Many dog owners like to think of their older dogs as the young, energetic, wriggly puppies they were long ago. That’s why when your dog ages, it can sometimes catch you off guard.
Sometimes denial is an obstacle for owners as well. After all, who wants to admit that their dog has lost a step, that he doesn’t fetch the ball as fast as he used to or dash up the stairs as easily as he once did? Common aging dog health problems can creep into your dog’s life if you aren’t paying careful attention to him as he grows old.
The reality is that to be the best owner for your dog, you need to be proactive in preparing for his eventual maturity. Senior dogs are prone to some common aging dog health problems, and this article will assist you in knowing what to look for as your dog becomes a senior.
When is a dog considered a senior?
There can be some misunderstanding as to when a dog qualifies as a senior. Some people think that the old standard of seven dogs years to every one human year applies equally across all breeds. In fact, the best way to determine if a dog is senior is to look at his size.
For example, a large Saint Bernard might show signs of being senior or even geriatric by the age of seven, while a smaller breed, such as a Chihuahua, might not achieve senior status until age fifteen. Generally, we can classify dogs as seniors between the ages of five and ten years old.
As your dog approaches this age range, it’s important to know what aging dog health problems might afflict him, and what you can do to prevent or alleviate those conditions.
Health Problem #1: Arthritis
Arthritis is one of the most widespread aging dog health problems. Many older dogs suffer from a form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, or Degenerative Joint Disease. Over time and with significant repetitive use, the disease impacts a dog’s weight-bearing joints, particularly the knees, shoulders, hips, and elbows. Osteoarthritis causes the following issues in these joints:
- wearing away of cartilage
- abnormal bone growth
- loss of lubricating fluids
These factors contribute to the stiffness and limited range of motion that are often seen in older dogs. Often, arthritis causes achiness and pain when your dog moves, prompting him to be less likely to take part in his normal activities.
Osteoarthritis is an incurable progressive condition; thus, the disease will only continue to worsen as time passes. However, arthritis’ progression can be slowed and the pain lessened with appropriate supplements and therapies.
Health Problem #2: Cognitive Dysfunction or Dementia
As with people, senior and geriatric dogs can develop cognitive dysfunction or dementia. These conditions in particular can sneak up on an owner because the symptoms can be quite subtle as the disease begins. Dogs suffering from dementia may exhibit any of the following symptoms:
- pacing and wandering; restlessness
- urinary and fecal accidents
- disrupted sleep patterns
Some medications and supplements can help address these symptoms, but dementia has no cure. Cognitive dysfunction can also be an indicator of an underlying illness or disease, so discussing your dog’s mental health with a veterinarian is highly recommended.
Health Problem #3: Cancer
Sadly, cancer is a very common health problem amongst senior dogs. It can develop in various areas of the body, and some dog breeds are prone to certain cancers more than others.
The type and location of the cancer will dictate the best form of treatments for your dog, but the types often used are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. The sooner the cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance for your dog to recover and survive.
Health Problem #4: Obesity
Although obesity can strike a dog at any age, senior dogs are especially susceptible to weight gain as other illnesses and health issues prevent them from maintaining their normal level of activity. In turn, obesity can contribute to other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
Adjusting your senior dog’s food type and amount, giving him supplements, and maintaining a reasonable exercise level are the best means by which to avoid obesity.
Health Problem #5: Kidney Disease
After years of use, a dog’s kidneys begin to wear down and disease can develop. These are the signs of kidney disease in dogs:
- increased thirst
- increased urination
- loss of appetite
Kidney disease develops gradually and, if untreated, leads to full renal failure. Having your senior dog’s blood tested annually by your veterinarian can help catch kidney disease early enough for it to be treated, allowing your dog to live a fuller life for a longer period.
Health Problem #6: Eye Disorders
As they age, senior dogs may develop a variety of eye disorders. Commonly, older dogs develop cataracts which cloud vision and can result in virtual blindness. Sometimes tear production lessens causing dry eye, a form of disease that often impacts short-nosed breeds like Shih Tzus and Pugs.
Some of these eye disorders can be treated through surgery, medical procedures, and the addition of supplements and proper diet earlier on in the dog’s life. In many cases, though, blindness and cataracts are part of the normal aging process for canines.
Thankfully, there are many supplements, therapies, and tools available to help your senior dog learn to navigate without vision and still have a full life.
Health Problem #7: Deafness
Similar to eye disorders, deafness is a typical health problem that older dogs face. Deafness includes a partial or complete loss of hearing. While some breeds suffer from congenital hearing loss, many older dogs become deaf simply due to old age. A dog with hearing problems may exhibit any of these symptoms:
- Tilt or shake the head
- Be unresponsive to daily sounds (doorbell, mailman, etc.)
- Fail to respond to his name or normal commands
- Be difficult to awaken from sleep
- Bark excessively
As with eye disorders, owners of deaf dogs can take steps to assist their dog in learning to adapt to a world without sound.
Health Problem #8: Dental Disease
One of the most insidious illnesses older dogs can have is dental disease. Periodontal disease can be indicated by bad breath and instances of tartar, inflammation, and reddened gums.
If a dog has not been fed a proper diet or hasn’t had his teeth brushed or cleaned regularly, dental disease can occur. If left untreated, dental disease can lead to more serious illnesses such as heart and kidney disease.
Health Problem #9: Heart Disease
Nearly 75% of dogs will encounter some form of heart disease as they age. Degenerative and valvular are the types of disease that afflict senior dogs. Some signs of potential heart disease in dogs are:
- loss of stamina
- difficult, labored breathing
- excessive panting
- loss of appetite
- coughing while sleeping
There has been significant progress made in heart treatments, and combined with a specialized diet, many senior dogs can live happily and for years even with heart disease.
Health Problem #10: Incontinence
Urinary and bowel incontinence are common health issues that nearly all senior dogs develop. The reasons for incontinence in older dogs are:
- spinal problems
- neurological problems
- hormonal imbalances
- extreme stress and anxiety
- urinary tract infection
- kindey or liver disease
- bladder stones
- cognitive dysfunction
Additionally, some senior dogs suffer from a condition called Canine Dysfunction Syndrome, or Old Dog Syndrome. This disease impacts the endocrine system and causes incontinence. There are medications, supplements, holistic remedies, and even surgical options available to help an older dog with incontinence feel as comfortable as possible.
How can supplements help your senior dog?
Most of these common aging dog health problems can be prevented or treated with the use if supplements. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing articles about specialized supplements to allow your senior dog — and you! — to truly enjoy his golden years.