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.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Senior Dogs - Part 2

Well here it is...Part 2 of my discussion on our aging furry friends. This time we will talk about things that should prompt a phone call to your local doggie doctor when it comes to your aging pups.

Regular veterinary examinations (generally every 6 months for wellness exams) are important for dogs of any age. Many people think annual examinations are sufficient, but more frequent exams may been needed based on your pet's health. If you think about things in terms of human versus dog years, dogs age an average of 7 years for every one human year. Taking a dog to the vet only once a year is about equivalent to a human going to a physician every 7 years. This is certainly not frequent enough to make sure our pets are in tip top shape, especially aging pets.

As a dog ages, signs of potentially serious health problems are commonly overlooked by pet owners as "normal for an old dog". It is much better to err on the side of caution and have anything new or unusual in your dog checked out as soon as possible by your veterinarian. Timing is critical for older pets and as such, it is important to report any changes in appetite, behavior, elimination or any new symptoms as soon as they occur.

Arthritis pain - As previously mentioned in Senior Dogs Part 1, there are many medications and treatments available today to help ease the pain and discomfort of arthritis. There are also certain pharmaceuticals that can help prolong the onset of more serious arthritis pain and discomfort. If your dog is exhibiting problems rising, moving around, getting up/down stairs, limping, or chewing at their joints contact your veterinarian.

Bad breath, bleeding gums - Good dental health is important not only for the teeth, mouth and gums, but overall general health as well! As a dog ages, tartar, gum disease (periodontal disease), and tooth loss are all potential problems. Oral cancers, infections, metabolic diseases (kidney disease, Diabetes Mellitus) are also potential causes for bad breath and oral health problems. Certain disease processes like heart disease/failure, kidney disease and diabetes can actually become more serious as a result of bacteria building up in the blood from dental/mouth infections and disease. It is important to take care of your dog's teeth at any age, but it becomes even more of a serious health risk as they age if their teeth are in poor shape.

Sudden blindness, hearing loss, head tilt / staggering - These signs can be seen with a variety of causes such as infection (nervous system, ears, sinuses), poisoning/toxins, age-related vestibular disease (problems with balance/equilibrium), cancer, etc. If you notice any of these signs in your aging pet you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible so a diagnosis can be made and treatment can be started as soon as possible. Sudden blindness could be a result of cataracts that develop as a result of diabetes. Cataracts can develop very quickly (over a few days) and you might see very acute changes in your dog's sight.

Change in weight or appetite - Weight loss or gain should be kept track of, as well as any changes in diet or eating habits. Dogs should be fed a diet appropriate for their age and general health. Generally a "senior" type dog food is ok for an aging pet. These diets usually have a lower amount of sodium and protein to keep up with your older dog's changing metabolism and kidney function. Your veterinarian may prescribe a special diet to help treat certain disease processes like kidney, liver or heart disease.

Change in urine output and thirst - Dogs should not drink more water simply because they are old, it's hot out, or they are nervous. The most common causes of increased water intake are diabetes and kidney problems. Urine leakage or having uncontrolled "accidents" also signal problems, either with infection, loss of bladder control, or other underlying disease.
Many of these problems can be treated successfully with medications once they are properly diagnosed by your veterinarian.

Cognitive Dysfunction - Dogs, like humans, can experience age-related dementia. You may see your dog wandering aimlessly through the house, standing in corners or barking/whining at inappropriate times (like in the middle of the night). There are certain medications that can help some dogs with these problems. Consult your veterinarian to see if there is a treatment appropriate for your dog.

Hair loss, itchy skin - This can occur at any age, and should not be ignored whether your dog is 12 days or 12 years old. Dogs can do a lot of damage to their skin by licking, scratching, biting and chewing and can suffer from extreme discomfort as a result of dermatological problems. Some dogs suffer from endocrine (hormonal) diseases including hypothyroidism (discussed in Senior Dogs Part 1) that can cause skin/coat problems. Dogs can also get fleas and ticks at any age. It is important to make an appointment at your veterinarian's office as soon as you discover your dog has a skin problem.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the problems your older furry friend may experience. There are many, many more things that I see on a daily basis, but these are the most common things you should look for. Generally, if your dog is "not himself or herself" in any way, or if you are seeing anything out of the ordinary, then it is time for a check up at the veterinary clinic! Regular checkups and communication with your vet will ensure that you are doing all you can to help your pet to live comfortably and enjoy his or her senior years.

That's all for now!!

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