As dogs age, their health becomes increasingly fragile. They become more susceptible to a variety of diseases and ailments (similar to people). Many also adopt behaviors their owners might describe as uncharacteristic. This is part of the aging process for canines. Their senior years are accompanied by numerous challenges.
In order to protect their pets' health, it is important for owners to recognize the changes. That way, they can take steps to address potential health problems. Below, we'll offer several suggestions for helping your canine adjust and remain comfortable as he grows older. You'll learn what to expect, so the changes your pet displays will not come as a surprise.
Controlling Your Dog's Weight
Excess weight is unhealthy, even for young dogs. Once your canine reaches his senior years, the extra pounds can expose him to numerous health conditions. For example, his lungs and heart will be forced to work harder. Additional pressure may be placed on his organs. Substantial weight gain can harm his joints, damaging the ligaments and tendons, and causing arthritis to develop.
Obesity is a key contributing factor to many health issues in canines, and especially so in older pets. If your dog becomes severely overweight, he will lose stamina, become less tolerant of heat, and develop digestive problems. His immune system may become weaker, exposing him to infections. Preventing weight gain in your pet - and helping him to shed pounds if he is already overweight - will have a direct effect on his immediate and long-term quality of life.
Providing The Veterinary Care Your Pet Needs
As his health becomes more vulnerable, your canine will need more frequent veterinary checkups. Physical examinations will be more important than ever, and thus should be performed twice a year. A veterinarian will check your dog's gums and teeth for signs of gum disease; he'll examine his hair and skin to note their condition; and he can perform a rectal examination to look for abnormalities that signal prostate and colon problems.
During a comprehensive exam, the veterinarian may also recommend blood tests, an exam to check the function of the thyroid gland, and a test for blood pressure. A urinalysis is typically done to measure glucose and pH. The results may reveal the onset of diabetes or kidney problems.
This level of testing may not be necessary during each appointment. But the vet will want to keep abreast of health problems so they can be addressed before they progress into major issues.
Behavioral Changes Your Senior Dog May Display
Most of the behavioral quirks senior dogs display stem from the physical changes they are experiencing (though geriatric canines can develop dementia). For example, your pet may seem to ignore you when called, or snap unexpectedly when someone approaches him from behind. Both may be due to a loss of hearing.
Your dog may show resistance to taking walks during cold weather. This might be attributable to a growing sensitivity to the cold. If he seems less active than he was in prior years, he may be coping with arthritis; moving around may cause him discomfort. Some aging dogs will begin to urinate indoors. Often, the reason is that they suffer from urinary incontinence.
Some behavioral changes stem from cognitive issues. You may notice your canine seeming confused or increasingly anxious by your absence (i.e. separation anxiety). He might suddenly start roaming your house during the late evening. Your dog may also become more vocal or begin to stare.
It is common for canines to display signs of physical and mental decline during their final years. Your pet will depend on you to make these years as comfortable as possible.