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Senior Pomeranian Care

Overview of Senior Pomeranian Care

As we have learned in 'Age', a Pomeranian grows up very quickly. There is no official age of becoming a senior. Small toy breed dogs such as the Pom can be considered to be a "Senior" as early as 7 and usually no later than 9. In general, it is safe to say that the senior years begin at 8 years old.

We are going to go over some of the changes that will happen as your Pom grows older. So, even if you have a puppy right now, remember that time moves by very quickly and we must be aware of the needs that older Pomeranians have.

With an average life span of 12 to 16, Poms often live well into their teens, as active and happy as ever, with proper care.
With diligent at-home care, a great veterinarian and also some luck, a Pom can even reach his 20's, as did the oldest known Pomeranian (however, if a Pom passes at 12 or older, this is considered 'normal'). 
Geriatric Screenings

When your Pom is 7-9 years old, additional testing should be performed during twice-a-year checkups that look for issues that are more common with older dogs.  

In general, a geriatric screening of your dog will include: (1) a thorough, hands-on physical exam; (2) blood tests; (3) possibly an electrocardiogram; (4) specialized tests depending on your dog's health history. Some vets advise semi-annual visits once your dog becomes a senior. An annual visit is an absolute minimum. In between visits to the vet and annual geriatric screenings, you can stay alert to behavioral changes and other signs of aging.

Red Flags Regarding Health Issues with Older Poms

• Sudden loss of weight is an early warning sign of many health issues ranging from infection to diabetes. When a Pom loses weight - even a pound or so - this is most often noticeable around the rib cage and often owners will either feel this when picking up their dog or see a change when the coat is wet during bath time.

• Serious loss of appetite - As a dog ages, the metabolism slows down a bit and it is normal for older dogs to eat a bit less. However the first sign of many illness that strike older dogs is a lack of appetite. If you notice that your Pom is eating little and is losing weight, this is your sign to make an appointment right way.
senior Pomeranian dog
Diarrhea or vomiting, can be serious for toy breeds; and particularly with very young puppies and older, senior Poms that are more vulnerable to accompanying dehydration that often occurs.

• Increased thirst, without a change in activity level, and increased urination are other signs of diabetes. Your dog should be tested as soon as possible.

• Tiring more quickly than when younger is normal as a dog ages, however it may also be a sign of disease affecting the heart or lungs. If this becomes troubling bring your dog to the vet who can rule out any cardio-pulmonary problems. 
You may need to modify activity routines to avoid overtaxing an older dog. Seniors may need a slower pace; for example 2 smaller walks per day instead of one longer walk.

• Coughing and excessive panting may indicate heart disease. If these symptoms persist even after you've modified your dog's exercise program, visit the vet.

• Difficulty in getting up from a lying position, or other problems with moving may indicate arthritis. Your vet will be able to advise you on ways you can relieve your dog's discomfort and lack of mobility.

• Problems with vision and hearing are natural as a dog ages. Accommodate these changes as best you can -- by not changing the location of furniture, for example, and clapping instead of calling your dog's name if he/she shows signs of decreased hearing.

• Thinning fur and drying skin are sure signs of aging. More attention to grooming and the introduction of massage will help the condition of the skin and coat. Use high quality products to keep both skin and coat healthy. As always, never brush a dry coat and use a leave-in conditioner. 

• There can be some behavioral changes as a dog grows older. This includes a lower tolerance for noise and commotion. Certain activities may become a tad overwhelming. The older, senior Pomeranian may have a lower threshold of patience for young children or over-crowded rooms. Many do best if given a quiet area to retreat to, that is still close enough to observe family activity without being directly involved in all the chaos.
During the early teen years (13+years old), it is not uncommon for some cognitive abilities to decline. This may present as lack of attentiveness, disorientation, roaming in circles, barking at (apparently) nothing and/or becoming withdrawn. While this may be due to the normal aging process, do bring any such changes to the attention of your Pom's veterinarian.

