How To Care For Your Older Dog

Now that your dog is a senior, or older than 7 years of age, you may see some concerning changes in him or her. Here’s how to care for your older dog.


What Should I Do If My Dog’s Eyes Are Getting Cloudy?


It’s very common for older dogs’ eyes to grow cloudy with age.  This can be due to normal age-related hardening of the lens (called nuclear sclerosis), to cataracts, and less frequently, to other kinds of eye disorders.  Dogs with hardened lenses can still see pretty well despite the eye’s bluish, cloudy appearance.  Cataracts in dogs, which can form with age or due to diabetes, can significantly obscure vision or entirely blind your pet.  Additionally mature cataracts can ‘hyper’ mature and lead to more significant and painful complications like glaucoma.  As with people, surgery, performed by a board-certified ophthalmologist, can restore vision in dogs with cataracts.


Decreased vision can lead to increased anxiety in some dogs and can cause other issues like bumping into things or increased aggression, mostly because your dog suddenly hears or feels things without being able to see the source of the disturbance.  If you are concerned that your dog’s vision is failing, bring him in for an examination and we’ll be able to make a recommendation specific for your dog, his age, and your needs as a pet owner.


Is My Dog Having a Senior Moment?


Possibly.  In a study at the University of California at Davis, researchers found that 28% of dogs over 10 years of age, and nearly 70% of dogs over age 15 showed one or more signs of cognitive issues. Cognitive ‘senior moments’ can manifest themselves as moments when your dog doesn’t seem to know where he or she is, as house soiling, as a decreased interest in you or other members of the household, decreased interest in familiar, once-enjoyable activities, and as irritability.  It can also cause a change in the way your dog understands night and day and cause your pet to spend evenings pacing the floor when he or she should be sleeping.


Because dogs with cognitive issues often have other age-related health problems (impaired sight, hearing, arthritis, and metabolic changes), it can be difficult to find any one cause of a cognitive-like problem. Some medications can improve the mental acuity of dogs, but a check-up is imperative to first identify what factors are contributing to the behavioral change.

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Why is Does My Old Dog Sleep So Much?


This sort of behavior can be a side branch of the cognitive dysfunction we sometimes see in older pets, but can also be related to pain or a loss of hearing. For example, some pets don’t respond the way they used to simply because they can’t hear you.


Like loss of sight, loss of hearing sometimes causes dogs to become anxious. They can misinterpret sounds that they hear and/or bark at what appears to be nothing at all.  There is no cure for hearing loss in pets, no doggy hearing aids for them to wear, but we can help you to better manage the condition.


Did My Old Dog Forget His House Training?


Probably one of the most frustrating symptoms in elderly pets is their increased propensity for accidents in the house.  Pooping or peeing in the house, when the pet has otherwise had a clean track record of going to the bathroom outside, can be a sign of serious illness or something more benign like reduced urethra/bladder control or one of the above-mentioned senior moments.


Any dog (or cat!) that is having accidents in the house should be examined by one of our vets to ensure that it is not related to serious, but treatable, diseases like renal failure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or Cushing’s disease. In many cases, pets that are having accidents in the house can be managed with medication or other medical solutions.  The first step, however, is an examination to determine the reason for the accidents.


Why Is My Dog Hunching His Back?


All elderly pets experience some degree of arthritis and, in some cases, arthritis in dogs can be especially debilitating and painful. Arthritis pain can make it difficult for pets to get up to urinate and inhibits their ability to walk, sit, run, lie down, or move up and down stairs.  Many older dogs fall down stairs because creaky, arthritic limbs just aren’t as responsive as they once were. And that arched back posture? It’s probably indicative of significant arthritis pain, internal organ pain, or a stiffening of the vertebra related to age and arthritis.


No dog should have to suffer the pain of arthritis when there are so many great supplements and medications on the market that have been proven to alleviate pain and increase mobility, even in the most severely affected. If you are concerned that your pet is painful, do not hesitate to reach out to us for our help. There are likely several affordable options available to you to treat arthritis pain in your pet.


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My Dog Is Fat, What Should I Do?


Like all the other signs of old age discussed in this article, your pet’s obesity may be tied to other age-related issues like arthritis that limit exercise tolerance and lead to weight gain.


Any significant change in a pet’s weight is usually a red flag to our veterinarians that a more serious medical issue may be brewing, so obese dogs are first physically evaluated for underlying disease.


In all cases, we’ll help you to address your pet’s obesity.  Overweight dogs are at risk for knee and other joint issues, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, and exercise intolerance, all of which hasten your dog’s decline in health.  Weight gain can be managed with diet modification including special prescription diets that we sell at our office..  Do not dismiss your dog’s corpulence as an age-related inevitability.  Obesity in dogs, like in people, will reduce your dog’s quality of life and life span, but it can be turned around.


