Old dogs need new care

As pets age they require more attention to heath issues

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2005


  Older dogs can develop a myriad of health problems as they age and need to be watched carefully by their owner and veterinarian. Photo by Dori Lynn Anderson

Older dogs can develop a myriad of health problems as they age and need to be watched carefully by their owner and veterinarian.

Photo by Dori Lynn Anderson

As there starts to be fewer days ahead than there are behind, pet owners may begin to notice changes in their canine companions. There's no stopping it and no sense in ignoring it.

Instead, pet owners should take the time to learn about the changes taking place as their dog advances in years in order to prevent health problems, when possible, and better understand unpreventable problems.

Every dog ages differently. Many people are familiar with the generalization that one human year equals seven dog years, but this is not very accurate.

Body size plays a big part in a dog's longevity. Large-breed dogs, like Great Danes, are considered senior at 6 to 7 years old, while smaller-breed dogs, like toy poodles, may not be considered senior until they hit their teen years.

Diet and exercise also critically influence how long a dog may live. Dogs fed poor dog food and that are obese from a lack of exercise will rarely live as long as their counterparts that are fed high-quality kibble supplemented with fresh meat and fish and that go on long walks or jogs regularly.

As a general rule of thumb, though, dogs between 6 and 8 years old should be considered middle-aged to senior and a consultation with a veterinarian is in order to determine the best health care program based on the dog's breed and lifestyle.

Veterinarians can tell a pet owner what to expect as their dog gets older and can treat many health problems. This treatment will not only improve the dog's overall condition, but also dramatically increase their longevity and quality of life.

In addition to routine vaccinations, a complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, urinalysis and more thorough physical examination often are common veterinary procedures performed in assessing a senior dog's health.

Dogs can experience a number of general changes as their bodies get older and some of these changes are quite noticeable when watched for.

Slowing down is one of the first signs of age and pet owners should see if their dog can get up, lay down, use the stairs and get into and out of the car without stiffness or hesitation.

Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, especially in large breeds. They may begin to show sensitivity in the back, legs and hips, although any joint can be affected.

A reduction in a dog's senses also may become apparent. The lens of the eye can become cloudy with age or opaque cataracts may develop, interfering with vision.

This, combined with a loss of hearing as the nerve cells of the ear begin to degenerate, can make it difficult for a dog to properly navigate areas they have lived their whole lives.

It is not uncommon for a pet owner to find their oldster standing in a corner, staring blankly at the wall, seemingly unable to find its way out.

Deaf or hearing-impaired dogs also are usually hard to wake up from sleep or may be startled easily when approached from behind.

Extra precautions should be taken with dogs that have been identified as suffering a hearing loss, particularly form hazards that could hurt them, such as cars, or hazards where they could injure someone, such as when children startle the dog.

As a dog ages, its metabolism slows down and eating their normal diet can lead to obesity. Senior pets often require special diets with fewer calories.

Gastrointestinal upset, constipation, incontinence or difficulty urinating are common as the dog's organs begin to function less efficiently compared to their younger years.

Dental problems may begin to appear, such as tooth loss or tooth sensitivity and bad breath from tartar build up.

The skin and coat of a dog changes with age. The skin can thicken and darken with age. Their fur may look duller or lose its luster. Dogs may develop gray around their muzzle or face, although this can happen prematurely in some breeds.

Lumps, tumors and cysts may appear or become more prevalent, particularly in dogs that are not spayed or neutered. Some of these may be benign but some can be cancerous and should be examined by a veterinarian upon first notice.

By watching for these and other changes, it may be possible to detect a problem before it advances to the detriment of the dog. It is always better to work with a veterinarian to prevent a problem, rather than waiting for one to develop and then trying to compensate for it after the fact.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at news@peninsulaclarion.com.

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