Dog Disease - As Your Dog Gets Old

It starts with you noticing little changes in your pet. It’s subtle, but you know him so well, you’re sure something’s going on. When he gets up from his nap, his joints seem a little bit stiffer. You go for your daily walk in the park and it’s clear he’s not going to win any races with the squirrels. And you don’t remember him ever asking to be let out this much before.

The changes you’re seeing are the result of old age. And in dogs, much the same as in humans, changes caused by aging can affect what they get out of life. Certain conditions your dog will be prone to can be treated by your vet. Then there are the things that you can do. By making some simple adjustments to his environment and daily routine, you can provide him with a lifestyle that is low on stress and big on ease and enjoyment.

The Signs of Age:
That distinguished touch of gray around his muzzle is a real giveaway. Your dog is entering his senior years. According to Wendy Brooks, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Los Angeles, there are a few other obvious signs to look out for. “As well as graying around the muzzle, slowing down and gaining weight are pretty common,” she says. “It’s not so different from the way human’s age.”

There’s one sign dogs don’t share with us, says Dr. Brooks. Many older dogs get cloudiness in their eyes. “This is called ‘nuclear sclerosis,’ and represents a hardening of the lens protein,” she explains. This makes the dog’s eyes cloudy, a bit like cataracts, though it’s quite different. With cataracts, the dog’s vision is affected and he’ll need medical attention. With nuclear sclerosis, his eyesight is okay. If you notice your dog’s eyes are getting cloudy, ask your vet to check him.

Common Complaints:
As the years pass, your old friend’s body will begin to slow down, and some illnesses become more likely. We tend to think of health problems such as arthritis and some illnesses become more likely. We tend to think of health problems such as arthritis and bad breath as being what old age is all about. But Dr. Brooks says many of the problems we think of as conventional “signs of aging” are actually illnesses that can be successfully treated. “There is a saying in medicine that age is not a disease’,” she says. “An owner should not see a dog slowing down and say ‘Oh, he’s just old.’ Often, there is a disease going on, and that disease can be treated.”

With recent advances in veterinary medicine, animal doctors can now cure many of the ailments of the more mature dog. Vets see the care of older animals as an important facet of dog health care says Michelle Brownstein, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Rochester, New York. “As a result, dogs are living longer and healthier lives.” It’s a good idea to take your older dog to the vet whenever he’s not looking or feeling up to par. Talk to the vet about physical signs and changes in behavior you’ve noticed since your last visit. “Vets rely on owners for clues to diagnose medical problems in older dogs” explains Dr. Brownstein.

That stiff-legged walk he’s developed looks painful, and it is. Arthritis, also called “degenerative joint disease,” is one of the more common and potentially crippling effects of old age. It’s the result of years of use, of running, walking, sitting, jumping and generally doing all the doggy things he’s always done. The affected joint loses its lubrication, or cartilage gets damaged, or there’s some other bone problem. “It can happen after a dog has been walking on an imperfectly formed joint for many years,” says Dr. Brooks.

But there’s no need for him to shuffle with a stiff walk. There are new medications to help the older do deal with the pain of arthritis, says Dr. Brownstein. “Many of new drugs introduced in the past few years seem to slow the degeneration down as well as reduce the pain.” So, if your dog seem to developed a few aches, creaks and groans in his bones, take him to the vet for evaluation and treatment right away. Head the problem off before it really sets in.

Canine Dental Disease:
Once upon a time, he’d flash you a “grin” and his teeth would be white. Nowadays, they’re more like yellow, or is that… brown? And a whiff of his breath is enough to take your breath away. Bad teeth and bad breath. What a combination. You’ll know it when you see and smell it, and dogs that are up in years tend to have it. It’s not from all that dogs that are up in years tend to have it. It’s not from all that dog food he’s eaten over the years – it’s the start of canine dental disease.

As well as giving him smelly breath and a gappy grin, dental disease can cause more serious problems for your dog. “Dental disease is a major contributing factor to heart and kidney problems in older dogs because of the harmful bacteria that accumulate in unhealthy gums,” explains Dr. Brownstein. The best way to stop problems is to keep the teeth clean. “Dogs, like people, need to have their teeth cleaned on a routine basis,” Dr. Brownstein says. “If this is not done, bacteria, plaque and tartar build up, which lead to the loss of teeth.”

He Needs to Go and Doesn’t Know:
The last time you found a puddle in the house, he was ankle – high. No you’re cleaning up after him again. It’s frustrating, but incontinence affects many senior dogs. As they get on in years, they can have trouble holding their urine or feces. Sometimes, accidents happen.

If your dog has a mild case of the leaks, taking him for more toilet trips outside may do the trick. Contact your vet, too. Medication can help if it’s a case of lost muscle tone. The vet will first check to make sure there is no underlying cause. “There is usually an answer and a drug that can help, but you must rule out urinary tract infection or another internal disease or metabolic problem first,” says Paul Schmitz, D.V.M., a veterinarian practicing in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

If medication doesn’t do the trick, take special care so that his incontinence doesn’t lead to other health difficulties. “Keeping him dry and clean is very important,” Dr. Brownstein explains. “Urine can burn the skin, and feces can attract parasites, so bedding must be changed frequently.”

Weight Gain:
When a dog is getting on in years, his body and metabolism both slow down. So it is far easier for him to put on weight than it used to be. Weight problems are often seen in elderly pooches, says Dr. Brownstein. “Obesity is perhaps one of the most common and easily preventable health problems in older dogs.” She explains that they have different nutritional requirements from their younger counterparts, so they need a different diet. They also need to keep up their exercise.

This can be a real problem, especially for diminutive canines, whose tiny airways are easily blocked. Dr. Brooks says that coughing can happen to all dogs in old age, but is seen most in smaller breeds. “Airways in aged lungs begin producing too much mucus and actual bronchitis develops,” she says. “This can be uncomfortable for the pet, as well as annoying for the owner.” If your dog develops a cough, take him to the vet right away. The vet can prescribe medications that will stop, or a least soothe, the problem.

Eyes and Ears:
Some senior dogs can slowly lose their vision or their hearing. There’s no reason to worry however. If you think your dog isn’t as keen – eyed or sharp – eared as he once was, it’s time for a visit to the vet. Your vet may be able to reveres or arrest the condition. Even if that’s not possible, your dog can still live comfortable life. With the love and emotional support of caring owner, a dog can adapt to many kinds of physical handicaps better than you might expect.

A Few Other Things to Look Out For:
There are other problems an old dog may face, including heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver problems, endocrine disorders and cancer. This may sound like a frightening list of ailments. But between you and your well – prepared vet, you’ll be able to keep such problems under control.