Should I Be Concerned About Age-related Lumps On My Dog?


It is very common for dogs to acquire external and subcutaneous lumps as they age. These lumps can pose two significant health risks.  The first risk is that they may be cancerous.  Approximately 16% of all lumps on dogs are positive for a kind of cancer called mast cell tumor.  Mast cell tumors are most always treated surgically to remove the tumor and followed up with a biopsy of the mass to determine the aggressiveness of the cancer.  In some cases, the mast cell cancer is cured by surgery, but in more aggressive cases, chemotherapy may also be part of the treatment plan.


The second health risk of tumors is their tendency to grow to large sizes.  Some of the tumors that we have treated on dogs may not have been cancerous, but they have weighed several pounds by the time the pet owner decided to remove them.  Tumors of this size can significantly impede a pet’s mobility.  Additionally, waiting to remove a tumor and allowing it to grow increases the size of the incision, increases postoperative pain, and increases the risk of complications.


If your pet has developed growths, have us examine them and determine if they should be treated.


What Should I Do About My Dog’s Bad Breath?


Contrary to popular belief, dog breath should not be synonymous with bad breath. Bad breath in dogs, just like people, is almost always linked to dental disease.  Unless your elderly dog has had his or her teeth cleaned recently, he or she may be suffering from significant, painful, debilitating dental disease.


Not to gross you out, but dental disease is such a significant part of our case load that it’s important that you understand what we see when we look into the mouth of an elderly dog that has never had his or her teeth cleaned.


Dental disease in dogs is frequently categorized into five stages, stage 4 being the worst. Elderly dogs that have never had a professional veterinary teeth cleaning are usually victims of stage 3 or 4 dental disease.  At these stages, the teeth are covered with a thick layer of calculus, the gums are infected and bleeding, and parts of the actual jawbone have begun to erode with disease.  The pet may chatter his or her teeth (a sign of shooting pain), drop food out of his or her mouth because it’s painful to chew, and experience general signs of malaise. Remember that dental disease is more than just bad breath and a foul looking mouth, it is an active infection that is leaching live bacteria into your dog’s circulatory system.  Your dog’s immunity is compromised by dental disease and there is strong evidence that dental disease leads to kidney, heart, and liver disease.


Is My Dog Too Old To Have His Teeth Cleaned?


Most likely, no.  While all anesthetic procedures have some associated risk (dogs have to be anesthetized before their teeth can be effectively cleaned), that risk is far outweighed by the, pain, infection, and impact that dental disease is having on your pet’s quality of life.  Dogs that have dental disease cured by professional cleaning have a pronounced, positive change in the way that they eat and behave.  It is not uncommon for pet owners to tell us that their dog is behaving like a puppy again after the dog has had his teeth cleaned and his body has been rid of years of chronic pain and infection. Even your friends will notice a change in the way your dog behaves- that’s how big of an impact oral health has on how animals feel!


Equally as important, you’ll be able to be close to your dog again. You can spend your final years together, hugging closely, not pushing your dog’s face away from yours because his or her breath smells.  Your dog will be free to give your face a lick if he feels like it without getting pushed away. Dental cleaning helps restore the bond you once shared and ensures continued quality of life for you both.


What Can I Expect From a Senior Wellness Examination For My Pet?


Senior pet examinations are extremely comprehensive.  There are more than 16 different body areas, organs, and systems that are evaluated including a thorough eye examination, an assessment of your dog’s oral health, a listen to your pet’s heart and lungs, an evaluation of your pet’s pulses (a way to access blood circulation and pressure), palpation of all the major organs, glands and lymph nodes, and a thorough orthopedic examination, to name a few.


Senior exams also include a senior wellness blood profile, a test that looks for disease before it presents any visible signs and when it is still easily and affordably treated.  Senior wellness blood profiles are probably one of the most valuable health tests you can give to your aging dog.  They virtually ensure that pets are as well inside as they appear to be on the outside and give our veterinarians the information they need to provide your pet with optimal care.


What Should Do If My Dog Is Too Afraid To Go The Vet?


Would you like our help in caring for your elderly pet, but you’re afraid the visit to a veterinarian will be too stressful?  Our team is specifically trained to manage older pets so that they experience the least amount of pain and stress during their physical exam at our office.  There are also a number of veterinary financing options available to you that may assist with the cost of expert, yet still affordable, veterinary care. Please allow us to be of help. We enjoy making a difference in the lives of our patients and you!

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