A dog’s golden years are a time to cherish, but they can also bring some new challenges with them. Our senior sweethearts often face a number of common health problems related to their advancing age, including arthritis, failing vision, hearing loss and other issues. And while you can’t necessarily prevent these problems, you can work with your veterinarian to help ensure your dog is as healthy, comfortable and happy as possible as he ages.
Here is a look at what you may encounter as your dog ages and the most up-to-date treatments to help keep him spry.
This painful, degenerative joint disease affects most dogs at some point during their senior years. Large and giant dog breeds tend to be more at risk, but any size dog can suffer from arthritis. If your dog seems reluctant to go up and down stairs, is no longer willing to jump into and out of the car or onto and off of furniture or if he seems stiff after standing up, talk to your veterinarian. Your vet may be able to prescribe medicine that can help with arthritis pain, and he may also recommend other management strategies, like weight loss (if your dog is overweight), acupuncture or massage.
We tend to see an increase in the incidence of cancer as dogs get older. The most common cancers in dogs are lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system), osteosarcoma (bone cancer), soft tissue cancers, oral melanoma and mammary (breast) cancer. Take your dog to the vet if you notice weight loss or loss of appetite; lumps or bumps that increase in size; sores that don’t heal; bleeding or other discharge from the mouth, nose or anus; or unusual body odor. These can all be warning signs of cancer. A dog with cancer may have difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating and he also may exhibit a noticeable lack of energy, difficulty eating or swallowing or unexplained lameness.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), also sometimes called "senility," is a degenerative change that can cause your dog to become anxious, forgetful or confused. He may start to have urinary or fecal accidents in the house, wander aimlessly or sleep more. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome can’t be cured but it can sometimes be managed with medication, environmental changes and behavior modification techniques. Talk to your veterinarian to make sure another health problem isn’t causing your dog’s abnormalities.
If your dog is picking up his food and then dropping it or having trouble chewing he may have periodontal disease. Plaque and tartar can build up over the years, particularly if teeth aren’t brushed or professionally cleaned on a regular basis. Schedule an exam with your vet, who may recommend a cleaning. And be sure to brush your dog’s teeth every day to help keep them clean.
If your dog is more hesitant when he moves around, especially in the dark, he may have vision loss. Cataracts, dry eye and nuclear sclerosis are some of the eye conditions that can affect older dogs. Signs can include a white cloudiness in the pupil (cataracts), a bluish haze in the pupil (nuclear sclerosis), generalized redness, discharge and frequent eye infections (signs that could indicate dry eye or a number of other conditions). Talk to your veterinarian, who may prescribe medication or recommend surgery, depending on the type and severity of the problem.
As dogs age, the sense of hearing tends to go. While you can’t purchase hearing aids for a deaf dog, you can still communicate with him. Teach him hand signals, and consider stomping your foot so he feels the vibrations and knows you’re still nearby or use the time-honored method of going to him to alert him that it’s dinnertime. He’ll appreciate it.
Talk to your veterinarian if your dog seems to tire more rapidly than normal, even with mild exercise. This can indicate a problem with the heart. Other signs that are cause for concern include coughing — especially during the night — and difficulty breathing. Severe breathing issues, especially if you notice a bluish appearance to the gums or tongue, require an emergency trip to the vet. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your vet may prescribe medication or a special diet to help manage your dog’s condition.
Middle-aged and older dogs can develop hypothyroidism caused by inadequate levels of thyroid hormones. Signs you may notice include skin and coat problems, weight gain for no good reason, loss of energy and mental dullness. Talk to your veterinarian — to diagnose the problem, your vet will run blood tests to measure the levels of thyroid hormones in your dog’s body. If his levels are low, your dog will likely have to take a daily pill containing synthetic thyroid hormone.
Kidney failure is common in older dogs, so it’s a good idea to schedule a regular geriatric exam to increase the chances of catching the problem early. Kidney failure isn’t reversible, but in many cases diet, fluid therapy and sometimes medication and certain vitamins and supplements can help manage the condition.