Giving Dogs A New Leash On Life...One Click At A Time

Today is: Wednesday January 17, 2018

Senior Dog Care

As your dog ages he will need special care and special attention. Caring for your older dog will require more involvement with your vet. You will need to have increased patience and understanding for your older dog. You will need to become more aware of what is normal for your dog and notice when something changes. For example:

  • Increased or decreased food or water consumption

  • Change in urination or defecation - including frequency, amount, color, smell, or inappropriate eliminating

  • Change in coat or skin

  • Decreased energy, lack of desire to exercise or decreased tolerance to exercise

  • Depression

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Signs of pain

  • Lumps or bumps, notice if they change in shape, size, color, or are new to appear

  • Sores that are slow to heal

  • Bumping into things

  • Change in sleeping pattern

  • Changes in respiration - including coughing, panting, or sneezing

  • Bad breath

  • Change in the color of the gums, loose or missing teeth

As your dog ages you will notice some changes in his behavior. These could include:

  • Separation anxiety - this is one of the more common behavioral changes seen in an older dog. He will become more anxious when he senses that you are about to leave. When you do leave, your dog may become more destructive, bark or howl more frequently, or urinate or defecate inappropriately. He may also become overly excited when you return home.

  • Aggression - Older dogs, even the most gentle and friendly, can become aggressive for various reasons. It can be the result of pain, medical problems, vision or hearing loss, lack of mobility, fear, or stress. If your dog seems to be more aggressive you should consult with your vet to determine what may be causing him to act in this way. Your vet can help you determine how to help you avoid the reason why your dog is aggressive.

  • Inappropriate urinating or defecating - your dog may have been housetrained his whole life and is starting to have accidents. There can be numerous reasons for this. You should consult with your vet to help determine the cause. It may be a medical problem, for example, diabetes, infections, bladder stones, or kidney problems. Your dog could be in pain, making it difficult for him to stand up, walk, or go outside. It is important to note when the problem started, amount, color, frequency, when the accidents happen, and the dog's posture when eliminating.

  • Increased sensitization to noises - your dog may become more sensitive to noises that may not have ever even bothered him before. It is important to determine what noise is causing him fear or stress. Treatment of noise phobias can include medication or desensitization to the noise.

  • Increased barking - this can occur because of separation anxiety, to get more attention, pain, or because of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). You should consult with your vet to determine appropriate treatment.

  • Sleeplessness or restlessness - some older dogs will become restless at night, stay awake, or pace throughout the house. There may be several reasons for this. He may have a medical problem, be in pain, developing CCD, or need to go outside more frequently. Consult with your vet to determine appropriate treatment.

  • Cognitive dysfunction - according to Pfizer pharmaceutical, 62% of dogs age 10 and older will experience at least some of the following symptoms of CCD:

    • Confusion or disorientation - the dog may get lost in familiar places or get stuck in corners or behind furniture

    • Pacing and sleeplessness at night or change in sleeping patterns

    • Loss of housetraining abilities - a previously housetrained dog will start having accidents

    • Decreased activity level

    • Decreased attentiveness or staring into space

    • Not recognizing family or friends

    If your dog is diagnosed with CCD, there is a drug available to help alleviate some of the symptoms, although it is not a cure. The drug is L-Deprenyl, brand name Anipryl. If your dog is responding to treatment he will need to be on Anipryl for the remainder of his life. There are some side effects to this drug and it should not be taken with certain diseases or medicines.

Many of the behavioral changes that are occurring in your aging dog can be explained and treated, although there may not be a cure for the problem, generally, many of the symptoms can be alleviated.

Aside from behavioral changes, we can also expect certain physical changes to occur in the older dog. These changes can include:

  • Change in metabolism - in older dogs the calories needed for maintenance decreases by approximately 20%. Because of this the nutritional needs will decrease. You will need to feed your older dogs less food. You may want to consider switching to a food specifically formulated for older dogs. These foods will contain less calories and fat and more fiber. If you decide to switch to a different food remember to do it slowly. You may not need to switch foods, you may decide to stick with the same food that you have been using for years. This is fine, however, you will need to feed him less.

  • Skin and coat changes - your dog may start to grow gray hair around his eyes and muzzle. You may also notice that his coat becomes lighter, thinner, or duller. Dry skin may also become a problem. The skin may become thinner and less elastic, thereby causing more injuries to the skin. Older dogs may need to be groomed more often.

  • Calluses - it is common for older, larger breeds to develop calluses on their elbows. Providing a bed can help prevent calluses. You may also want to try to rub a small amount of lotion on the calluses.

  • Decreased mobility - arthritis is a very common problem in dogs. As they age the likely hood of developing arthritis increases. Hip dysplasia would also cause a decrease in mobility. Dogs may have difficulty going up and down stairs, jumping in the car, or walking.

  • Brittle nails

  • Dental problems - studies show that by age three, 80% of dogs exhibit some form of dental disease. To help keep dental problems to a minimum, a regular dental routine should be incorporated. Dogs who do not receive regular dental care can develop severe, life threatening problems.

