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Dog Care - Health Issues in Senior Dogs
Senior dogs are truly special. I love everything about them - the slowly wagging tails, the gentle eyes, the greying muzzles, the way they snore and twitch in their sleep. As our dogs age, though, there can be some health issues that may require us to put in a little extra dog care to make sure our faithful friends remain healthy as long as possible.
- Dog joint problems. Many older dogs have arthritis, sometimes mild, sometimes more extreme. One thing we can do to help alleviate pressure on their joints is to keep them at a lean and healthy weight. Extra weight puts additional stress on the joints which can make mobility problems worse.
- Loss of sight. One of my dogs, while still perky and active, has had a slight loss of vision. Occasionally he'll spot a clump of grass and think it's another dog, and he'll go bouncing over to say hello! If you notice that your dog may be losing his sight, it may be best to keep him leashed and close to you so that he doesn't accidentally bump into something or get lost. Just like with people, vision loss often affects night vision first: you might notice that your dog can't see as well as night as he does during the day time. To make it easier for your dog to see while on his nightly bathroom breaks, turn on the lights for him or install some solar garden lights to help him find his way.
- Hearing loss. My friend always jokes that her dog has "selective hearing" since he can hear food being prepared 500 feet away, but he can't hear her calling him for his bath when she's 10 feet away. However, as dogs age they may not be able to hear as well as they used to (he isn't just being contrary, or trying to test your patience!). You might find you have to give you dog a tap to get his attention, or just call him a little louder. If your dog starts to show signs of hearing loss, you will also have to re-consider whether or not to let him run off-leash (where allowed) -- it can potentially be dangerous if he can't hear you call him back.
- Skin problems. Lots of older dogs develop lumps and bumps under the skin. As you brush your dog or pet him, gently feel for any changes in his skin. Lumps should be promptly checked out by your vet, especially those that have changed in color or size. Don't panic - many lumps are completely benign!
- Heart murmurs. As dogs age their heart valves may weaken and cause abnormal blood flow. Vets can diagnose heart murmurs initially by listening to your dog's heart with a stethoscope, and may follow up with a variety of tests to determine the cause of the murmur. Some of the symptoms to watch for include exercise intolerance and coughing (particularly when the dog is sleeping).
- Changes in behaviour. Maybe you've noticed that your previously rock-solid, housetrained dog is now having accidents in the house. Or perhaps your dog has developed a reluctance to take the stairs. Behavior changes sometimes have a medical reason, such as canine diabetes, Cushings disease, thyroid issues, or other health problems that can become more common as dogs age. Consult with your vet - medical tests can help to rule out certain diseases or conditions.
- Lesser need for exercise. You might find that your older pup no longer craves those long runs or endless sessions of fetch. Instead, adjust your dog's exercise as needed. Perhaps a couple of shorter walks every day or every other day may be more appropriate than one long session. Do not stop exercising your dog completely unless advised to do so by your vet - fresh air and exercise is still good for senior dogs and helps to keep them healthy and active.
Visit your veterinarian to discuss the changes you see in your senior dog. If he or she prescribes medications, make sure you do some research into the medication and ask questions. Although medications can improve the life of your dog they often have side effects as well. You can also consider alternative treatments like acupuncture that have helped improve the quality of life for many dogs, without the need for drugs.
With a little extra care and adjustments, you can help your furry pal enjoy his or her retirement years to the fullest.
- The Senior Dogs Project
Lots of great information about caring for senior dogs, plus photos & descriptions of senior dogs available for adoption.
- The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs
- PetEducation.com - Drs. Foster & Smith's Source for Expert Pet Information
- Additional articles on dog health problems