Are pet owners prepared to care for a senior dog?
A survey of 2,000 Canadians reveals that many pet owners may not be prepared to care for their dogs when they become senior animals.
The Covid 19 pandemic spiked a boom in the adoption of new dogs. As people transitioned to working from home many individuals decided to seek out a new furry co-worker. However, many of these new pet owners may not have considered the challenges that occur when their new pandemic puppy eventually reaches senior age.
When it comes to raising a dog into seniority, a new study by dog food delivery service Kabo Fresh Dog Food has revealed an interesting trend among Canadian dog owners. November is National Senior Pet Month and there are a few things that pet owners need to know about a dog's transition from adult to seniorhood.
A double blind study was conducted where 2,000 dog owners across Canada were asked to answer a series of questions surrounding the signs of aging and identifying behaviours associated with senior dogs.
Results of the study revealed an interesting finding and it’s that many dog owners are not prepared to care for a senior dog. Of the 2,000 respondents, 28% have never owned a senior dog. The majority of these are younger pet owners aged 18-34 who may lack the experience and financial standing it takes to care for a senior animal.
Dogs come in a variety of sizes and their size is directly correlated to their longevity and entrance into seniority. Generally large breed dogs age more rapidly than small breeds. The majority of pet owners in the study were not able to correctly identify senior ages in any size of dog. While breed and genetic predisposition may play a factor on when a dog becomes a senior, small breed dogs generally enter seniorhood at age 10, while large and giant breed dogs enter seniorhood earlier at ages 8 and 6 respectively.
One thing that does not change as a dog ages is their basic nutritional requirements. R&D scientist and nutritionist, Andrea Geiger, has this to say, “What a lot of pet owners do not realize is that commercial senior diets are not usually that different from a regular adult maintenance diet. Senior dogs do not need different nutrients or ingredients than adult dogs do. However, they may need a diet with a higher moisture content, like fresh or canned food, so their food is easier for them to chew and digest.”
While senior dogs may not see a change in their nutritional requirements, their metabolism does. Senior dogs have a tendency to gain weight as their metabolism begins to slow and daily exercise shortens. This is something that many pet owners do not recognize, as only 43% of surveyed pet owners were aware of the risk of weight gain.
“As a dog ages and their metabolism slows, it’s more important to think about what nutrients are beneficial rather than which ingredients are important,” says Dr. Maryanne Murphy, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and associate professor from the University of Tennessee, “Nutrients like polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as omega 3s) and antioxidants are great for senior dogs as they can often help with inflammation and joint pain.”
The financial cost of caring for a senior dog is considerable. Fortunately it seems that pet owners are prepared for the extra vet bills as 68% of the survey respondents have savings set aside for veterinary costs. Where there seems to be a misunderstanding among pet owners is just how much their vet bills may increase with a senior dog. The survey showed that 21% of pet owners underestimated the yearly average cost of owning a senior dog, with pet owners estimating that the annual cost would remain below $3,000/year.
On the topic of veterinary care for senior dogs, Kabo Veterinarian Dr. Suzee Camilleri has this to say, “Overall, dog owner’s should expect anywhere from a 10% to 25% increase in costs in the senior years of a dog’s life. Increased frequency of wellness checks may seem unnecessary if things look okay on the ‘outside’ of your dog. However, once a late stage disease is discovered, it gets incredibly costly, very fast. This is why a proactive preventative approach is best: regular wellness checks, good quality food and appropriate portions, healthy treats, routine daily exercise, and overall being aware that changes are coming and to look for them.”
Another interesting finding of the study was that dog owners do not know how to identify the physical and behavioural symptoms associated with common diseases in senior dogs. Only 15% of pet owners were able to correctly identify the signs of canine dementia and 47% of respondents could not identify all of the behavioural signs associated with vision loss in dogs.
Joint pain and degeneration is one of the most common health problems in senior dogs. The American Animal Hospital Association estimates that 1 in 5 senior dogs experience joint pain. Pet owners in the survey were asked what solution they would seek to treat their dog’s joint pain. Prescription medication is the most common clinical solution, followed closely by natural supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin.
“It is reasonable to think that we will see a growing population of senior dogs in the next 8-10 years due to the boom in pet ownership over the course of the Covid 19 pandemic. There will likely be a shift in the types of pet products available on the market to address the needs of this aging population. From conversations with customers we’ve seen the need for solutions, such as supplements to support mobility and diets to support sensitive stomachs,” responds Kabo founder, Vino Jeyapalan.
Aging is something that pet owners will have to deal with at some point throughout their dog’s life. One Canadian couple shared their story about how their dog started experiencing health challenges as she got older.
Alex and Sheila Sherbot are two dedicated Labrador Retriever owners, living in Saskatoon Saskatchewan. Their black lab Willow lived to be almost 15 years old and was a treasured part of their family. Alex and Sheila first adopted Willow from a reputable breeder when she was still a little puppy. However, despite coming from a very reputable kennel, Willow began to show a few health issues at a fairly young age.
At age 7, Willow battled panniculitis, dental problems and bladder infections. As a result, this meant that Willow had regular blood work done by her veterinarian. As she got older, the frequent blood tests actually ended up working in her favour. Willow’s lab results showed that her liver might not be functioning the way it should and as a result of her regular blood work, Willow's vets were able to diagnose her early.
Willow’s treatment for liver disease was extensive and costly. She was prescribed an expensive medication daily, and early on in her diagnosis. Vet costs were high and in the last 5 years of her life, they totaled to more than $5,000. Even still, Alex and Sheila were willing to do what they could to help Willow feel better.
Willow was Alex and Sheila’s 5th dog, so they were prepared for the challenges that come with a senior dog. “All dogs are different and they seem to be able to let us know if there were any problems that needed a visit to the vet,” says Sheila. “Exercise, of course, was a big one. Not as much, not as long, going slower and watching carefully to see if they were enjoying the walk.”
Thanks to catching Willow’s liver disease early and their dedication to treatment, the Sherbots were able to extend Willow’s life from 7 to 14 ½ years! Owning a senior dog is different from owning an adult dog but they are still lovable all the same. “They’re so darn easy to please,” says Sheila, “Looking after a senior dog’s health can be tough but they’re just so happy hanging out with you and you’d like to think that they know you’ve done your best to give them a happy, joyful life. We like to think Willow had that.”
Ultimately, this study showed that people who became dog owners during the pandemic may not have considered the eventual challenges of caring for a senior animal. Just like humans, senior dogs will experience changes in health, activity and behaviour. In order to keep senior dogs out of shelters, it is important for new pet owners to be aware of the financial and emotional undertaking of a senior dog.
This study was conducted with 2,000 dog owners in Canada through TapResearch.