Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By Ruthie Bently
Do you know how old a senior dog is? Most large dogs are considered seniors at the age of five to six years old, while their smaller counterparts are seniors at the age of eight to nine. As they age, many adult dogs can develop health issues that mirror our own, even down to the symptoms. According to a 2005 MIT study that mapped the canine genome, humans and dogs share 5% of the same genes, so it stands to reason they might have some of the same health problems we do.
One aspect of being a responsible pet owner is taking your dog in for a yearly vet visit, but senior canines may need to visit their vet more often. Older dogs don’t have the health reserves a younger dog has, and getting them to the vet quickly can be a life saver under certain conditions. Getting a base line veterinary checkup can help you with your geriatric canine; you can use it as a gauge for later vet visits.
One of the most common health problems our dogs have as they age is obesity. Obesity can be caused by overfeeding, not enough exercise or a combination of both. Obesity is a cause for concern because it can lead to more serious health issues and can actually make your dog age faster. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, lack of energy and the early onset of arthritis. Diabetes occurs when a dog’s body cannot assimilate glucose (blood sugars) properly. Signs of diabetes can include increased water consumption and inappropriate urination in the house. Side effects of diabetes are cataracts, glaucoma and blindness. Canine diabetes is managed with insulin injections, as it is with humans.
Senior canines are susceptible to developing heart disease, though it’s more common in dogs that are overweight. Dogs with a good exercise program and a healthy diet are less apt to develop heart problems. Your dog may be moving slower as they age, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get exercise. You just need to take their age into consideration when exercising. Tone down the exercise to something easier for your senior dog to handle; for example instead of jogging, go for a leisurely walk. Excessive heat and cold will affect your senior dog more, so don’t exercise them during too hot or too cold temperatures. Exercise more frequently, for shorter periods of time, and take along plenty of water for your dog.
Another health issue older dogs can have is dental disease, which is due to incorrect dental hygiene as well as the lack of kibble or baked treats in the dog’s daily diet. Without daily brushing, plaque turns into tartar which needs to be scaled off the teeth, as it cannot be removed by brushing. Tartar buildup can cause periodontal and gum disease and can lead to a bacterial infection in your dog’s system or the need for teeth extractions. Many senior dogs can have bad breath, but it can also be a sign of something more serious. Other things to watch for in your canine senior are a loss of their appetite, rapid weight loss or gain if their diet and exercise levels have not changed (this could be a symptom of cancer), excessive urinating or drinking excessive amounts of water (this could be a symptom of kidney issues).
Canine arthritis is a disease caused by improper lubrication of joints. It causes the joints to become inflamed and your dog will have a hard time or be unable to run, jump or even walk. Signs of arthritis can be difficulty standing after resting or limping after exercise or walking. The pain may make your dog aggressive or highly agitated. You can help your arthritic dog by getting them a canine heating pad, a bed made for an arthritic dog, or by putting a cover over their crate or moving it to a warmer room of the house in colder weather. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is comparable to human dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and some symptoms are confusion, wandering the house aimlessly, not recognizing humans or other pets, insomnia and inappropriate vocalizations. For more information, see my articles on canine arthritis and cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
Just because our dogs are aging doesn’t mean their quality of life has to be any different than when they were younger. Your dog may be a bit grayer around the muzzle, walk a bit slower and take more time getting up after a nap; but if you look closely I’ll bet that you’ll still see that sparkle in their eye and that wagging tail as they greet you at the door after a hard day at work.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently