's now taking the stairs one at a time when he used to scramble up them. Perhaps he no longer jumps up on your bed or a favorite chair.

Another very common sign of aging is the onset of disorders like arthritis, diabetes, heart ailments, liver or kidney conditions, Cushing's disease and cancer. 

Other signs of aging you might notice in your dog include:

  • Tiring more quickly
  • Development of vision or hearing problems
  • Graying hair
  • Behavioral changes like mental confusion, separation anxiety, excessive vocalization, or elimination accidents in the house

The five most common symptoms of a dog's aging brain, known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), are:

  1. Increased total amount of sleep during a 24-hour period
  2. Decreased attention to surroundings, disinterest, apathy
  3. Decreased purposeful activity
  4. Loss of formerly acquired knowledge, which includes housebreaking
  5. Intermittent anxiety expressed through apprehension, panting, moaning, shivering

A Canine Fountain of Youth?

A growing number of promising research studies indicate that supplemental S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a safe and remarkably effective means for improving mental decline in aging dogs.

SAMe is found in every cell of the body (yours and your dog's) and is abundant in the liver and brain, in particular. A declining amount of SAMe in humans is thought to be associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease – Alzheimer's in people is similar to decreased cognitive function in dogs.

In one important recent study, dogs older than eight that showed consistent signs of age-related mental decline were given either a SAMe supplement or a placebo for eight weeks.

The dogs given SAMe showed a 50 percent reduction in mental impairment in the two month period, compared to less than 16 percent reduction in impairment for dogs given a placebo. This means SAMe supplementation may significantly slow the rate at which your dog's brain shows signs of aging.

Work with your integrative veterinarian or pet healthcare practitioner to determine what dose is best for the size dog you have.

More Age-Defying Nutrients

Other agents known for their antioxidant and neuroprotective properties include:

Vitamin B6. B6 combats oxidative stress by inhibiting the production of free radicals – one of the primary factors of age-related mental decline in dogs.

Vitamin E. Vitamin E protects against DNA damage and memory deficits, and has been shown to improve cognitive function in patients with age-related brain pathology.

Resveratrol.  Found naturally in grapes, resveratrol protects against damage from free radicals and beta-amyloid deposits known to be a factor in Alzheimer's.

Ginkgo Biloba. Gingko has been shown to protect against dementia and improve cognitive function in both humans and animals.

Phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine is a naturally occurring building block of cell membranes that can inhibit age-related cognitive deficits, memory, orientation, activity, learning, and social behavior in both animals and humans.

Other Ways You Can Help Your Mature Dog

Managing and enriching your dog's environment can help to stall the mental confusion and decline of cognitive function that comes with aging. Sticking to a predictable daily routine can help reduce your pup's anxiety and mental uncertainty.

And keep in mind that playtime, socialization and training activities aren't just for puppies.

No matter how old your dog is or whether or not she's exhibiting signs of aging, she needs exercise, mental stimulation and regular social interaction with other pets and/or people.

As is the case with humans as we age, if your four-legged family member doesn't stay active and involved in life, her world can become a confusing, intimidating place.

If your pet has slowed down or seems physically uncomfortable, it's important not to automatically assume it's just the aging process. You want to make sure she's not in pain for any reason, so it's a good idea to have her checked out by her veterinarian.

I recommend twice-yearly vet visits for dogs (and cats) no matter the age, but this becomes even more important in an aging pet. Keeping abreast of your dog's physical and mental changes as she gets up in years is the best way to catch any disease process early. Not only do you want your pet to have a long life, but also a healthy, happy one.

More Ideas to Enhance Your Senior Dog's Quality of Life

  • Feeding and puzzle toys like the Clever K9 provide fun and mental stimulation.
  • Walks instead of jogs; tug games instead of chase games.
  • Ramps so your pup can still get into the car or up on the bed or favorite chair.
  • More frequent potty trips outside; reintroduction to his crate if he was crate trained initially.
  • Adequate social interaction with other pets and people, but take care not to over stimulate your dog – short periods of exercise and playtime in controlled situations are best for older dogs.
  • If your dog has problems hearing or seeing, use odor cues like scented candles or other aromatherapy products to help him find his way around.
  • If your dog isn't sleeping well, increasing his daytime activity level can help. Let your pup sleep in your bedroom. Sleeping near his human pack leader should help ease any anxiety that is contributing to his nighttime restlessness.
  • Guide your dog with clear cues and easy-to-follow instructions, especially if he's showing signs of mental decline.
  • When you talk to your dog, keep your voice quiet, calm and kind – and please don't ever shout at him. Older dogs can become easily stressed and quite depressed.
  • Keep your dog at a healthy size – overweight dogs are at significant increased risk for disease as they age.
  • Maintain your dog's dental health.
  • And of course … a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet is the foundation of good health and a long life for pets of any age.
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