Canine health information, for older dogs

Old age health care in dogs is a relatively new concept. Improvements in canine medical care, as well as an increase in our knowledge about how to take care of our pets, has lengthened the average canine lifespan. With a dog’s average lifespan now twelve years, owners can reasonably expect their pets to be around for up to fifteen years. To ensure your dog has a long and happy life, there are a number of things you should know about caring for an older animal.

If you have a large dog, they may be considered old at around six to eight years. If your dog is a smaller breed they will not reach old age until around twelve years. Either way, there are a number of diseases that older dogs are more susceptible to. These include diabetes, cancerous tumors, kidney, heart or liver disease, cataracts and tooth and gum conditions.

You should plan frequent visits to your veterinarian once your dog reaches old age; regular blood tests can detect a lot of the above conditions in their early stages. Yearly appointments are essential, and some veterinarians may recommend a check up every six months.

In addition, you should look out for worrying symptoms of these conditions yourself. Contact your veterinarian if you notice rapid weight loss or gain, an unusual loss of appetite, excessive diarrhea or vomiting, extreme thirst and an increase in urine output, coughing and wheezing, a rapid decline in hearing or vision, or acute fatigue.

Changes in behavior can be indicators of medical problems that only you will be able to spot. If your dog suddenly dislikes being alone, becomes unusually aggressive and barks loudly for no reason, seems confused and disorientated, or begins to urinate in the house, you should also seek medical advice.

There is one disease that is common in older dogs that does not have any of the warning signs listed above. This is known as Cushing’s disease, although its correct name is Hyperadrenocorticism, and is caused by excessive production of hormones from the adrenal glands.

Signs of Cushing’s disease are similar to those of old age and are often missed. They include muscle weakness, hair loss, lumpy skin, a bloated stomach, high blood pressure, and an increase in food intake, liquid intake and urine output.

There is no cure for Cushing’s disease but several drugs such as Lysodren, Ketoconazoten and Anipryl relieve symptoms and will enable your dog to live a long and happy life. Left untreated, this condition can lead to all manner of other problems such as diabetes, heart disease and liver or kidney failure.

As well as looking out for symptoms of illness, you can improve your old dog’s quality of life by giving them the best possible diet. Switch to a food designed specifically for seniors to ensure they get all the nutrition they need. Consult your vet to see if your dog has particular dietary requirements according to their medical state. Perhaps a supplement to delay the onset of arthritis would be a good idea. Don’t over feed your pet, as obesity can be a real issue for older dogs. Make sure they get plenty of exercise but don’t overdo it. Older dogs can’t keep going for as long as they could in their younger days, but they will try!

The best thing you can do for your older dog to maintain his quality of life is to be aware of the changes he is going through. Be patient with him, he will need your emotional support as this can be a confusing time, and sticking to a daily routine can help. Make sure he is still a part of your life, even if he is not as active as he used to be. Pay attention to his diet, medical needs and cleanliness, and you will find that your relationship with your dog will be just as rewarding as when he was just a puppy.