Typically, a dog is considered old when they reach seven years old, but it also relatively depends on the size and breed of the dog. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, large breeds age more rapidly than small breeds. A Great Dane, for example, is considered a senior by six years old, while a Chihuahua becomes old at eight or nine.
Do you think your dog is nearing their twilight years? While senior dogs give more unconditional love, loyalty, and emotional support to pet parents, their golden years also present challenges to their health. Make it less emotionally taxing for you by being prepared for what is to come.
Common Ailments That Senior Dogs Experience
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The likelihood of cancer increases as dogs get older. In fact, it is the leading cuase of death in older dogs. The most common cancers in a dog’s later years are lymphoma, osteosarcoma, soft tissue cancers, oral melanoma, and breast cancer. If you notice weight loss or loss of appetite, lumps that increase in size, sores that don’t heal, bleeding or other discharge, difficulty swallowing, lack of energy, or unusual body odor, bring them to the vet immediately. Pets with earlier cancer stages have better survival rates.
Like blindness, tissue or nerve degeneration in the ears can cause deafness. Many pet owners mistake the signs as dementia, but somehow the symptoms are different. If your dog doesn’t respond to curious sounds, doesn’t come over when you call them, and doesn’t wake from loud noises, your dog is suffering from hearing loss, not dementia. Sadly, like failing eyesight, deafness has no cure. However, it is somehow easier to handle. You can train them with visual signals (deaf dog training) like sign language or foot stomping so they can feel vibrations.
Senior dogs gradually lose their vision due to degenerative changes in the eye. Cataracts, dry eye, and nuclear sclerosis can also cause failing eyesight. If you notice your dog growing more hesitant when moving around, there might be a problem with their vision. Other signs include a white cloudiness in the pupil, a bluish haze in the pupil, generalized redness, eye discharge or frequent eye infections.
Unfortunately, veterinarians can do nothing to reverse blindness caused by old age. You can protect your pet by keeping it on a leash at all times when venturing outdoors. Also, it’s better not to rearrange the furniture in your house so your dog won’t be confused.
If your dog seems reluctant to go up and down stairs, is no longer willing to jump into and out of the car or onto and off of furniture or if he seems stiff after standing up, talk to your veterinarian. Just like humans, dogs develop joint problems like arthritis in their later years, and it gets worse over time. Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is the most common form of arthritis in older dogs. The condition wears away at the cartilage and causes a loss of lubricating fluids and abnormal bone growth. This illness impacts all weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders.
Diet and exercise can improve the condition. Your vet may also prescribe medication that can help with arthritis pain and recommend other management strategies, like weight loss, acupuncture, massage, or stem cell therapy.
If your dog is picking up his food and then dropping it or having trouble chewing he may have dental diseases. Other signs include bad breath and tartar. Caring for our dog’s teeth should be a no-brainer. After all, we brush and floss our own teeth on a regular basis, visit a dentist whenever possible, and spend money for repairs when something goes wrong. Plaque and tartar can build up over the years, particularly if teeth aren’t brushed or professionally cleaned on a regular basis. Dental disease can potentially impact your dog’s major organs like their heart, kidney, liver, lungs, and even bladder. Schedule an exam with your vet, who may recommend a cleaning. And be sure to brush your dog’s teeth every day from then on to help keep them clean.
Dogs can develop degenerative canine heart disease due to aging, disease, parasites, or other damage. The common cardiac-related problems that senior dogs experience is mitral valve disease and congestive heart failure. Smaller dogs particularly have an increased risk of developing heart-related problems. Age causes the cardiac valves to become thicker and less elastic. Once this happens, blood leaks backward into the left atrium. The chamber enlarges and puts extra strain on the heart. Untreated elderly dogs will develop congestive heart failure.
Coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, loss of consciousness and unexplained vomiting are all signs of possible heart disease and should be checked out by a vet right away. Severe breathing issues, especially if you notice a bluish appearance to the gums or tongue, require an emergency trip. Your vet may prescribe medication or a special diet to manage your dog’s condition.
Kidneys remove waste from the body. When they stop functioning, toxins can build up. Kidney issues begin as renal insufficiency then turns into full failure. Aging kidneys tend to lose their function as dogs get older. While chronic kidney failure can’t be cured, the condition can still be managed with proper treatment to prolong your dog’s life. Aside from kidney failure, dogs can also develop kidney stones that block the urinary tract or cause vessels to rupture. If your dog is experiencing increased thirst and urination, incontinence, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and lethargy, it’s time to consult your vet.
Before this has to happen to your dog, know that routine blood work can catch kidney disease early on and improve your dog’s chances. Proper nutrition is also extremely important to keep dog kidneys healthy.
Sometimes called senility or dementia, cognitive dysfunction syndrome causes your dog to become anxious, forgetful, or confused. Whining or barking for no apparent reason, going to the wrong side of open door, appearing to get lost in familiar surroundings, restlessness, and fecal accidents can all be signs of dementia. These symptoms can also indicate other conditions, so it’s best to talk to your veterinarian if you notice these behaviors in your dog.
Aging is as hard for senior dogs as it is for you. Never be complacent with their health even while they’re young. Routine trips to the vet, a healthy diet, enough exercise, and dog hygiene are all it takes to prolong your best friend’s life.