As your pet gets older it is important to realise that although problems may start to happen they can be treated. However it helps if you check your dog regularly from an early age and vets generally carry out an annual MOT when giving vaccinations. It is also important that correct feeding and regular exercise, along with worming and other parasite control programmes are maintained throughout his life.
It is always helpful to take stock at regular intervals as it is all too easy for problems to creep up without being noticed and noticing subtle changes may help you to catch a problem and treat it before serious damage has been done.
Whilst it is unrealistic for your older pet to run, chase or play as actively as a young dog he will eventually slow down. Old age doesn’t mean that he needs to become a couch potato but his exercise will need to be more gentle and sedate. He may sleep for longer and his sleep may appear deeper but he should remain bright and alert.
Signs to look out for:
- Excessive drinking can be symptomatic of several problems some of which may only need monitoring. However, if caused by kidney disease or diabetes, which are complex, treatment by your vet will be needed.
- Coughing and or breathlessness may indicate heart problems that are better treated early.
- Excess weight creeps up and canine obesity is a major concern for vets. Although it may seem that extra exercise may the answer to losing unwanted weight be careful not to suddenly over exercise as that could cause further problems. Regular gentle exercise is needed so that circulation and digestion are improved along with helping muscles not to seize up.
- Unexplained weight loss needs to be checked out so regular weighing will help maintain the correct weight and indicate if advice or treatment is needed.
- Older dogs can feel the cold more so it is important their bed is away from draughts and it might be worth thinking about buying a coat for walks on a really cold day.
- Sometime changing the diet, slowly, may help and there is now a choice of food that is formulated especially for the “senior” dog. As always, feed your dog the best you can afford.
- Stiffness of joints or limping may indicate rheumatism or arthritis that can be treated.
- Claws that have been left untrimmed can curl back on themselves. Dew claws are easily overlooked and can cause discomfort and pain if left untrimmed.
- Callouses on elbows may need treatment. It might simply be making sure that the old dog lies on soft, bedding and not on hard floors but if they become infected they will need veterinary treatment. Supportive bedding may also help old joints.
- Lumps and bumps, wherever they are on the body, can be indicative of a variety of problems and they should be checked out.
- Discomfort when eating may indicate gum or tooth problems. Regular checking is required to make sure that the gums are looking healthy and are not red and sore and that there is no build up of tartar on the teeth. If infection is allowed to go untreated then gum disease can follow and will be painful. Teeth can be descaled if required and halitosis, bad breath, may indicate there is a problem in the mouth. Sometimes it is necessary for a dog to have some teeth removed and whilst this should not be undertaken lightly, if there is severe infection that cannot be cured with medication then your dog will feel so much better.
- Eyes clouding over or becoming “milky” to look at. Nuclear sclerosis is a normal aging change of the lens which will continue to appear cloudier over time. It is easily mistaken as a cataract which is a different problem that also causes the lens to become cloudy and which can affect older dogs of every breed. While a cataract is an abnormality that can cause blindness and inflammation inside the eye, nuclear sclerosis is normal for an older dog, and the condition has minimal effect on vision. If this happens, the changes are generally slow and the dog usually adapts but he may become more hesitant in moving around, especially in new places. He will not be able to see well up close and going down stairs or catching a small treat may be more difficult.
- Any change in behaviour that can’t be explained may be suggestive of an underlying problem.
Although we obviously can’t stop our pets from getting old a balanced diet, regular exercise and observation, with a follow up if needed, are the key factors throughout their lives which will help us keep them healthy into old age.