Caring for your Older Newfoundland Dog
Caring for your Older Newfoundland
A celebration of the golden years by Elizabeth Heath, General Education Committee, Newfoundland Club of America
Learn about common ailments that can lessen the quality of life for an older dog, and things you can do to make their senior years happy and comfortable.
So the inevitable has happened, a day you have dreaded for years, your newfie has somehow become old! "What happens now, does anything change, should I take him or her to the vet more often?" If you're anything like me you have a lot of questions.
The average life span for a Newfoundland is 8-10 years. But a whole lot of newfies are living into their teens, which is fantastic! Most veterinarians consider a 7 year old newfie a senior. They will want to do a routine check-up and blood work, often called a senior panel, to establish what the normal values are for your newf. Your dog has most likely already had blood work done by the age of 7 so it's just a matter of making sure everything remains normal. Some veterinarians will want to see your newfie every 6 months for a check up, some will also want to do blood work every 6 months. As your newfie ages it's important for your veterinarian to see him or her more often. Dogs age much faster than humans and giant breeds age even faster than other smaller breeds. Problems can arise quickly and if your vet sees your dog more often, he or she can hopefully treat a problem while it's still in the beginning stages instead of having to deliver a possible poor prognosis about your beloved newf.
Lets discuss some common ailments that your older newfie may acquire.
Every week while grooming your newf you should be feeling for any abnormal lumps, bumps, skin changes, heat or swelling. I remember when I first felt a lump on my newfie, I panicked and got her into the vet right away. It was a lipoma, a simple non-cancerous fatty tumor. A lot of dogs get these (skinny or overweight, happens to both). Your vet will use a needle to aspirate the lump and look at the cells under the microscope. Most lipomas are harmless and do not need to be removed unless they get large or interfere with movement. If your dog has a lipoma you do need to keep and eye on it for any changes and report them to the vet. Not every lump you may find is a lipoma, it could be something more serious like cancer. So of course if you find any abnormal lump you should always have the vet check it out.
Do you know how to tell if your newf is in pain? They can be a very stoic breed! One of the most common causes of pain in any dog is arthritis (joint inflammation) which can range from very mild to severe. Most newfies will develop some form of arthritis as they get older. Maybe your newf has difficulty getting up or laying down, is limping slightly or just slowing down. These are all signs of possible pain. When examining my newf for any physical changes I can tell when I get to a sore area, she will close her mouth slightly, or just look the other way. Very subtle signs!
How Old is the Oldest Newf?
Newfoundlands, being giant breed dogs, do not always have the lifespan we would wish for them. Advances in husbandry and veterinary care are helping Newfoundlands to live longer lives all the time.
How old do you think the oldest Newfoundland lived to be?
Mild arthritis is easily treated. Your vet may suggest buffered aspirin, gentle massage, and a soft, padded bed. Talk to your vet about dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin that may help keep the joints lubricated. Keeping your newf at a healthy weight and exercising is important, walking can loosen up stiff joints and it keeps muscles in shape. Swimming is second nature to most newfies, it's a low impact, easy on the joints exercise. Older newfs can become tired more easily than their younger counterparts, so take it easy on your older friend!
A more severe form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis. It is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage in joints is gradually lost. Treatment can involve surgery or medicinal management of any pain. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAID's, are often used to treat pain and inflammation in dogs. They can have side effects such as liver, kidney and gastrointestinal disease. Your vet will want to do blood tests every 3 to 6 months to make sure any NSAID's being used are not causing problems. Your vet will tell you what kind of outward signs to look for such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy. Some commonly known NSAID's are Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx and Etodolac. You and your vet will decide which medication will work best for your dog.
Injuries are common in older dogs. Maybe they ran too hard the day before or perhaps they simply turned wrong while laying down. Sometimes it doesn't take much to cause an injury in an older animal. A lot of injuries resolve on their own with restricted movement and rest. It's a good idea to see your vet if your newf seems to have an injury that isn't getting better in a day or two, or in the case of severe pain or injury, call your vet right away.
Taking care of an older, injured or handicapped Newfoundland isn’t always easy, they are big and heavy and most of the time hard to move! A few suggestions are:
A large padded bed is a must for a newf that cannot get around on it’s own. You want to prevent bedsores so turning a dog is necessary if they cannot do it on their own.
I have a 4 inch thick orthopedic foam bed that is 36"x54" for my newf, when it became worn out a bit I bought a queen size foam mattress topper, cut it to size (two pieces) and put the pieces under the actual bed for more support. It is a nice thick comfortable bed that isn’t too soft or too firm.
In the case of an incontinent dog you can buy piddle pads to place under him or her, or a waterproof mattress pad. I have a waterproof mattress pad that goes around the actual foam bed, and under the bed cover. Any accidents are easily cleaned up by throwing the bed cover and mattress pad into the washer.
Bathing and grooming an injured or handicapped newf is difficult, if not impossible. I have found that trimming the hair to a more manageable length helps immensely with clean up, and also helps regulate body temperature as this is more difficult as they age. Baby wipes work fantastic if you have a newf that leaks or dribbles urine on him or herself.
Moving a newf that needs help can be tricky. I have a canvas sling that is lined with fleece, it goes around the abdomen and has quick connect buckles attached with nylon and has two nylon handles. This sling has been a lifesaver for me! You can find slings in most pet supply catalogs. I use a collar or harness, and short leash to help my newf when she is wobbly on her front end.
Make sure you offer water to your newf often if they cannot get to it on their own, they really do drink a lot!
To reduce the chance of injury and strain on joints I suggest a ramp for getting in and out of vehicles. I have a ramp instead of stairs for going into the yard as well. Rubber backed rugs are essential on slick surfaces where your newf might lose it’s footing and fall.
Eyes can become cloudy with nuclear sclerosis, a harmless clouding of the lens. Some newfs develop cataracts which can be surgically removed. Hearing may start to fail as well. Make sure family and visitors know how to get his or her attention without startling them.
Warning Signs for Older Newfoundlands
Most of us know when something is wrong with our newfs. We have a feeling or an intuition that tells us to take a closer look. Sometimes it’s obvious that something is wrong and we need to consult the vet.
Which of these are warning signs of possible health problems?
What are something you do to make your older newf happy and healthy? Share your hints and tips here.
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.
© 2011 Newfoundland Club of America