Anesthesia for Older Dogs

There's always a risk when your dog must undergo a procedure that involves anesthesia and this can present a higher risk for older dogs. If your Pomeranian needs anesthesia, be certain the office is fully equipped with anesthetic monitors:
  • a pulse oximeter
  • blood pressure monitor
  • and ECG. 
older adult Pomeranian
A "pulse oximeter" is particularly important because it alerts the vet if a dog’s blood oxygen level falls below the safe limit. One type of anesthesia that is recommended for senior dogs is "isoflurane," an inhalation-type anesthesia that is quickly eliminated from the dog's body once inhalation stops. However, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine reports in their March 1998 Newsletter that a new injectable anesthetic, "propofol" (brand name "Rapinovet," marketed by Mallinckrodt Veterinary, Inc.) has been shown to be less risky because it is eliminated even more quickly from the dog's body. We quote: " . . . dogs show less residual grogginess and irritability when recovering from propofol . . ."

Older dogs are generally at greater risk than younger dogs when anesthesia is administered, therefore this new anesthetic may be the best for an older dog.

Dental Care

Dental care needs to be continuous from the time a dog is young. Without proper care during the puppy, adolescent and adult years, by the time a Pomeranian becomes a senior, the effects of any dental neglect will be evident and potentially shorten the dog's life span. Rotting teeth can cause gum and mouth infections, and these infections can migrate to the vital organs and cause serious damage. Gum (periodontal) disease is extremely common in older Pomeranians, and one of the more serious health problems that occurs.

It is never too late to begin a solid at-home dental care routine. During yearly or twice-a-year visits, both teeth and gums should be checked professionally. Care should continue as the Pom matures. Proper chew toys, healthy crunchy snacks such as baby carrots, dental wipes and brushings all work together for good oral hygiene.

As a Pomeranian ages, he may become lazier regarding chewing his food and playing with chew toys. He may develop a preference for softer food. He may give only a few half-hearted nudges to the toys and bones he once gnawed on happily for hours. A gradually diminishing interest in chewing is normal as a dog grow older; however if your Pomeranian stops chewing suddenly or appears to be like he is eating in a "careful" way, it may be a sign that his teeth and gums are hurting and need professional attention.
Exercise Changes for Older Pomeranians

Exercise is as essential to dogs as it is to humans. It is directly tied to a dog's physical, mental, and emotional health. A sedentary dog is a bored dog, often an overweight dog, and, in general, a less-than-optimally-healthy dog. In older Pomeranians, obesity is the most common condition that vets see, and lack of exercise is a critical component of it.

As dogs age, they still need their exercise to benefit their heart, lungs, circulation, digestive system, and joints - as well as to fight obesity. Compared with younger dogs,however, older dogs need to adjust the type and duration of the exercise they do.

Every dog is different in the way he or she ages and the exercise he or she can handle. You'll want to take note of your Pom’s abilities, natural inclinations, and current state of health.

Keep alert to your dog's being excessively out of breath, or to a drooping head and tail during exercise. If your Pom coughs or does not get her breath back after five minutes of rest following exercise, have the vet check her heart.

Other basics to keep in mind: It's best to exercise your dog before he eats and to wait about half an hour after the exercise session before giving a meal.

Seniors may have a lower tolerance for heat and direct sunlight; therefore there may need to be changes to when a Pom is walked in order to avoid the hottest times of the day. In addition, dehydration can occur faster than with younger dogs - Poms should be encouraged to drink both before, during and after a walk.
Adult Pom in field
As recommended for Poms of all ages, a harness should be used any time a Pomeranian is on leash. This is to avoid pressure and tension from the leash to be directed onto the neck. A harness will allow for distribution across the back, shoulders and chest.

Two shorter walks will be less stressful on aging joints than one long walk. If your senior Pom is healthy, walks can be quite brisk. A brisk walk should have 6 components:

1- A drink of water
2- A warm-up of 5 minutes, gradually increasing the pace
3- A brisk walk of about 20 minutes
4-  A drink of water
5- A cool-down period of 5 minutes, gradually decreasing the pace
6- A final drink of water
Keep in mind that a Pom loves to please his humans and may over-exert himself for this reason. Poms may continue walking or playing long after they need a rest simply because they believe that is what their owner expects. Owners of senior Poms will need to be extra vigilant in adjusting the strenuousness and duration of the exercise accordingly to an older Pomeranian's ability.

