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Seniors

Senior Chihuahuas

Overview

When a dog transitions from adult to senior, this can be a confusing time for owners, giving way to a lot of questions and concerns.

When exactly does a Chihuahua become a senior? What types of changes should you expect? Do owners need to do anything differently?

The needs of this breed in regard to care will change as the Chi ages. For this reason, we are going to cover all of these questions and a lot more in this section which is dedicated to older, senior Chihuahua dogs.

At What Age Does a Chihuahua Become a Senior?

This is a very good question and it can actually vary depending on who you speak to. In general, dogs transition into their senior years between the age of 7 and 10. What makes the difference?  
Senior Chihuahua dog on beach
Typically, it is the size of the breed of which there are 5: Toy, Small, Medium, Large, Giant. In addition, the overall life span of the dog will be part of the equation to when the dog becomes a senior.

As you know, the Chihuahua is a toy sized breed with a very long life expectancy and for this reason he is going to become a senior around the age of 10, with a range of between the ages of 9 and 12 years old.  
Some veterinarians who are invested with a dog that they have taken care of since puppyhood or for many years will take the time to explain the aging process to a Chihuahua owner and make the official announcement that the Chi has indeed transitioned from adult to senior. 

However, some do not and it leaves owners wondering if their dog can still just be considered an adult at 9,10, or even 11 years old and beyond. 

The important element to remember is that whether or not your vet has officially stated it (and we'll get into more details in a bit about having a veterinarian that properly oversees a senior dog) or whether or not your Chihuahua is running around and is as playful as usual, at the 10 year old mark, owners need to start incorporating some changes and prepare themselves for changes that they may begin seeing.
Nothing will happen overnight, however we will go over the physical and behavior changes that will occur from the age of 10 until a Chihuahua has reached the end of his or her life span.
Changes That Should Take Place with the Veterinarian

It is important to be proactive in regard to the types of visits and checkups that your Chihuahua receives as an older, senior dog. No matter how energetic and youthful your particular Chi may behave at age 10, changes are occurring in the body and testing for issues that commonly effect older dogs must performed on a regular basis. 

It's not a matter of an older Chi suddenly developing health issues, it is a matter of cautionary medicine in order to catch issues early, which offers the best chance for quick treatment and excellent recovery.

A lot of changes are going to be occurring from age 10 on, and it is important that a Chihuahua have a wellness checkup at least once a year and preferably 2 times a year.

What should a vet start looking for: Testing and examination should be looking for early signs of:
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart issues
  • Prostate disease
  • Testicular cancer (for male Chihuahua dogs that have not been neutered)
  • Breast cancer
  • Uterus cancer (for female Chihuahua dogs that have not been spayed)
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Cognitive Issues
As you can see from the list above, senior Chihuahuas (and all dogs in general) are vulnerable to many of the health issues that humans can develop at an older age. While a Chi may never have any of these issues, many will - and this is why wellness checks are very important.
Teeth

Dental care has never been as important as it is now and hopefully owners of older, senior Chihuahua dogs have established good dental practices from when the Chi was a young puppy. At home dental cleanings should begin at the age of 8 weeks old - even though those milk teeth are going to fall out, brushing will strengthen the gums and set the foundation for a healthy adult set.

No matter when you incorporated dental cleanings into the regular grooming of your Chihuahua, the senior years are vitally important for this type of care. It's sad when owners of older dogs have a mindset of "Well, he's older now, it doesn't matter as much"… Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Older dogs are more vulnerable to infection and tooth issues than ever. While brushings at home and yearly scraping at the vets (though some owners choose to do this at home as well) can prevent some dental problems, an experienced veterinarian should be performing full dentals once a year. 

It's sad when an older, senior Chihuahua loses teeth which leads to difficultly eating and only weakens an already weaker dog.

Heat

We'll touch on the issue of heat since we receive a lot of questions regarding this. A senior female Chihuahua that has not been spayed may enter heat cycle for her entire life. 

