It’s that time again…time to bone-up on your life-stage recognition and recommendations. All of our Senior Dogs out there hold a special place in our hearts. Even though they might be thought of as “over the hill,” they have been our constant companions for so much of our life that they almost seem to read our mind. Senior Dog Wellness is a way to help your dog age gracefully.
What is a “Senior Dog?”
Excellent question! The actual age for a senior dog can vary a little bit by breed but most of the time, dogs around the age of 7 are going to be considered “senior.” Small breed dogs tend to age slower, and larger breed dogs tend to age faster. It can also depend on the individual dog and the amount of care he has received during his lifetime. Stray dogs that have lived on the street most of their lives, subject to diseases, fighting and other stressors are going to age faster than a similar dog who has been kept in a home, well-cared for most of it’s life.
“Why is all of this important? An old dog is going to have problems, right? It’s just part of getting old.”
Wrong! Age isn’t a disease! Obviously every pet is going to visit the Rainbow Bridge at some point or another. There are a lot of ailments out there that can be either treated or managed with early intervention.
“Alright, alright. What exactly am I looking for with this ‘senior pet’ business?”
So glad that you asked. There isn’t some switch that once your dog has its 7th birthday that gets flipped, creating problems overnight. Seven is a guide-line and from that point on there are some specific things that you can watch for and do to make their aging …graceful.
1. Moving around slower (this can be anything from less enthusiasm when going for that morning walk, reluctance to climb stairs or jump up on the bed, slower to move around in general, all the above or maybe just one or two)
Senior dogs often experience arthritis. While arthritis is not curable, there are many options for managing the pain.
The counter to this would be to start your senior pet on some sort of glucosamine/chondroitin (joint support) supplement along with an Omega (anti-inflammatory) supplement. There are many different kinds out there. The most important thing is to make sure that you have the right amounts and ratios. My favorite glucosamine is Dasuquin with MSM. Most of the glucosamine supplements take a while to build up in the body to work, so they should be given consistently. There is a lot of evidence to support starting your dog on glucosamine supplements before they actually start showing symptoms of pain. Since it helps to support the joints, administering it before there is actual joint damage sounds logical.
If pain can no longer be managed with the above supplements, adding cold Laser Therapy (the link is to one example – there are other brands out there) to your dog’s regime can really help with the symptoms. Laser Therapy is a method that helps reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing (even though we already know that arthritis cannot be healed). We use this type of laser therapy at my clinic and have seen a lot of patients with arthritis respond favorably.
For any dog suffering with arthritis, water exercises can help avoid straining the joints.
Weight loss! This one is a biggie that doesn’t have to include adding a ton of things to the diet (you will in fact be controlling their calorie intake – ha ha). Excess weight can put excess pressure on the joints.
I think I’ve mentioned this before in some of my other posts, but Science Diet J/D is a great joint diet if your dog is experiencing joint pain. Just like the above supplements, it has a combination of glucosamine, omegas and chondroitin to help support joint health.
For me, non-steriodal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are a last resort. They can be very effective against arthritis pain, however the side-effects that they can have don’t make them a great long-term option.
2. Increased drinking/increased urination
These seemingly simple symptoms should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Dogs can have kidney/liver disease just like people can and increased drinking/urination can be a sign of kidney disease.
It is so important to have your senior dog on some sort of early detection wellness bloodwork testing. These tests are usually done at least annually and will keep track of blood enzyme values to help detect changes early. The downside to kidney disease is that once there are bloodwork changes, kidney function has already been compromised. However, early diagnosis is important for management.
Veterinary visits should also be bumped up to every 6 months. Dogs age faster than we do, period. In keeping with the guideline that a dog ages 7 years for every one of ours, taking them for a wellness examination once per year is like taking them in every seven years. Early detection is key for these guys.
3. Weight gain
Even though run of the mill weight gain can be caused by different things, there are two that pop into my head most prominently.
Hypothyroidism is a disorder of the thyroid gland. With this condition, thyroid production is below normal. Weight gain (among other things) can be a symptom. Thyroid function is a great thing to have checked in your dog annually as it can be detected and treated with bloodwork.
If the dog is gaining weight because he is getting less exercise (for whatever reason – arthritis?), then switching your dog to a lower-calorie food can help. This is part of the reason that senior diets exist. They are often lower calorie to help compensate for a dog that isn’t moving around as much (a lot of them will also have added glucosamine supplements). As always, feeding your dog a high quality diet is essential.
4. Reluctance to eat or chew, food dropping out of the mouth, excess salivating
If you’re reading this article, hopefully you’ve browsed around some of the others and already know a bit about dental care. If your senior dog has never had any kind of dental cleaning, now would be the time to look into that. Dental disease can not only harm the internal organs, but it can also cause the teeth to become infected. Since you are already taking your dog to the Vet twice per year, they can give you a dental disease score. This I-IV scoring system will let you know how severe your dog’s dental disease is.
*If at any time your dog does not want to eat, veterinary medical attention should be sought. There are other things that can cause a decrease in appetite.
5. New lumps, bumps or masses
Obviously the biggest worry here is cancer. Any lump, bump or mass should be checked out an annual (or semi-annual) visit. A needle can be inserted in the mass and cells observed under a microscope for identification. Any breed (Boxer, Bernese Mountain Dog, Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Laborador Retriever, English Springer Spaniel, Pug, Shar Pei, Greyhound, Rottweiler, Collie, Scottish Terrier, and Chow Chow) predisposed to cancers should have any new growths checked out immediately and any old ones aspirated annually (or as otherwise recommended by your veterinarian). Murcie had a fatty tumor (that had been there for 4 years prior) that turned into a mast cell tumor. We only diagnosed it because I got all of her lumps aspirated annually.
Depending on many factors (location, type of cancer, metastasis) dictates treatment. I wish I could go into more detail, but there are many different scenarios. The most simple would obviously be to remove the tumor. However, this isn’t always the end of the road for treatment.
6. Accidents in the house
If there is not some sort of medical condition (bladder infection, kidney disease), older dogs may just need more frequent potty breaks. Incontinence is not uncommon.
7. Difficulty seeing, walking into walls or other furniture
Vision deterioration can happen in dogs just like people. Largely, unless there is some sort of medical condition (such as Glaucoma) that is painful for the dog, they can live happy lives without their vision. A good rule of thumb to keeping your blind dog happy is to not move furniture around unexpectedly. One reason blind (or vision impaired) dogs can do so well is that they learn where everything in their environment is. A sudden or abrupt change can cause distress or injury.
As always, if your dog is experiencing any symptoms of illness (related to this list or unrelated), have them checked over by a Vet. It will pay off in the long run to be diligent about what your dog’s habits are and any deviation from them.
I found this website while browsing, it’s a cute summary of how to care for a senior dog. Also tips when you adopt a senior dog from a shelter.