The Aging Dog and Geriatic Problems

Even though your dog may be considered a canine senior citizen, you wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking at him. Depending on the breed, dogs slip into the golden years at anywhere from 5 to 9 years of age. Similar breeds, such as the West Highland white terrier, tend to live up to 14 years or more, whereas some of the larger breeds, including the Great Dane and Irish wolfhound, often don’t live beyond 8 or 9 years and begin to slow noticeably around the age of 5. Generally, the smaller the breed, the longer its life span, with most in-between sizes enjoying a life span of between 10 and 12 years.

With aging comes a slowing metabolism, which often means fewer of those long wrestling and fetching sessions. This coupled with your dog’s tendency to store fat, may produce a pudgy pooch, so:

• Ask your vet to help you choose the right food.
• Change his food to a higher-fiber, fat and calorie-reduced “senior” formulation (high-protein foods may help your dog maintain his lean body mass).
• Your vet can also help you keep track of any changes in your dog’s weight which may signal an illness.
• Another way to keep your dog fit is to avoid letting his daily exercise slide, no matter how content he seems to be watching the world from the front window.
• Slow down your pace and shorten your walks, if need be, but don’t forgo activity altogether.

To help your dog get his stiff, arthritic joints moving each morning, or to help ease the nagging pain of hip or elbow dysplasia, spend a few minutes gently massaging his joints. If you are short of time, you may consider focusing on his ears and feet to give him a jump-start to a pain free day. According to practitioners of dog acupuncture and massage, the ears and the feet contain all the energy paths for the entire body (although such pats are scientifically unproven). As an added bonus, when you are massaging your dog, you will be likely to notice Any lumps, bumps, and skin and coat changes, all of which should be reported to you vet. Softer bedding and vet-approved vitamins might also soothe creaky joints.

A little compromise is to be expected. If you notice that your dog is having trouble hopping up onto his favourite couch, either teach him to stay down, place a stool nearby to help him hoist himself up or provide a soft pillow for him to lie on. Loading your older dog into the car can also become a problem. If he can’t jump into the back of a high minivan, or even hop into the back seat of a car, use a strong plank of wood with a non-slip surface as a ramp to help him walk with dignity into his favourite cruising seat. Elevating his food dish to chest-height is an especially good idea with an older dog, since bending only contributes to more pain and neck-strain problems. Do all that you can to ensure that his comfortable daily routine does not change much. Dogs don’t like to veer too far off their familiar course.

The golden years

Prevention is better than cure. The best way to ensure that your dog is in good health is by making sure that your dog has had the necessary vaccinations for distemper, heartworm., rabies, adenovirus, infectious hepetitis, para-influenza, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and corona virus. Beside vaccination, some of the disease and conditions you will need to look out for that may affect your dog are liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, cancer and urinary tract disease.

Age-related diseases

You will notice small, telltale signs of your dog’s aging as time goes by. His eyesight and hearing may not be as sharp as when he was a rambunctious puppy. He will tire more easily, be breathless on ocassion and may limp a bit in the morning. All this is natural, and neither you nor your vet will be able to turn back the clock. If the dog is experiencing pain, however, a vet can prescribe something to help. Happily, several age-related ilnesses can be treated, if caught in time, so do not assume that every change in your dog’s health is inevitable and natural. Many vets keep an eye open for age-onset illnesses:

• Liver disease
• Kidney disease
• Diabetes
• Cancer
• Urinary Tract Disease

A yearly series of “geriatric screening” tests-including liver, kidney, protein and blood sugar checks-beginning when your dog is 6 years old, will help your vet catch any problems before they become unmanageable. Blood tests can often catch diabetes and kidney and liver disease before there are even any symptoms. A stethoscope, electrocardiogram or X-rays can help your vet check for heart disease, and simply checking your dog for lumps is the standard first route to detecting cancer.

Although most types of heart disease cannot be prevented, they can often be controlled with drugs, diet, nutritional supplements and exercise. Symptoms to watch for include excessive panting, coughing and fainting. Diabetes can also be controlled with drugs, diet and exercise. Symptoms of diabetes include diminished eyesight and a change in eye appearance and colour.

Loss of appetite, depression and increased volume and frequency of urination may be signs of kidney failure. Results from blood and urine tests, sometimes X-rays or a ultrasound test, and possibly a biopsy or exploratory surgery can help your vet determine the treatment plan.

If your dog is suffering from liver disease, the whites of his eyes may be yellow, his urine may be darker and he will be weak and lethargic. He may also eat less and drink more. To diagnose liver problems, your vet will need to do a complete work-up.

Arthritis and other joint inflammations may be a normal part of growing old, but the pain and soreness can be controlled with vet-prescribed medication. Do not take it upon yourself to medicate your dog. Aspirin and other drugs that can relieve these symptoms in humans can irritate a dog’s stomach and lead to ulcers in the intestine or kidney disease.

Geriatic management through nutrition

There are lines of pet food that cater to the nutritional needs of older dogs. Premium pet foods follow a formulation based on life stage and breed size of the dog. Life stage covers your dog from the puppy stage (birth to a year old), to adult stage (1-6 years) and senior stage (6 years and above). A premium pet food that has a formula based on life stages and breed size is Hill’s Science Diet. Pet food has moved from the traditional mode of nutrition to include innovative scientific breakthroughs through research. Recent research in pet nutrition has shown that the inclusion of antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, selenium and beta-carotene helps to strengthen your pets immune system. Thus, a strong immune system will be able to fight against most diseases including cancer. Most pet foods for geriatic dogs contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to heal and maintain joint health and mobility. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids too are important to promote the healthy functioning of the nervous and immune systems. It also helps to promote healthy skin and shiny coat for your dog. Another important aspect to geriatric pet food is that it be made in the form of soft kibbles for easy chewing and better digestion for your older dog.

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