Most female canines do not enter the canine equivalent of human menopause. Enduring a heat cycle at the age of 9, 10 and beyond can be stressful and taxing on a dog.
This is one reason, we encourage pet owners to have their females spayed (preferably at an early age). Other reasons are to less the chance of developing breast cancer, eliminating the chances of developing ovarian cancer and of course, to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
Food and Supplement Changes for the Senior Chihuahua
 
Hopefully owners are feeding their adult Chihuahuas a high quality manufactured dog food or are home cooking. For Chihuahuas that eat commercial food, the timing to change to the senior variety will vary depending on the dog. 

The veterinarian is the best person to make this decision and will take into account a Chi's general health, weight, size and activity level. For some, the changeover will take place at the age of 8, for others it will not be needed until 9, 10 or even 11 years old.

One must remember that while you may not see changes occurring, metabolic and body composition changes are occurring and will continue to do so as the Chi ages.

Food for seniors will have a lower fat content and a bit higher in fiber. Protein levels will remain the same. It should be noted that various medical issues will dictate other changes in diet as well; for example a Chihuahua with kidney issues will be put on a lower protein diet.
When a senior Chihuahua is in his much later years - 12 years and on, the dog may have trouble eating a dry kibble. A warm low-sodium broth can be mixed into the kibble to soften it or a changeover to either home cooked food or a combination of wet food and kibble may be best. The important element is to make changes that help an older and perhaps weaker dog able to eat his daily recommended meals.

Timing - While an adult Chi may eat 1 or 2 meals per day (we recommend 2 meals for adults, due to the high metabolic rate in most Chi), the majority of senior Chihuahua dogs do best with more frequent feedings. The quantity of food will remain the same, however it is recommended to go from 1 meal to 2, or from 2 to 3. This is easier on the dog's stomach and digestive system.

Supplements- Hopefully, conscientious Chihuahua owners are already giving their adult Chi a daily vitamin and mineral supplement. Once a senior, this should be switched to a senior formula. A good senior formula will have slightly higher levels of glucosamin, chondroitin,and other elements to support joint function. With many senior Chihuahuas, Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin C are more important than ever. 
Note: For recommended supplements, you may wish to look to the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.
Vision Changes 

As with most issues that can affect senior Chihuahua dogs, this is something that often comes on slowly and it is only when it is in the moderate to severe stages that many owners will notice that something is wrong. It is common for an older dog to start to have trouble with his/her vision. While some issues can be corrected, older age brings about eye issues of wear and tear. Other age related issues are cataracts and retinal degeneration.

Many older Chihuahuas experience a clouding of the eye lens. It is a gradual process that can begin early at the age of 7 and then gradually worsen as the dog ages. Often, it will not be noticeable until the age of 10 or 11 years old. This age related clouding is referred to as nuclear sclerosis and for some dogs it will develop into a cataract.

While twice a year wellness checks will find any clouding, if found, a Chihuahua should be examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist who will keep an eye on things. If this does become severe and moderately to severely affects the ability to see, surgery can correct this.

Other possible issues are glaucoma and retinal disease. Other, expected changes that have no solid treatment is a general worsening of vision. A senior Chihuahua may not be able to see as far, for example. 

When a dog ages and may have trouble seeing, it is always recommended to keep the layout of the house the same - do not rearrange furniture if at all possible. Keep floor clutter to a minimum. In addition, for dogs with eye vision issues, do realize that exposure to a new environment or situation may cause stress.
Accidents 

While most Chihuahua at the age of 8, 9, and 10 years old will not show signs of incontinence, it is common in older seniors of 11 years and older. This can be due to a medical issue or it may be due to a weakening of the bladder and/or bowel muscles. In most cases, some changes will need to take place as a Chihuahua ages.

