Caring for the elderly dog
We all age, and with ageing there are often subtle and gradual changes in the way we lead our lives.
Our pet dogs are no different, and being aware of the needs of older dogs and a knowledge of problems which they can face, can help us maximise their quality of life for as long as possible. Ageing is a natural process, and many of the signs of ageing result from this natural process.
Different breeds of dogs age at different rates, with breed size often playing a large role in this. Sadly, many dogs of the larger breeds can start to show signs of ageing from as early as five years of age, in contrast to some dogs of smaller breeds which have much greater life expectancies and don’t tend to show signs of ageing until they are well over 10 years of age. It is important to remember this fact when deciding whether any of the changes we are seeing in our pet dogs are due in part to the ageing process. In general terms, a dog over 7 years of age is considered to be ‘senior’.
These are the common signs of ageing in dogs:
- reduced mobility
- reduced activity levels
- appetite changes
- changes in body condition, sometimes with significant weight loss or weight gain
- changes in coat and skin condition
- loss of hearing and vision
- behavioural changes
There are particular conditions and diseases which are more common in older dogs, and many of these cause characteristic signs and symptoms which are therefore more commonly seen in older dogs. These symptoms include:
- increased thirst (seen with kidney disease and some hormonal diseases, most commonly diabetes)
- stiffness and lameness (seen with osteoarthritis)
- weight gain (seen with thyroid disease)
- reduced appetite (seen with dental disease, organ dysfunction and some tumours)
- hair loss (seen with some hormonal problems)
- halitosis (seen with dental disease)
- vomiting and/or diarrhoea (seen with organ dysfunction and intestinal disease)
- constipation (seen with prostate disease in males and intestinal disease)
- behavioural changes (seen with senility and dementia)
- blindness (seen with glaucoma and other eye or neurological diseases)
- seizures (seen with organ dysfunction and neurological diseases)
Of course, this list does not cover all of the symptoms and diseases we see in older dogs, but it does demonstrate that many of the symptoms caused by these conditions could be confused for ‘general ageing’ when in fact they may indicate an illness or disease. Being aware of these changes is a vital part of managing our pet dogs as they age.
Tips for caring for older dogs:
- regular grooming
- regular checking and trimming of nails when necessary
- ensure regular, gentle exercise to help with body condition and joint and muscle health
- provide a warm, comfortable bed in a peaceful part of the house
- provide free access to plenty of water
- feed the correct diet for the age of your dog and any age-related conditions, since older dogs have different nutritional requirements to young dogs
- weigh your dog monthly and keep a record of any weight changes
- regular check-ups with the Vet are important
Following this check-list can help you keep your dog comfortable in old age and also help you to detect any problems in their early stages. The key is to seek advice from your Vet as soon as you notice any changes that concern you. It is important to remember that many of the common changes seen in old age can indicate conditions and diseases which may need investigation and treatment. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask our Veterinary staff in-store or via email for advice and assistance.