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Caring for your golden oldie dog

As dogs enter their senior years, they need extra care and tailored nutrition to help them manage the various ailments that come with advancing age – from stiff joints and smelly breath to hearing loss and visual impairment – or even developing a sensitive digestion.

How your dog ages is generally determined by factors such as genetics, nutrition and quality of care. The good news is that today, our pet dogs have the best chance of living long, healthy lives. The RSPCA says: “Thanks to modern veterinary science and an increased understanding of their needs, our dogs are living longer.”

As well as advances in science, our golden oldies also benefit from a little extra help from their human, so finding out more about the special requirements of senior dogs is essential. Here are some commonly asked questions about older dogs:

  • What age do you class a dog as senior?
  • How does a senior dog’s behaviour change?
  • How does a senior dog’s exercise requirements change?
  • What health issues are common in senior dogs?
  • What should you feed a senior dog?
  • What’s different about senior dog food?

Read on to find some very useful answers...


What age do you class a dog as senior?

Depending on their breed, dogs are generally classed as seniors from age 7 onwards. Dogs Trust states that the ‘average’ life expectancy of a dog is around 13 years, however smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds.

As your dog ages, you’ll notice changes – such as wanting less exercise, sleeping more and a change in appetite. By preparing for your dog’s later life, you can provide them with the quality of life they deserve as a senior canine.


How does a senior dog’s behaviour change?

You’ll start to notice a general slowing down, physically and mentally, so it’s essential to help your canine chum remain mentally active by making plenty of time for gentle games and lots of interaction. You may find your dog barks more often – this could be due to something bothering them, or because they’re going deaf. They may pant more, which could be due a physical condition, or because they’re finding life stressful. Some older dogs exhibit symptoms of senility, including compulsive behaviours. At the first sign of any behavioural changes, it’s best to seek advice from your vet.

Importantly, as dogs get older, they can, just like humans, become more grumpy and less tolerant, so always respect their space and make sure they have a quiet, cosy, familiar spot to retreat to whenever they need it.


How does a senior dog’s exercise requirements change?

Older dogs have less energy and will spend more of their time snoozing. While it’s important to keep them mobile, senior dogs certainly won’t need to run and walk as much as they did in their prime. When going for walkies, always let your dog set the pace. You’ll find they appreciate shorter, more frequent walks instead of one long one to provide mental stimulation as well as keeping joints mobile. As your dog ages, they may show signs of joint stiffness, particularly in the morning or after exercise, so it could be worth investing in a super comfy and supportive orthopaedic dog bed and a dog ramp to help them get in and out of the car or on and off the sofa.


What health issues are common in senior dogs?

Just like humans, older dogs often struggle with their sight and hearing. Their eyes may appear cloudy, which could be a sign of cataracts. As failing sight is a gradual process, most dogs adjust to it. You can help them out by avoiding moving furniture and keeping objects out of their way. They may also lose the ability to hear certain sounds – for example, being able to hear a high-pitched whistle, but not your voice – so you may need to develop new forms of communication. To be safe, always keep your dog on a lead when out and about, especially near roads.

Your dog’s coat may change in condition. In addition to grey or white hair appearing around their eyes and muzzle, their coat may become thinner and duller. Gentle daily grooming can help and also provides opportunity for you to check your dog over for any new lumps or bumps that need further investigation. Also pay particular attention to the condition of teeth and the length of nails, which will be less worn as walks get shorter. If your dog hasn’t been neutered already, there may still be benefits in doing so at an older age, so ask your vet for advice. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for an ageing dog.


What should you feed a senior dog?

Joint or dental problems, which can cause stinky breath, are common as dogs start to age, but providing tailored nutrition – such as food with added glucosamine for optimal joint mobility and prebiotics to aid the body’s natural defences – can help. Burgess in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, explains: “Over the past few decades, the science of pet nutrition has come a long way. We now know much more about the significant role nutrition plays when it’s tailored to the different stages of our pets’ development, ensuring the optimum quality of life for the longest time possible.”

Feeding your senior dog with a specially formulated mature food can help to ease the effects of growing older. Choosing a food specially developed for senior dogs can help support joint mobility and the immune system, aid digestion, particularly if your canine pal has developed a sensitive stomach, as well as maintaining a healthy coat and skin. Find out more about our range of Senior Dog Food >>

As they become less active, older dogs can be prone to putting on weight. Switching to a complete senior diet that may be lower in protein or fat will help keep extra weight off. Feeding smaller meals three or four times a day can also be beneficial, but make sure you keep to your dog’s daily allowance as being overweight is bad news, especially for senior dogs. If your dog suffers from neck or back pain, introducing raised food and water bowls will reduce discomfort. Find more feeding advice for senior dogs here >>


What’s different about senior dog food?

Senior dog food is formulated specifically to help dogs as they enter their golden years. The mix of ingredients can make a difference to your best furry friend’s quality of life, easing the effects of ageing, while still dishing them up a tasty meal. Beneficial ingredients include:

  • High quality protein: As your pet ages, their muscles get smaller so the extra protein in their diet helps to counter the effects of this change. 
  • Glucosamine: This is often added into senior pet food to help your dog’s ageing joints. 
  • Antioxidants: As your dog ages their immune system will naturally decrease in effectiveness. Senior dog food containing antioxidants will help support their immune system. 
  • Fatty acids and zinc: These help to maintain skin and coat health in older dogs.

How much food should you feed your dog? What’s the best dog food for your dog? What’s the best dog food for your puppy? What can dogs eat? What can’t dogs eat? How many times a day should you feed your dog? Will feeding treats cause weight issues? Find the answers in our dog feeding guide >>


The Burgess Dog Food range – something tasty for every dog

The optimum diet for your pet is one that supplies the correct number of calories and balance of nutrients for their size, life stage and lifestyle. This means calculating the nutrient content and dietary components such as protein, fat, carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals required. All Burgess Dog Food is a complete food. This means, whatever variety you choose for your dog, it will contain all the nutrients they need in the correct balance.

We also use only premium ingredients to ensure excellent quality and superior taste to help keep your dog happy and healthy – from puppy, to adult and senior. We’ve also developed foods to meet the specific nutritional needs of working and sporting dogs, Greyhounds and Lurchers, and dogs with sensitivities as well as a light variety for dogs who need to lose weight or are less mobile. And we’re very proud of our Paul O'Grady's 'No Nasties' dog food range, which comes in Hypoallergenic and Grain Free varieties and is, in Paul's words: ''the best food you can feed your dogs.’'

Need expert nutrition advice? If you’re at all unsure about the best way of feeding your pets or have any concerns about specific nutritional requirements at different times of their life, ask your local veterinary practice for advice. You can also call our expert team on 44 (0)0800 413 969 who’ll be happy to help. They’re available 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Alternatively, you can use our online form.


Is your dog a Burgess dog? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.  

CARE MORE Find out more about caring for your dog from the pet experts >>


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