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No matter how big they get, we like to think of our dogs as eternal puppies who will be with us forever. As much as you may wish to deny that your dog is getting older, it's important to keep an eye out for senior dog health conditions so that you can help improve his quality of life. Keep reading to learn about common health problems in senior dogs that might one day affect your pet.
When Is a Dog Considered Senior?
Generally, a dog is considered senior when they reach seven years of age, says the Dogs Trust, although it really depends on the size and breed of the dog. Very large breeds age more rapidly than small breeds. While a Great Dane would be considered a senior by age six, a tiny Chihuahua may not reach that status until eight or nine years of age. Of course, other factors, such as environmental conditions, can affect how an individual dog ages. Once your dog starts showing signs of age-related health issues, they can be considered a senior dog regardless of their true age.
Here are eight common health problems in senior dogs.
1. Hearing and Vision Loss
Older dogs may have deteriorating eyesight and hearing, says the RSPCA. Senior dogs are also prone to developing cataracts, which the PDSA defines as an abnormal cloudiness of the eye, caused by changes in lens structure, that can lead to partial or total blindness. Even without surgery to remove the cataracts, dogs can still manage to get around well due to their good sense of smell and excellent hearing. A number of issues from genetics to chronic ear infections can cause hearing loss and deafness. While deaf dogs may not be able to hear you talking, they will be able to feel vibrations on the floor when you approach. You can also use hand signals to communicate with them. Always take precautions when you are outside with a dog who can not hear or see well. You don’t want them wandering away and getting into trouble!
2. Joint Problems
Osteoarthritis is a very common cause of joint pain and stiffness in dogs, says the PDSA. This is a progressive degenerative disease that causes loss of lubrication and the wearing away of cartilage in the joints. Although there is no cure, there are a number of treatments that can help reduce pain and slow the progression of this disease. Nutrition, especially omega-3 fatty acids, plays a strong role in supporting dogs with joint issues. Ask your veterinarian about foods available to support joint health and if a dietetic food would be beneficial for your dog.
3. Dementia/Cognitive Dysfunction
Like people, dogs can lose cognitive function as they age, resulting in symptoms similar to those of senility or Alzheimer's in humans, says the Kennel Club UK. Confusion and disorientation, whining or barking for no apparent reason, appearing to get lost in familiar surroundings, and bathroom accidents can all be signs of cognitive dysfunction. These symptoms can also indicate other conditions, so it's best to talk to your veterinarian if you notice these behaviours in your dog. Like osteoarthritis, there is no cure for dementia, but it can often be helped with certain medications and antioxidant-enriched foods.
Older dogs are prone to getting lumps and bumps, and luckily, not all of them are malignant. But age increases the risk of cancer in dogs, so it's best to get any strange lumps checked out, says the Kennel Club UK. Regular checkups and cancer screenings can help catch tumours that aren't easily seen or felt.
5. Heart Problems
Heart disease can also develop as dogs age. According to the PDSA, the most common heart diseases found in dogs include mitral valve disease, cardiomyopathy (disease of the cardiac muscle) and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Heart disease can lead to congestive heart failure, which occurs when the heart isn't able to pump blood efficiently and fluid backs up in the heart, lungs and chest cavity. Coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, loss of consciousness and unexplained vomiting are all signs of possible heart disease and should be checked out by a vet right away.
As dogs age, it is common for them to lose weight due to muscle loss. However, some older dogs may still be at risk of weight gain and obesity. This can have a significant impact on their health, especially as they age and become less active. The Kennel Club UK warns that dogs carrying excess weight are more prone to conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease. In addition to providing as much exercise as your older dog can safely tolerate, it's important to feed your dog age-appropriate meals to make sure they are getting the right balance of nutrition, as well as the correct amount of daily calories.
7. Gastrointestinal Issues and Incontinence
A number of problems can cause gastrointestinal (GI) issues in your ageing dog. While not always serious, GI problems can point to issues such as kidney disease, so if vomiting or diarrhoea doesn't clear up quickly, it's best to talk to your vet. Also, older dogs sometimes have urinary accidents as the muscles controlling the bladder weaken. Incontinence could be a sign of a bigger problem like a urinary tract infection or possible dementia. If these issues are not a one-time occurence, it's best to talk to your vet.
8. Kidney Issues
Ageing kidneys tend to lose their function as dogs get older. While chronic kidney disease is progressive and can't be cured, notes Blue Cross, it can be managed with proper treatment, prolonging your dog's life and improving their quality of life. Routine blood tests for your senior pet can catch kidney disease in the early stages and improve your dog's chances. If you have any concerns about what you're feeding your older dog, be sure to consult your veterinarian.
Getting older is as hard on your senior dog as it is on you. One of the best things you can do for your ageing dog is to take them for regular wellness checks every six months to screen for these common health problems. Keeping an eye on them at home and reporting any unusual behaviours to your vet can also help catch these illnesses early, improving your dog's chance of a long and healthy life. They may not be a puppy anymore, but they will always be your dog!
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA