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Where your pets feel at home

Where your pets feel at home

What To Expect When Your Dog Ages

As we all know, ageing is an unavoidable part of life. It happens to all of us, including our dogs. Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t age 7 years to our 1 year. The maths is a lot more complicated than that. Because dogs mature more quickly than humans early on, their first year as a puppy equates to about 15 human years! Size and breed also tend to play a part in the ageing process. Smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds, but they may mature more quickly in the earlier years of life.  Giant breeds may age more slowly at the start, but are middle aged by the time they are 5. Once dogs get to around 7 years old they are seen as senior dogs. The following health problems are commonly associated with elderly dogs.

Arthritis: Just like many people, dogs develop arthritis as they age. The most common form of arthritis seen in aging dogs is Osteoarthritis. This condition affects the weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, elbows, shoulders), causing loss of lubricating fluids, wearing away of cartilage and abnormal bone growth. These joint changed result in pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Some things you may notice if your dog has arthritis is them slowing down when walking, struggling to stand and being unwilling to go up steps. Osteoarthritis is progressive, meaning it gets worse over time. Though there is no cure, there are treatments that can slow progression and ease the pain. Other things you can do to help your dog is to provide lots of soft bedding, keeping them warm in the winter months with coats and blankets and lifting them up into the car or up any stairs or steps.

Metabolic Diseases: The metabolic system controls growth, energy and breakdown of organic matter inside the body. Metabolic diseases disrupt these processes. Some metabolic diseases are curable with medication or surgery, others require ongoing treatment. Looking out for the symptoms will help early diagnosis, increasing the chances of successful treatment. Diabetes and Cushing’s Disease are the two most common metabolic diseases that we see in senior dogs. Monitor your senior dogs eating and drinking habits and if you notice any changes such as an increase or decrease in eating or drinking, come and see us for a check-up.

Deafness: It is common for older dogs to slowly lose their hearing. Nerve degeneration in older dogs tends to result in a gradual hearing loss. Nothing can be done to stop the deafness, but much can be done to help the dog acclimatize to their reduced ability to hear. Many owners will at first mistake hearing loss for dementia, as dogs may display a similar type of confusion. Fortunately, deafness in dogs is fairly easy to handle. As  it doesn’t happen overnight, it gives you time to adapt. Try methods for deaf dog training, like the use of hand signals. Soon, you will find that the hearing loss hardly affects your dog’s day-to-day life.

Blindness: Like deafness, many older dogs experience a gradual loss of vision. This is usually due to degenerative changes in the eye but can be caused by disorders of the lens such as cataracts. If you think your dog is going blind, be sure to visit us. Fortunately, dogs rely less on their eyesight than you may think. Just be sure to take it slow with your dog, keep them on a leash at all times if outdoors, and try to avoid moving the furniture around in your house. Once your dog knows the layout, they will probably get around well using their other senses.

Dementia/Cognitive Dysfunction: Dogs can develop changes as they age that are similar to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. The signs are subtle at first but can become very severe, resulting in poor quality of life. Signs of dementia in dogs include disorientation, confusion, pacing/wandering, standing in corners as if lost, going to the wrong side of an opening door, vocalization, withdrawal/not interacting with family as much, urinary/faecal accidents, change in sleeping patterns, restlessness and more. Many of these can be symptoms of other diseases so come in and see us if you are concerned. Unfortunately there is no cure for dementia or cognitive dysfunction, but there are medications and supplements that may help in some cases.

Cancer: Unfortunately, cancer is all too common in dogs. Though younger pets can get cancer, it is seen much more commonly in older pets. Different cancers cause different symptoms, so it can be easy to dismiss certain signs as simply old age changes. This is why routine wellness screening with your vet is so important. An exam, lab work or diagnostic imaging can easily pick up on something unseen by the naked eye. Cancer treatment options vary depending on the type of cancer and the stage. The sooner it is caught, the better the chance of survival.

Growths and Tumours: Older dogs tend to get various lumps and bumps. These can be malignant or benign, but are always a concern in older dogs. We can usually get a reasonably good idea of what type of tumour they are by taking a sample and looking at it under the microscope while you wait.

Incontinence: Old age changes to the organs, muscles, and nerves in the body can make it harder for your dog to “hold it” the way he used to. Incontinence can be a sign of many different diseases, so it is crucial to have your vet rule out disease, often with a urine test and bloods, then prescribe some medication to help prevent accidents and you may need to adjust your schedule to let your dog out for “wee breaks” more often.

Obesity: A dog can become overweight at any age, but the effects of ageing makes weight gain more likely in seniors as their metabolic rates slow down and their amount of exercise reduces. Obesity can cause or complicate health problems like arthritis and heart disease. To avoid obesity in older dogs, reduce the food amount given as your dog slows down. Also, make sure to keep up with exercise. If stamina is an issue, consider going for several short walks in a day rather than one or two very long walks.

At McDowall Vet Practice, we love our senior patients and understand they often need special care. Because of this we offer FREE senior health checks once a year six months after their vaccinations so that we can keep a closer eye on them and pick up any changes before they have progressed too far.  Our senior pets deserve special respect and care. We enjoy their visits and being able to help them get the most out of their twilight years. Please give us a ring on 3353 6999 if you need any advice for your geriatric buddy.