What is HELP FIDO?

Humane Education Leads to Progress
For Informed Dog Owners

Vision Statement: We envision a society free from discrimination, where responsibility, education, love and compassion allow humans to fully respect and understand man's best friend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Senior Dogs - Part One

Hello all! My last post was about puppies, so I thought I would balance it out this week and talk a little bit about the other end of the spectrum....senior dogs.

As dogs age there are many things we need to think about in terms of their well being.

What things should I expect as my dog ages?
Each dog is different and ages differently. Larger breed dogs age more quickly than smaller breed dogs. But there are some things you will generally see as every dog gets up there in years.

Slowing down - As your dog gets older you may see him/her start to slow down a bit. Generally you may notice subtle changes in how s/he gets up, lays down, and uses stairs. Is there any hesitation or stiffness? Does a change in the weather (rainy, cold) make it worse? Your dog could be suffering from arthritis. Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, particularly large breeds. Arthritis can occur in any joint, most commonly the legs, hips and spine. There are many prescription medications and joint supplements that can be given to your dog to help ease the pain and symptoms of arthritis. Discussing the problem with your veterinarian will help to determine which drug or combination of medications would be best for your best friend. Your veterinarian may recommend simple blood tests to determine if your dog is able to take certain arthritis medications.

Another potential cause of slowing down is hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder common in dogs where the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone for your dogs metabolism to work properly. This condition is easily diagnosed with a blood tests and can be treated with proper veterinary care.

Graying around the face, muzzle - Dogs commonly show a bit of gray around the face, or muzzle, at middle age (about 5-6 years depending on the dog). Fortunately, there are no detrimental effects of this color change.

Reduced hearing - As with aging humans, it is common for dogs to lose their hearing to some degree. Sometimes they do become completely deaf. Is your dog hard to wake up after sleeping or does s/he become startled easily if you approach from behind? Does s/he not respond to their name being called? Hearing loss or deafness may be a reason for this. There isn't a lot that can be done for age-related hearing loss, but a veterinary exam should be done to rule out other medical problems, such as an infection, tumors or masses, or foreign objects in the ear. If your dog does experience hearing loss, be sure to protect him/her from hazards, such as cars, children or other animals that s/he may not hear (or see). Dogs can learn to respond well to hand signals. It is a good idea to get your dog used to using these signals when s/he is young so that if hearing loss is a problem later in life these signals can be used instead of verbal commands.

Cloudy or "bluish" eyes - As they age, dog's eyes often show a bluish transparent "haze" in the pupil area. This is usually a normal result of aging caused by the lens of the eye changing shape and is akin to changes that humans experience as they age. Our response is holding the newspaper farther away from our face to see the print. Since dogs cannot read, their response is different. You may see your dog have trouble navigating in the dark, or s/he may not be able to see things well in the distance. The medical term for this is lenticular sclerosis. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque and can be caused by some disease processes like Diabetes. Vision CAN be affected by cataracts. If you think your dog's eyes look different or cloudy in any way, make an appointment with your veterinarian to investigate this further.

Muscle atrophy - Mild loss of muscle mass (thickness), especially of the hind legs, may be seen with old age. Some muscle atrophy, notably on the head and the belly muscles, can signify other potentially serious diseases. Sometimes a decreased muscle thickness is noticeable when a dog has arthritis in a certain limb or in the hips. If you notice any change in your dog's muscle mass, contact your veterinarian to determine if there is a more serious reason for these changes.

Well that's all for now! Next week part two on our older "furry kids"...until then remember, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

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