A senior dog may not show the outward signs of aging for years to come. However, waiting until your dog's behavior indicates an advanced age to move him to a senior formula may hurt him in the long run. Senior dogs need the nutrients specifically made for them in specialized dog food, and may need other medications and vitamins.

As dogs become older, they typically need fewer calories from fat, but protein is critical to their diet to ensure proper maintenance of muscle tissue, according to the experts at Eukanuba. Reducing protein at the same rate that fat is reduced can result in deterioration of muscle mass needed for vitality throughout the senior years.

Dog foods on the market now are made for specific needs for your dog. Today's dog foods help senior giant breed dogs stay in great shape by caring specifically for their joints. Large breed dogs still needs strong cartilage and joints to support that weight. Some are fortified with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which helps maintain cartilage resilience and strength.

Even dog biscuits don't have to be empty, tarter-producing calories. You can give in to "sad eyes" without hindering your dog's health, provided you don't overindulge your dog. More and more treats now target overweight dogs, aging dogs, dog dental care, and a healthy digestive tract.

Make an annual visit to your vet a must, especially when your dog hits 5 or 6 years of age. "Senior dogs need an annual visit to the vet, even if there are no visible health problems," says Robert Sumrall, D.V.M. of the Henderson Animal Clinic in Henderson, Tennessee. "You should get the base blood work done, at the very least, to make sure the kidneys and liver are functioning correctly. Blood work is key in indicating signs of a problem, and you have a better chance of recovery if a problem is caught early on." Basic blood work can also show any sign of electrolyte imbalance, nutrition deficiencies, and a multitude of other problems.

Always have your dog checked out by a vet before training or fine-tuning for hunting season. If the vet does find any problems, your dog should have enough time to be treated and recover before the season begins. If Rover hasn't exercised since last season except to get up and eat, slowly begin an exercise regimen to put his best paw forward on opening day. Rover will need a good physical before the season opens, and that's a good time to have his annual check up. Your vet should look for parasites, heart worms, and make sure your dog is in good health in general before the season begins.

"Aging dogs also need good dental care," says Dr. Sumrall. "Gum disease affects eating and can even cause heart problems, and a good dental check up can be included in his annual physical." Tarter and plaque inhibiting treats and dog foods are readily available, as are doggie toothbrushes and meat-flavored toothpastes. Remember that dogs cannot use your toothpaste-it will make them sick at the very least.

A senior dog doesn't equal a slow dog; there are merely a few more precautions you can take. A senior dog needs better housing in the winter, more concern for his food and water, and possibly vitamins. With today's veterinary advances in medicine, owners now have a variety of arthritis and pain medications to help your dog continue to leave that new puppy in the dust.