One of the realities in life is that your dog is likely to reach old age before you do! Middle age in dogs begins from seven years old, with some larger breeds ageing even sooner.
As a nation, we are getting better and better at looking after our pets. With improvements in the food we feed them, a better understanding of preventative health care, and advances in the treatment of diseases, our beloved pets are living longer and longer. It is very common for owners to notice that their dogs are ‘slowing down’ or ‘getting a little thinner and assume that this is just a normal change that occurs with old age.
Early detection and diagnosis of disease in older dogs is important
In reality, many of the changes that are noticed can be early signs of certain diseases. Most of these diseases can be effectively managed and treated with proper veterinary advice, giving our well-loved senior-citizen pets a great quality of life.
Early detection of lots of common health problems in senior dogs can mean earlier treatment and then may significantly extend and improve their quality of life.
Here are the top five things that can easily be picked up at home and what problems they may indicate.
Although it may be slightly unfair to expect your 12-year-old springer spaniel to be quite as hyper-excitable as they were when they were 6 months old, if they have slowed down, it may not necessarily be just due to age. Especially if they still circle the house with excitement when they see the lead but then seem to struggle with their usual lap of the local park. Some of the conditions that this may be a sign of are:
- Arthritis – Sometimes, pets are not obviously limping with this condition. It may be as subtle as them turning around mid-way through the walk to want to go back home. You may also see that they are stiff when they rise from a long sleep or seem to take a long time to get settled to go to sleep.
- Heart disease – If you were suddenly struggling with your usual exercise or feeling more breathless than normal on a walk, you would go straight to the doctor. Unfortunately, our pets cannot tell us this is happening, so if your dog seems less energetic when out for walks, it is important that they are checked over in-case, they have developed a heart condition.
A soft, comfy dog bed will make it easier for him to get up and lie down with more ease and less pain. As senior dog’s age, they also feel the cold more, so provide bedding to keep your dog warm and snuggly.
Losing Weight is a common health problem in senior dogs
Dropping a few pounds is often considered a good thing for many overweight pets (and people!), but if your dog is losing weight, it is important to make sure there is not a reason for this. They may lose weight quickly (which is normally easy to spot) or slowly (this is much harder to appreciate when you see your pet every day.) If your pet is losing weight, it is important that they have further investigations as this could be a sign of many different problems. However, some of the most common are:
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Dental disease (you may also notice they are eating less or dropping their food)
Feeding smaller meals more frequently might help to improve your senior dog’s appetite.
Gaining weight can also be a sign of things like thyroid problems, another common health problem in senior dogs. Thyroid problems causes the metabolism to slow down. It could be just as simple as changing to a low-calorie food or even giving your pet less to eat. It’s best to first check things out with your Vet before you make any drastic diet changes.
Drinking and possibly peeing more
This is something that most observant owners do notice, but it is important to realise that changes in how much your pet is drinking can be an early indicator of a problem. Although it is often associated with noticing them pee more, this isn’t always the case. This is another sign that can be due to a number of different diseases in older dogs, many of which can be easily diagnosed with a blood and urine test.
You might need to take your dog for additional toilet breaks, or if you need to leave the house for long periods, put down some doggy pee pads.
Picky with food or eating less
This is definitely not a normal old age change. Older pets should love their food and treats just as much as the rest of us do! Not eating well could be because they are feeling nauseous (even though they may not actually be being sick), or they may have a painful mouth. Again, there are many conditions that can cause a picky eater, but dental disease is often the cause and can often be overlooked by owners (unless obvious with very smelly breath!!)
- Dental disease – This is such an important condition to remember in our older pets as dental problems are very common. Unfortunately (and especially if their mouth is sore), many pets do not let their owners have a proper look at their teeth, and even if they do, signs of a problem can be as subtle as the tooth being slightly discoloured. Dental disease in our senior dogs can cause chronic (long term) pain, which often goes unnoticed. Imagine having a toothache all day, every day and not being able to tell anyone about it
Lumps or bumps
Checking for lumps and bumps is the best excuse to do what we all love, and that’s to give our pets a good /cuddle! Many older pets love being groomed, and this is also an ideal time to check them. It is very common for older animals to develop different lumps on their body, many of which (once tested) we realise are benign (not cancerous) and need no further treatment. However, some lumps can be nasty, and the earlier they are looked at and diagnosed, the better the prognosis is to treat or possibly cure your beloved pet.
Whether you have given an older dog their forever home or had your best friend from only a few weeks old, watching out for these few, subtle changes may help them have many more long and happy days with you.