Pet First
Concern for your Older Dog’s Health
Jackie Valentine

Clancy has been there with you through thick and thin. Those chewing, romping, rolling puppy days seem like just yesterday, but now he is beginning to show his age. He stretches a little longer before he gets going after his nap. His coat has become thinner, and there is evidence of his age in the white fur around his muzzle. Chances are, his eyesight is dimming, and he may have put on some extra pounds.

Much of what we just listed is so similar to the aging process of humans that we could actually be describing Uncle Joe instead of your family’s aging dog. Indeed, these signs of age are familiar to us, and therefore should help us recognize our dog’s passing from strong middle-age dog to gradually weakening older dog. This recognition can cue us to take care of our older dog during this time, which is, after all, simply another stage of his life.

Dogs age at a rate that is as individual as everything else about them. However, it can be noted that small dogs tend to live longer than middle-size dogs, and middle size dogs usually live longer than large dogs. It would follow then, that if the average life expectancy differs from one dog to the next, then the age that a dog would enter the senior stage of its life would be different also. Of course, there are many factors-including diseases, harsh elements, and cell damage from toxins- that also affect the aging process.

Most Common Age Related Illnesses

Diabetes- Diabetes is characterized by a seemingly unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, increased appetite, weight loss, muscle weakness and poor healing. Your veterinarian will diagnose this, and then instruct you as to how to manage your dog’s diet, etc. Many dogs also need insulin shots given to them once or twice a day to keep blood glucose levels stable.

Osteoarthritis- This is a degenerative disease that is characterized by pain, inflammation, and stiff joints. Your dog may lick the affected joint, whine when rising from a stationary position, and will prefer to sit instead of stand. Osteoarthritis may be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Hydrotherapy can lessen his pain and sometimes nutritional supplements are recommended. Ask your veterinarian to help you find the best course of treatment for your individual dog.

Kidney Disease- The function of the kidneys is to filter the blood by removing waste materials and to regulate the amount and makeup of the dog’s bodily fluids. The main signs of chronic kidney disease are increased urination, as well as, increased thirst. When a dog’s kidneys decrease in efficiency, the body begins to send more blood to the kidneys to help out with filtering. The dog then produces more urine, and at the same time, he becomes dehydrated as a result of increased loss of fluid in the urine. The dog drinks more fluids to make up for this dehydration. Diagnosis will be made with blood and urine tests that will determine how well the kidneys are filtering the toxic substances from the blood. Treatment may include the use of intravenous fluids to flush the system, as well as, a special diet low in protein and salt to take pressure off the kidneys. Potassium supplements are sometimes recommended, and the doctor will, of course, point out the importance of making sure that your dog always has fresh water.

Urinary Tract Problems- Problems with the urinary tract can be symptomatic of several diseases, but age related urinary incontinence may be tied to decreased hormone levels. Medications to strengthen the sphincter muscles and bladder may be prescribed. There are many other reasons that urinary problems arise. Your dog’s veterinarian will be able to determine what is going on by examining the dog and discussing the symptoms with you.

Constipation-This occurs mostly when the dog does not drink enough water or if his diet is lacking in fiber. Usually an enema or a laxative will be given. Of course, it is best to prevent this condition in the first place by making sure that the diet is rich in fiber and that the dog is drinking enough.

Eye Disease

  • Conjunctivitis- Characterized by red, swollen eyes, usually accompanied by a discharge, this is easily treated with an antibiotic and eye drops.
  • Dry Eye-This usually shows up with a yellowish-green discharge and can be caused by a mild allergic reaction to medication or just as a sign of aging. Ointments are given for this condition.
  • Cataracts- Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye. A relatively simple surgery can take care of this, and the dog will see quite well after a few weeks.
  • Glaucoma- Glaucoma is a serious condition that is caused by fluid pressure buildup within the eye. If left untreated, the eyes may begin to protrude, and eventually the dog will go blind. Symptoms include blue or gray discoloration of the eye, redness of the whites of the eyes, vision loss and pain. Glaucoma can usually be treated with surgery, but if far enough progressed, treatment may include removal of the eye. Ask your veterinarian to check for this as your dog begins to age.

Dental Problems- Your dog’s oral health must be maintained in order to insure continued health. Otherwise, the dog will end up with worse breath than usual and bacterial infections that can wreak havoc on other systems of the body via the bloodstream. Prevention includes brushing with doggy toothpaste, keeping human food away from him and giving him toys that are proper for him to chew on. As he chews on these toys, he is cleaning his teeth.

Regardless of when your dog begins to show its age, you will want to be sensitive to changes that let you know he is slowing down and entering the next stage of his life. Awareness of these changes will help you to prolong his health and happiness as long as possible. While there may eventually be a disease that cannot be treated, the age related situations that may arise can be treated and managed so that the old fella’ can enjoy many more active years with you.