First question – what age is old for a dog?
That depends a lot on breed and size, as a rule of thumb giant breeds have a shorter life expectancy, most giant breed dogs will be lucky to see their 10th birthday. In general smaller dogs tend to live longer, however there are some exceptions. Generally cross bred dogs will live a little longer than pure bred dogs, and neutered dogs tend to live longer than un-neutered dogs.
We would generally consider dogs over 7-8 to be “senior” and have changing needs, while 11-12 and over would be considered geriatric patients.
Some of the most common old dog problems are
- Eye sight and hearing problems.
- Dental problems
- Heart disease
- Kidney and liver problems
- Heart disease
A check up once a year is advised for all pets, but it is essential for older pets. It is the equivalent of visiting your doctor every 7 years. Some senior dogs will require health checks every 6 months or more often depending on their problems.
Important things to look out for….
Is your pet stiff, sore or slow to get up after rest, lame or reluctant to exercise – any of these signs could indicate arthritis. Arthritis is extremely common in older pets. It is often a painful condition, however a dog’s instinct is to mask pain rather than to show it – so you need to know what to look out for.
If you suspect your dog has arthritis there are lots of things you can do to help, these include pain/anti-inflammatory medication (need a trip to the vet), joint supplements, special food (we are seeing great results a new prescription diet from Hills (j/d). Weight loss also can be of massive benefit to dogs with arthritis and can reduce the amount of medication required. Typically if we diagnose arthritis in your dog we will give a programme of treatment to help keep him or her pain free and mobile. We also recommend regular blood tests for dogs that are on long term arthritis medication.
Cancer is common complaint in older dogs – keep an eye out for lumps and bumps and get them checked out early. Mammary cancer is common in females – however neutering your pet early in life greatly reduces the chances of this. Neutered male dogs are less likely to suffer from prostate problems, and obviously neutering eliminates testicular cancer. Skin lumps can very in severity, many are harmless however some can be very serious.
Ears and Eyes
Ear infections are very common in dogs. Many older dogs can suffer from chronic infections and inflammation in their ears. Check ears regularly, watch for scratching, head shaking, red skin inside the ears, or ears that smell or discharge. Regular cleaning is advisable, particularly for dogs with long floppy ears.
Naturally the sight begins to fail in older dogs. Often this is irreversible however there are many changes that can be prevented. Dry eye (a failure to produce enough tears), glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye) and cataracts can be treated if detected early. Diabetic dogs are very prone to cataracts.
Certain breeds such as Cavalier King Charles and Doberman are prone to cardiac conditions. However any dog can develop heart problems. It is relatively rare for dogs to get heart attacks, a slower type of heart failure is more common. Symptoms of heart disease in the dog include coughing, reduced ability to exercise, breathing difficulty, swollen abdomen. Vets will diagnose heart disease on clinical exam as well as with x-ray and ultrasound (echocardiogram). Although heart disease and heart failure is bad news for dogs, recent improvements in medicines mean that dogs with heart disease have much improved quality of life and live longer. Always get your pets heart checked at their annual vaccination.
Common in dogs. Signs include include increase appetite coupled with weight loss. Also these dogs tend to drink loads and urinate more. If your dog appears to have lost toilet training diabetes could be the cause. Diabetic dogs frequently suffer from cataracts. Diabetes is treatable, however treatment does require a lot of commitment.
Kidney and Liver problems.
Symptoms can include excessive thirst, decreased appetite and weight loss. If suspected your vet will require blood and urine tests to confirm diagnosis. Ultrasound or x-rays can be helpful also. Prognosis varies with stage of disease.
About 40% of older pets are obese. Exacerbate heart disease and arthritis and can lead to diabetes. If you are concerned about your pets weight talk to your vet nurse. She can start a weight loss programme.
Bad breath? Have a look at the teeth – if you went 12 years without brushing your teeth you’d need a trip to the dentist too! In general many dental work will require a general anaesthetic in your pet. Don’t worry anaesthetics are very safe, even in the older pet.
Ho w to help your pet at home ….
Remember old age is not a disease – if your animal is behaving differently there may be something wrong and there may be lots of things you can do to help.
Food – you are what you eat. Dogs, cats and rabbits are living longer now due to better nutrition. There are prescription diets available for arthritis, kidney disease, liver disease and weight loss.
Around the house – changing needs – you may need to change the environment. Bedding, crucial – take a look at where its positioned, make sure it is soft and comfortable, big beds for old arthritic dogs and cats so that they don’t have to curl up too tight.
Flooring – slippery floors are a nightmare for arthritic dogs. Also investing in a few stair gates or a car ramp can make life that bit easier.
If your dog is blind – don’t move furniture about keep things the same. I would walk him along the same route every day. Leave different textured mats before steps etc – he will feel them under his feet and this way he will know his way about. Make sure he has a tag on his collar saying “ I am blind” and also with his address on it.
Grooming – older pets may not be able to groom themselves so well and fur can become matted causing skin problems. This is an area where you can give some extra care.
An annual trip to the vet for an older pet is the equivalent of a trip to the doctor every 7 years – a very good idea…..however you must get value for money, insist that your vet checks teeth, eyes and ears, listens to heart and lungs, weighs your pet and comments on its weight. Examines any lumps and bumps and takes notes! If you have noted any changes in your pets behaviour let us know – it might be important!