At-home exercise is also a good alternative for seniors. Use a carpeted area for the session, and one of your dog's favorite toys. You can play a modified game of "fetch" in a relatively small area. You might also want to play a game that involves your dog doing "roll-overs" or lying on her back to "kick the air." "Hide n' seek" is also a great game that can get an older dog excited to move around. The idea is to keep the Pom active and moving in a physically non-stressful way.
Ways to Help a Senior Pomeranian be Happy and Healthy

There are many things that you do to help keep your senior Pomeranian more comfortable and happy. Your older Pom will need your help as his/her body ages.

• Regular checkups and communication with your veterinarian will ensure that you are doing all that you can medically to help your Pom enjoy the senior years. With any diagnosis of a serious condition, we recommend obtaining a 2nd opinion.

• Change your Pom’s diet from dog food to senior dog food, if you have been feeding manufactured dog. Your Pom’s body now needs a different amount of carbs, proteins, nutrients and minerals. This will also help your Pom maintain a healthy weight.
Older dogs often find that hard kibble is more difficult to eat. Mixing in a bit of wet food or drizzling warm low-salt chicken or beef broth may help an older dog eat more easily. 

• Ease distractions - Senior Pomeranians can be easily startled by or become fearful of children, loud noises, and general commotion as they age. Conditions such as arthritis can make a dog fearful of getting hurt (or the potential to get hurt) with sudden movements of kids or being stepped on.

• Keep an eye out for any odd symptoms and never pass them off as 'normal' for a senior. Any health issues or behavioral issues should immediately be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. Treatment for health ailments is often most successful when diagnosed early.  

When a Pomeranian ages, there will be changes to both skin and coat. There will be a gradual loss of moisture that can cause skin and fur to become dull and dry. The coat protects the skin and therefore a damaged coat in poor condition can lead to other problems. The skin - in turn - affects the coat; if skin becomes too dry it can affect the hair growth cycle.

Keeping up with routine grooming will be more important than ever as a Pom turns into a senior.

Another reason for a daily grooming session has to do with an aging Pom’s need for physical contact and attention. While puppies and young dogs are busy running around and passing time playing independently with toys, an older Pom doesn't have energy for such things. A grooming session can be an energizer as well as provide an interesting diversion for a dog.

It is also an opportunity for you and your Pom to experience the kind of closeness and physical contact that is reassuring and satisfying and that contributes to your Pom’s overall sense of well-being - which, in turn, stimulates good health.

Regular brushing can lengthen the time between baths for the senior Pomeranian that may have developed a low tolerance for the water. A Pom with a thick undercoat may do well with a bath every 6 to 7 weeks as opposed to the normal 'every 3 week' routine.

Always bathe your older Pom with warm water in a warm room. Cold will dry the skin and might cause chilling. Always use a very mild, quality shampoo since older skin has a tendency toward allergy and dryness. 

Do not use a blow-dryer with an older Pom, which is too hard on the coat and skin. Instead, use thick, absorbent towels.

Use grooming sessions as a means of checking for tumors, growths, or changes in skin condition. Run your hands over all parts of your Pom’s body - from stem to stern, along the abdomen, legs, ears, and tail. Early detection of a malignancy can extend your dog's life by years. The skin, as the largest organ of the body, also can indicate internal health problems that may not be otherwise visible. Watch for dryness or roughness of the skin texture, and for any unusual symptoms.
Sleep for the Senior Pom

A senior Pom should have an orthopedic bed to help with a good night’s sleep and allow comfort to possible aching joints and muscles. Many dogs will insist on lying in doorways and hallways to keep tabs on you, unless you provide them with better spots. 

Giving Medication

Old age is not a disease, however a lot of diseases become more likely as dogs age. Life is easier if you and your Pom learn some care-taking skills together such as giving medication.