  • Constipation - as your dog ages, the food that he eats moves through his digestive tract slower. Constipation can be a sign of a serious problem. You should have your dog examined by his vet. Your vet may prescribe a laxative or more fiber in your dog's diet. It is important that a dog with constipation have plenty of water to drink.

  • Decrease in immune function - in aging dogs their immune system does not function as well as it did. Your dog is more prone to develop infectious diseases; and the infection can be more severe.

  • Decreased heart function - as the heart ages it can not pump as much blood at one given time. The heart valves also lose some of their elasticity. Diagnostic tests such as x-rays, electrocardiogram, and echocardiogram can be used to diagnose heart disease. Some heart disease can be treated with medicine.

  • Decreased lung capacity - during the aging process, the lungs lose their elasticity and the ability to oxygenate the blood may be decreased.

  • Decreased kidney function - the risk of kidney disease increases with age. Kidney function can be measured through blood work and urinalysis. They can identify kidney problems before any physical signs appear. The most frequent sign of kidney disease is an increase in water consumption and urination. However, this sign generally does not occur until more than 50% of kidney function is lost. Medications and diet changes can help the kidneys breakdown waste products easier.

  • Decreased liver function - the liver's ability to detoxify the blood decreases with age. Blood tests can identify potential liver disease.

  • Increased sensitivity to temperature changes - the ability of a dog to regulate their body temperature decreases with age.

  • Hearing loss - some dogs will experience hearing loss as they age. This may be hard to notice until a severe loss of hearing has happened.

  • Vision loss - The are many eye conditions that your dog can be affected by, for example, cataracts, glaucoma, or uvetis. It is recommended that your dog's eyes are examined at every vet visit to diagnose earlier eye disorders.    

As your dog ages there are some disease that he may be more prone to developing. These can include:

  • Cancer - signs can include: abnormal swelling or growths; sores that do not heal; weight loss; loss of appetite; offensive odor; difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating

  • Dental disease - signs can include: bad breath; difficulty eating, particularly dry food; weight loss

  • Arthritis - signs can include: difficulty in rising, going up or down stairs; inappropriate elimination; noticeable pain

  • Kidney disease - signs can include: increased urination and thirst; weight loss; vomiting; loss of appetite; weakness; pale gums; diarrhea; bad breath

  • Cataracts - signs can include: eyes having a cloudy appearance; bumping into things

  • Hypothyroidism - signs can include: weight gain; dry, thin haircoat; lethargy; depression

  • Cushing's disease -  signs can include: thin haircoat; thin skin; increased thirst and urination; pot-bellied appearance; increased appetite

  • Urinary incontinence - signs can include: dribbling urine; urinating while sleeping

  • Diabetes - signs can include: increased thirst and urination; increased appetite; weight loss; weakness; vomiting

  • Obesity

  • Liver disease - signs can include: vomiting; loss of appetite; behavioral changes; yellow or pale gums

As your dog ages there are many changes taking place within his body. Recognizing some of the signs and changes can help make his transition a little easier. It is important to remember that just because your dog is showing symptoms for a disease, that does not automatically mean that he has it. It is very important to get him to the vet so that proper diagnostics and treatments can be prescribed so that your older friend can stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible.

by Christy Caballero

"What do we do when our loving pets face the last leg of the race? We do
all we can to help them finish well, of course. We take time to read
the unspoken needs of the friends we've come to know so well.

We give the simple reassurance of a loving touch when the old boy seems
confused for no reason.

We groom them faithfully, but more gently, as age brings muscle wasting,
and the arthritic bones aren't so well padded.

We learn to slow down for their sake, as they enjoy the scent of the
wind, or track a visitors trail across their yard.

We expect to be inconvenienced, and aren't angry when it happens.

We watch for pain and treat it, watch for changes in vision and hearing
and do what we can to help preserve those precious senses for as long as

We take care of their teeth, and make sure their food is a manageable
texture for them.

We remind them of the need for a potty walk when they seem to forget.

We remember the little rewards. We scratch the graying ears and tummy,
and go for car rides together. When the pet we love has an unexplained
need for comfort, we give it freely. When infirmities bring a sense of
vulnerability, we become our old guardian's protector.

We watch their deepest slumbers, when dreams take them running across
long-forgotten fields, and we remember those fields too. When they
cannot stand alone, we lift them. When their steps are uncertain, we
steady them.

And if their health fails, it falls to us to make the choice that will
gently put them to rest. But until that is absolutely necessary, we
pause to let the autumn sun warm our old friend's bones. And we
realize, autumn is not a bad time of year at all.

Old age is not a disease or a reason to give up. It is a stage of life
that brings its own changes. Autumn can be a beautiful time of harvest.

And, sometimes, the harvest is love."

This site and its contents are intended to serve as basic informational purposes 
 --not a substitute for-- 
professional veterinary care!


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