Senior Dogs: What to Expect as Your Dog Ages
Those bright eyes that were always so excited to see you return home may have dimmed or even gone blind. Waking up from naps may involve some painful stretching and limping, and that once handsome brown muzzle is now grey with age.
Romps at the dog park have been traded for sedate and leisurely strolls for short distances. Just like humans, as dogs' age, they begin to move slower. Hearing and eyesight may be affected and any number of chronic illnesses or health conditions could be starting to manifest such as diabetes or cataracts.
How do you tell if your dog is suffering from a serious health problem or simply showing the signs of an age-related slowdown? Dr. Cathy Alinovi, owner of Healthy PAWsibilities veterinarian clinic, offers tips for identifying what to expect as your dog ages.
Question 1: What should I expect as my dog ages?
Dr. Cathy: Our expectation is for our dogs to have great quality of life as they age. They should have fun; they should want to do their favorite things all the way until the end. Normal expectations are gray muzzles, some signs of arthritis, or dirty teeth. If we catch illness early, there is a chance we can provide a better quality of life as long as possible.
Noticeable Signs of Aging
Q 2: Which breeds have the shortest life spans?
Dr. Cathy: Sadly, the larger the breed is, the shorter the lifespan is. For example, some genetic lines of Great Danes and St Bernard's are only with us for 2 years. See the table below for a list of the shortest-lived breeds.
Shortest Lived Dog Breeds
Bernese Mountain Dog
Dogue de Bordeaux
Q3: Which breeds have the longest life expectancy?
Small breeds live the longest and their owners can expect their dogs to live up to 18 years. (See table below for some examples of breeds with long life spans.)
Long Living Dog Breeds
Q4: What signs alert pet parents that their dogs are becoming seniors?
Dr. Cathy: The most common signs are graying muzzles and slowing down. While slowing down is not a positive sign for senior dogs, it is a sign that we need to take preventative measures.
Canine Life Expectancy
What's the oldest dog you've ever owned?
Q5: Are urinary/elimination changes a sign of aging or behavioral problems?
Dr. Cathy: They can be a sign of either one. In aging, our dogs do become arthritic, which makes it hard to hunch and get all of the waste products out. Some dogs end up with bladder infections. Some dogs, walk and poop, some dogs leak urine. Some dogs lose the ability to know they have to go to the bathroom.
Q6: What are some of the most common health problems of senior dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Some typical health issues for geriatric dogs are
- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Dental disease
How to Exercise Senior Dogs
Q7: What types of medical problems do vets check for during a senior checkup?
Dr. Cathy: First, we check the dog's mental abilities by observing how he or she processes everyone in the room. Next, we check the mouth and evaluate the teeth. Listen to the heart and lungs and evaluate for heart murmur and lung sounds. Look at posture and for signs of pain. If anything is off, we recommend bloodwork, urinalysis, and x-rays to better identify the health problems.
Q8: How often should senior dogs see their vets?
Dr. Cathy: Senior dogs should have a checkup every six months. Remember one year of a dog’s life is comparable to seven years of life for humans. As we age, it would be ludicrous to imagine we would only go to our doctor once every seven years. The goal with routine health care is to catch problems early for better health and quality of life.
There's still life in those old dogs!
Q9: Should aging dogs continue to receive vaccinations on a regular basis?
Dr. Cathy: Vaccinations do protect young dogs from disease; studies show the protection from vaccines last many years. Vaccines contain chemicals, dyes, and preservatives that may do more damage the longer they are used. Because older age diseases are not illnesses for which the dog can be vaccinated, that should not be the focus of veterinary visits. The only caveat is to make sure you are in compliance with local laws regarding rabies. If you have to get your dog vaccinated for rabies, do insist on three-year rabies vaccines, and ask for thimerosal-free vaccines. (Thimerosal is a preservative, which contains mercury.)
Q10: How do dietary and exercise regimens need to be modified for older dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Older dogs still need exercise, just not the rough, vigorous play they used to do. The more the body moves, the better it works, the better the body works, the better the brain.
Diet is not as complicated as pet food companies want us to think. Because our older dogs do not run and play as much as they used to, they need fewer calories.
However, quality protein should not be replaced with grains and fillers, so called fiber. Exercise helps dogs poop, not necessarily fiber.
Fiber is actually a misnomer because the dog’s body interprets fiber as carbohydrates. Carbohydrates lead to weight gain, which is the last thing an older dog needs.
Senior Pet Care
Q11: What suggestions do you have for caring for an aging dog?
Dr. Cathy: If you see a behavior change, just the slightest thing, because you know your dog better than any one, you know it is a sign of a problem. The sooner you act, the better your chance of helping your dog and having more quality time together. Most of the older age diagnoses are not end of life sentences.
For example, congestive heart failure means diet and medication, just as for humans. Kidney failure means diet. Liver failure means diet and medication.
One final thing to remember: there are many options besides conventional medicine to treat many of these conditions. CoQ10 and a low salt diet work as well or better than blood pressure medication in some cases of congestive heart failure.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help quite well in kidney failure. Animal chiropractic and elk velvet antler can work wonders on the arthritic dog. These examples are just a sampling to show there are more options than simply conventional medicine.
This veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice about your pet’s health.
While this information is periodically researched and updated (under the guidance of veterinary input) in the attempt to be timely and factual, no guarantee is given the information is correct, complete, and/or up-to-date.
Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Donna Cosmato