In some cases, medications can be formulated into liquids, with special flavoring, or patches. You may be able to insert pills into empty gelatin capsules to mask flavors distasteful to the dog or to get a lot of little pills down at once. Some medications can be injected. Make sure your veterinarian knows of any problems you have with giving your Pom medications so things can be worked out for the dog to get needed doses.

It helps when you’re giving a pill in treats or giving a flavored pill to first give a treat or two with no pill. Then, without hesitation, give the pill, followed at the same brisk pace by a couple more treats. Consult your veterinarian about whether a medication can be given with food.

Topical medications are often needed and some dogs do not like these. A steady supply of tiny treats can keep a dog calm for applying the solution, if your Pom is in the mood to eat. If not, having a helper distract a dog with a toy or even by making funny noises and faces, often works well.
Loss of Appetite and Loss of Weight

A gradual loss of appetite is not uncommon in older Pomeranians. As a dog ages, his senses of smell and taste may decrease, making food generally less appealing. In addition, a senior dog generally leads a less active lifestyle which means that he/she has lower calorie requirements to maintain weight.

A senior will require 50 to 100 fewer calories per day than his adolescent counterpart.

With this said, a sudden loss of appetite may mean the onset of a illness, so be sure to check with your vet if your dog refuses to eat for more than a day. 

Appetite that gradually diminishes to a dangerously low level also may be a sign of a serious problem.
Older Pomeranian sleeping
"Summer's Rough life"
Photo courtesy of Paquin Poms
Again, check with your vet if you are in the least concerned about your dog's appetite. One way to increase the smell- and taste-appeal of food is to warm it. It is, in fact, recommended that you always present food to your Pom that is at room temperature rather than directly from the refrigerator. Warming food in the microwave - taking care that it is not too hot- or dribbling warm, low-sodium chicken broth on top can make it more appealing and easier to chew.

Nutritional Supplements

You will want to carefully choose which supplements to give to your Pom, as an excess amount of something that is normally beneficial may create an imbalance in your dog's overall nutritional status. There are a lot of canine supplement products and it is not uncommon for owners to be confused about what is needed during the senior years. 

Here are some to consider that we have found to work excellent:
  • Glucosamine HCl & Mucopolysaccharides - for joint health and increased mobility
  • Biotin- Plays an important role is maintaining healthy skin and coat, helps with digestion, muscles health and to help the body use glucose as an energy source.
  • Green lipped mussel - Helps canines regain mobility, helps with arthritic symptoms, keeps symptoms at bay
  • Methylsulfonylmethane - Works to remove toxins from the body, rejuvenates hair, skin and nails. Also helps with allergies.
  • Lactobacillus - Improves digestive health, prevents loose bowels, boosts the immune system, reduces gas & bad breath, helps with hair loss 
Hydration Issues for Older Poms

While offering water may seem like a 'no brainer', staying adequately hydrated can be a challenge for a senior dog. The main problem with many older dogs is that they tend to forget to drink, or, due to arthritis or joint pain, they have trouble getting up and moving around, so they avoid going to the water bowl. Even a mild state of dehydration can be dangerous for a senior dog.

The recommendations are: (1) thoroughly wash and re-fill your dog's water bowl several times a day. (2) Set out several water bowls in locations that your dog can reach easily. (3) Deliver the water bowl to your Pom and encourage him/her to drink if you notice that your Pom has not drank in a while (2 hours or so).

Because an older Pom's kidneys may not be functioning as well as when the dog was younger, impure water is often not tolerated. As we recommend with Poms of all ages, filtering the water is the best method to ensure that your Pom is not ingesting harmful substances. Tap water - legally - can contain a slew of contaminants ranging from factory run off to pesticides. Placing a filter on your kitchen tap is a great method to deliver fresh, clean water.
9 years old female Pomeranian
Photo courtesy of Heirloom Pomeranians

A senior Pomeranian may sleep a bit more and may enjoy more quiet time than when younger; however being present with his owners and being close to his human family members is more important than ever. Even when resting, an older Pom still likes to hear his owner's voice and the various noises of his humans going about their day.