Here are some things that can help:
  • Bring your Chihuahua outside more often. Adding an extra visit to the designated area can be a great help, as well as adding on an extra visit before bedtime.   
  • Give an older dog more time for bowel movements. 
  • If an older dog tends to have problems late at night or in the middle of the night, the last evening meal should be offered at an earlier time. 
  • If accidents are occurring frequently, consider confining your Chihuahua in an easy to clean area - This does NOT mean a crate. Being crated can cause stress and anxiety. Best is a canine gated area that is positioned over a piece of linoleum (easily found at home building supply stores). 
  • Some senior dogs will benefit from wearing doggie diapers. For an older dog that is very aware that accidents are happening, wearing a diaper can actually preserve self-esteem. For recommended doggie diapers, coverings, gates and bedding, you may wish to look to the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.
Exercise 

Older dogs are often more mellow than adults and in general will not be as active; however if a senior does not have any medical issues that would limit his/her activity, keeping up with daily walks is a must for good health and longevity. 

Many seniors do best with 2 shorter walks per day as opposed to what may have been 1 long daily walk. Do keep in mind that an older Chihuahua will need to walk at a slower pace as he ages and may not be as nimble, however keeping up with outside activity is good for the body and good for the mind.
Playfulness and Behavioral Changes

Senior dogs will certainly not have the active playfulness of young puppies and while a change in behavior will be a gradual one, many senior Chihuahua will have a tendency to want to rest and relax away from foot traffic and area with high levels of noise and/or commotion. While it is beneficial for a Chi of any age to have his own 'spot', for a senior Chihuahua it can be very important. 

Many older dogs like to have a special area - best is in the corner of a room where the dog can still feel like part of the family but also can relax and be left to relax with a barrage of noise and activity.
Some love a spot in a sun room, but any area where you can set up a dog bed - best is an orthopedic mattress- can be helpful when an older dog simply wants to retreat for a while.

It is very common for older dogs to take more frequent naps. Since some Chihuahua like to stay very close to their owners, it can be helpful to have 2 sleeping areas for a dog - perhaps adding one in the corner of the living room where a tired, older dog can rest but still stay close to his family.

Older dogs may have a lower tolerance for young children. Feeling overwhelmed with too much noise and too much touching can cause a dog stress that sometimes shows itself as nipping and/or barking. If you have young children or have young visitors to the house, do be sure to explain the needs and limits of a senior dog.
Ways to Help a Senior Chihuahua Feel Comfortable and Happy 

1) Do give your older Chi his/her own space where the dog can feel free to retreat to if feeling overwhelmed during times of high noise levels or high activity in the house - Do not isolate the dog - best is an area that is warm and comfortable , within eyesight of others but in a quiet corner.

2) Older Chihuahua dogs may not be able to regulate body temperature as they once did. Offering an extra blanket at night is often welcome. Soft and comfortable doggie clothes while outside on cool to cold days can keep the shivers away and allow an older Chi the benefits of outdoor exercise.
Also be aware that hot days can be difficult for a senior to handle - On very warm to hot days and particularly when humidity is high, walk your Chi early in the morning and later in the evening when temperatures are not as high.

Additionally, doggie shoes or booties can protect sensitive paws from the sometimes very hot surface temperatures (This is recommended for Chihuahuas of all ages).

3) Chihuahuas that have aches and pains from arthritis do well with orthopedic dog beds.

4) For some older Chi, a dog ramp will be very helpful. This all depends on the layout of the house and the habits of a particular dog. For example, if a Chihuahua has a favorite spot on a sofa that can no longer be reached due to inability to leap up, a small ramp that allows the dog to access the area on his own can help a senior dog maintain independence.
For clothing, bedding, supplements, grooming supplies and all top recommended products specifically for the Chi , visit the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.
You may also be interested in:

The Chihuahua Dog Blog - This is the Topic of the Month, where you will find helpful new informational articles relating to the Chihuahua breed. 
Chihuahua Care - A good overview of everything that is needed to take great care of your puppy or dog. 
Chihuahua Allergies - This covers contact, seasonal and food allergies that typically affect Chihuahuas. Signs and treatment. 
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