AS I stroked Piper's ears while he lay sleeping with his head on my lap it donned on me that my dogs have been sleeping more than usual.
I remembered how they used to curl up on their beds after a walk but still remain alert to what was going on. Now they search for their favourite spot in front of the fireplace or on the couch and settle in for a good long nap.
I ran my hand across his ribs and found that familiar small fatty lump; I was reminded that he isn't a puppy any longer, hence the need for more sleep.
With Piper turning seven and Zumi, nine, they are both entering their senior years - the time in a dog's life when we need to pay extra attention to any changes in their habits and behaviour.
It's not uncommon for senior dogs to sleep more and have their exercise tolerance decrease. As a result of those two factors many senior dogs have the tendency to put on weight. Changing to food designed for senior dogs will help keep the weight off and keep them healthier in the latter half of their lives.
It is very important to be aware of your senior dog's health as illness comes on quickly. The sooner you are able to detect illness in your dog the faster the recovery will be. Being very familiar with my dogs' bodies I was able to find a small fatty lump early on Piper last year and immediately brought him to the vet to get it checked. Thankfully it was benign. Lumps and bumps in senior dogs are common and if you become familiar with their size and position you can monitor their growth.
Proactive dog owners will bring their young dogs to their regular vet for yearly check-ups. Not only does this allow the regular vet to keep track of the dog as it ages but they become familiar with the dog's health history.
It is far easier for a vet to diagnose a problem if they have a consistent base-line of health to follow. If a vet sees a dog for the first time when it is unhealthy it is harder for them to diagnose the problem.
This is also why it is a good idea to stick to one vet or at the very least one veterinary clinic for the life of your dog. Many people switch clinics due to schedules or costs, this may save you a few bucks here and there but in the end it could be your dog that suffers when you are working with a vet that is unfamiliar with your dog's health history.
Besides lumps and bumps, familiarize yourself with your dogs coat. Changes in coat texture are signs of ill health.
Foul smelling breath in senior dogs should not be overlooked. It could signal dental disease or even serious internal health issues. If Fido's breath makes you gag for fresh air, reach for the phone and make a vet appointment instead of a breath mint.
Arthritis strikes dogs just as it strikes humans so check your dog's limbs and spine by occasionally gently squeezing their joins to check for pain. There are many holistic treatments such as acupuncture that alleviate the discomfort of arthritis as well as standard allopathic treatments to allow your dog to move pain-free.
Besides physical changes, be aware of any behavioural or temperament changes in your senior dog. A senior dog that does not come when called may be going deaf or losing their eyesight.
Many dogs are stoic and don't express pain through yelps of discomfort but rather express it through changes in their moods.
If your dog has become less tolerant of things like other dogs, children or being asked to move from a spot, be aware that the display of aggression may be because of pain rather than because he or she is being a bad dog.
Remaining aware of your dog's health throughout its entire life, as well as through their senior years, is the best way to ensure your dog remains as healthy and comfortable as possible as they grow old.