Aging in Your Dog
Dogs age much more rapidly than humans. Small dogs are considered geriatric at 7 years of age, and large breeds after 5 years. Our canine friends need and deserve extra care as they age.
Older dogs tend to gradually reduce their activity level and playfulness. If you continue to feed the same amount of food, your older dog may become overweight. Obesity hurts your dog's ability to move, breathe, digest food and fight infection. Obesity occasionally leads to diabetes and pancreatic problems. If your dog is overweight, feeding less of the regular food, or switching to a lower calorie, higher fiber food is recommended. Because some diseases such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, and heart failure can also lead to or mimic obesity, your dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian for an examination and possible laboratory work before starting on a weight loss program. Food specially designed for the older dog may be beneficial because of decreased calories, protein and sodium content, and increased vitamins and fiber.
Dogs are susceptible to a variety of parasites. Intestinal parasites can cause weight loss, diarrhea, anemia, and, in extreme cases, intestinal blockage or rupture. Two of the common intestinal parasites in dogs are contagious to people and can cause serious disease, especially in children. Regular, preventive deworming is highly recommended. Observe your dog's stool for visible worms and bring in a small amount of fresh stool for microscopic analysis annually.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and cause serious, sometimes fatal, heart and lung disease. Your dog should be tested and placed on a once-a-month heartworm preventive called Heartgard Plus. Heartgard Plus also contains medication to control common intestinal parasites.
Joint and Muscle Problems
Many older dogs develop stiffness and lameness due to degenerative joint disease ("arthritis"). Controlling body weight and exercise, and providing warm, soft resting places, will make your companion more comfortable. If your dog is stiff or lame, an examination and radiographs are needed to judge the severity of disease and rule out problems such as cancer or infection. A variety of effective medications are available to relieve discomfort.
Many older dogs develop a blue haziness in the lens of the eye called nuclear sclerosis. This degenerative disease does not progress to blindness.
Older dogs may develop dry eyes due to decreased tear production. This disease causes red, irritated eyes with yellow-gray discharge and can lead to ulcers and blindness if not treated.
Cataracts are dense whitish areas within the lens that may lead to blindness. Cataracts can happen secondary to diabetes, and occasionally cause glaucoma or chronic inflammation. Cataract surgery is available to remove the diseased lens and potentially replace it with a synthetic lens.
Glaucoma causes eye pain, redness, dilated pupils, a hazy look to the eye, and possibly blindness. Emergency treatment may help preserve sight. Long term treatment reduces pain.
Any changes in your dog's eyes or vision should be evaluated by your veterinarian without delay.
Many older dogs seem to lose their hearing. Nerve degeneration can cause deafness with age. Infected, debris-filled canals or chronic ear damage can also decrease your dog's ability to hear.
Dental disease occurs to some degree in all older dogs. Dogs with moderate to severe disease may have bad breath, red gums, and pain. Dental disease can lead to abscessed teeth, bone infections, kidney and heart damage, and may shorten your dog's lifespan. Home care, including daily tooth brushing and providing dry food and chew bones, will slow the progression of the disease. Most older dogs need to have their teeth professionally cleaned at least once a year.
Regular brushing and occasional bathing will help keep your pet's coat in optimal condition. Allergic skin disease is often worse in the older dog and needs prompt treatment. Report any lumps or abnormal appearance of the skin to your veterinarian. Many growths are harmless but some require surgical removal and biopsy.
To prevent flea problems, we recommend Frontline Plus to kill all stages of fleas.
Degeneration of the heart valves occurs frequently in older dogs, particularly in the small breeds. This disease can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, decreased exercise tolerance, and in severe cases, heart failure and death. Medical treatment started early, before your dog is showing signs, will slow the progression of the disease and may extend your dog's lifespan.
Reproductive Organ Problems
Older dogs that have not been spayed or neutered are at great risk for serious, sometimes deadly, disease involving the reproductive organs. Males may develop testicular cancers, prostatic diseases, perineal hernias and perianal cancers. Females may develop uterine infections, ovarian cancers, and hormonal disorders.
Older animals are prone to a decline in liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract function. This degeneration may be due to age, infection, inflammation, or cancer. Your dog should have a complete evaluation by your veterinarian if you notice any change in your pet's activity level, appetite, drinking, or urinary habits, or the presence of vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or difficulty breathing.
Resistance to Disease
The immune system, responsible for fighting disease and cancer, declines with age. Timely vaccinations and an increased awareness of the signs of disease are essential.
Some older dogs undergo degeneration of the brain, leading to confusion, changes in sleeping pattern, and possible loss of housetraining. Medications and prescription diets are available to improve brain activity in dogs with cognitive dysfunction.
Bi-annual geriatric evaluation, including a complete physical examination, blood work, urinalysis and possible radiographs, blood pressure measurement and electrocardiogram, will allow early detection of disease. With appropriate care and treatment, your companion should enjoy a longer and more comfortable life.