Setting up a comfortable resting spots in the rooms that are the busiest can help a senior Pomeranian benefit from an orthopedic surface while remaining close by.

Owners are encouraged to find ways to include their dog in as many activities as possible while limitations in mind. For example, your senior Pom that once enjoyed those long walks may now love to ride in a canine stroller... A Pom that always enjoyed sitting in the sun and watching his owner garden will be better on a cooling mat in the shade, etc.
Home Environment

In general, dogs like routine. Senior Pomeranian dogs do not do well with change. To the extent possible, keep your senior Pom’s home environment and routines the same. For example, her water and food bowls should be in the same location and she should be fed and walked at the usual times and in the usual places. Keeping with set times for grooming and even sleep time (lights are dimmed, noise is quieted down) can help make an older dog feel more secure.

Dogs with decreased vision will be more stressed if the furniture is changed around than dogs whose vision is still good. It is best to keep things where a dog is used to seeing them. When visiting to other people's homes, bring along items that will help your Pom feel comfortable - favorite blanket, favorite toy, snacks, etc. For extended stays lasting for hours, it is a good idea to bring along your senior Pom's bed as he or she may want to take a nap but may not be able to relax if feeling insecure in a different house.

Slippery floors will become a problem as your dog ages. You may notice that your Pom may begin to have trouble getting up from the bare floor, or walking across un-carpeted surfaces. It can help to cover the problem areas of the floor with a rubber-backed/non-skid runner or area rug. Another alternative is canine socks with non-skin bottoms which can help a Pom with traction. Finally , be sure to be extra diligent in regard to trimming the hairs that grow out from the bottom of paw pads; these hairs should be trimmed close as they can cause a dog to slip and slid.

For Poms that struggle with mobility, placing pet ramps to allow easy access to the sofa or other favorite spots can work wonderfully. The 2 areas that you may find ramps work best are up against the sofa and up to your bed (if your Pom is used to sleeping with you).
Vaccination Changes

Thinking has change recently regarding vaccinations for senior dogs. There are a growing number of veterinary professional that feel there is a decreased need to vaccinate dogs over the age of 10 years old. This is due in part to a possibly compromised immune system; other feels that the body has built up enough antibodies over the course of a decade.

This is a matter to be discussed with the veterinarian, as practices vary. Many recommend that a rabies shot is not to be given at the same time as any other immunization. In many areas, a letter stating that a dog is not healthy enough to handle a rabies shot can be shown instead of proof of immunization for legal purposes. 

For dogs of any ages, immunization shots of any type should not be given if there is any illness; and therefore with a senior dog that is dealing with cancer or other disease will often not be vaccinated as to not overwhelm the body any further. 

There is a test to detect the presence of antibodies in the body for various diseases; however results can be unreliable.
Winterizing Your Senior Pom

When winter is upon us, we need to focus on the special needs of older Poms, who can be especially susceptible to the extremes of temperature and other stressful, dangerous conditions of winter.

(1) Does your Pom need a sweater? What about a raincoat? Learning about needed clothes for Pomeranians is a must for owners of a senior. Wet fur decreases your dog's ability to fend off the cold. Even if she's never needed these before, as she gets older, she'll be less able to keep herself warm with activity.

(2) Is your Pom’s sleeping area free from drafts? Is there a blanket and thick mattress pad for her to snuggle under/sleep on?

(3) Ice melt chemicals can quickly burn the skin of the paw pads. 
senior female Pomeranian dog
Photo courtesy of Heirloom Pomeranians
Not only are these chemicals visible when placed down, but also can be hidden in the puddles of melting ice mounds.  It is recommended to keep your Pom away from any surfaces that have been sprinkled with de-icer or place seasonal boots on your Pom. If your dog is not wearing shoes or booties, take care to avoid puddles. Read more about winter care for Pomeranians.
Vital Signs - "Normal" Readings for a Senior Pom

What should a Pom's normal temperature, pulse, and breathing rate be? Here are the ranges:

Temperature: 99.5 - 102.8
Pulse: 60-120 beats per minute
Breathing: 14-22 breaths per minute
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