Dogs are now living longer than ever – which brings incredible joy to pet owners everywhere! But as your dog ages, they require a new pattern of care. This is because senior dogs become particularly susceptible to certain health conditions. The good news is that these conditions are typically treatable, especially when spotted at their onset. In this article, you’ll learn what conditions to look out for, common ways of spotting them, and the preventative steps that you can take right now to lengthen and enhance your dog’s life!
Is my dog a senior?
Well… that’s actually a complicated to answer. You see, every pet has unique factors that contribute to their aging process. Genetics, environment, and nutrition all play a part. As a rule of thumb, the larger the breed, the faster the aging process. Small breeds such as Chihuahuas may not reach their senior status until age 10 or 11, while larger breeds such as Great Danes may become a senior as early as age 5 or 6. For the majority of dogs, the “senior years” typically begin somewhere between age 7-10.
What health conditions should I look out for?
Arthritis is one of the most common health conditions in senior dogs. It can affect any kind of breed, but it is most common in larger or overweight pets. This is due to the amount of strain that is put on a dog’s joints over time. Over time, the cartilage between a dog’s joints begins to thin. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber, so when it wears down, the bones begin to make contact with each other when the joint moves. This results in inflammation and bone damage, which are typically very painful for the dog.
Note: Often times, arthritis is mistaken for general “slowing down” of an aging dog, but is actually a treatable medical condition!
- Decreased enthusiasm for once loved activities
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Weight gain
- Favoring of a particular limb
Cancer causes approximately half of the deaths in dogs over the age of 10. “Cancer” is actually a blanked term for a collection of related disease, and each has a unique prognosis. Cancer occurs when there is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells which spread into the surrounding tissue. As these cancerous cells spread, they start to impede normal functioning in different bodily systems. The results are typically devastating, and eventually fatal.
- Abnormal swellings or growths (that continue to get larger over time)
- Sores that are slow to heal
- Sudden weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Decreased activity
- Bleeding from the body’s openings (such as eyes or ears)
Renal failure is one of the most common causes of death in older dogs. The main function of the kidneys is to filter the blood to remove harmful toxins, which are excreted as waste through urination. As the kidneys lose their ability to filter waste, these toxins can build up to dangerous levels. Kidney disease is typically slow moving and difficult to spot at first.
- Increased water consumption
- Ammonia-like odor to the breath
- Blood in urine
- Irregular urination patterns
- Sudden weight loss
- Pale gums
An action plan
First things first – if you notice any of the symptoms we described in this article, please call us right away. These diseases are typically progressive and treatable, and the earlier we catch them, the better. Other than that, there are three simple things you can do for your dog that will make a big difference in their health!
1 – Biannual Health Exams
Senior dogs should have health exams every six months. This way, we can keep careful watch of your dog’s health baseline and can quickly spot any deviations or irregularities. Preventative medicine is by far the smartest and most cost-effective way to keep your dog happy into their senior years.
2 – Healthy Weight
Overweight senior dogs have higher risk factors of arthritis, cancer, and other serious medical conditions. It is very important that your dog is kept at a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Besides increasing their life span, this will also increase their overall quality of life. During your next visit, we can establish a smart diet and exercise plan for your senior dog.
3 – Around the house
Senior dogs require more mental stimulation and thoughtful home comforts than ever! Mental stimulation can slow the progression of dog dementia (another common condition in senior dogs), and will keep your dog alert and happy. Food puzzles are an excellent way of accomplishing this and supporting weight management. For arthritic dogs, it’s important to make sure they have extra padding in their bedding. It’s also helpful to make sure they have soft flooring to walk on – such as carpet or rugs.
Please know that we are always here for you and your senior dog, and our goal is to give you both the longest and happiest time together possible!