Common Conditions in Senior Dogs and How to Treat Them

Common Conditions in Senior Dogs and How to Treat Them

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  • In 2012, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) policyholders spent over $58 million treating the 10 most common health conditions in pets. The number one reason dogs visited the vet was for allergic dermatitis (allergies). The average cost of a vet visit for an allergic dog was $96.
  • The number two reason for canine vet visits in 2012 was otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal); hot spots came in at number three.
  • Dogs with allergic dermatitis should be transitioned to an anti-inflammatory diet, provided with appropriate supplements, given frequent foot soaks and baths, and their indoor environment should be kept as allergen-free as possible.
  • The best way to help dogs with frequent bouts of otitis externa is to keep the ears free of wax and debris, which for some pets may mean daily cleaning.
  • Dogs that suffer hot spots need to have their wounds carefully and thoroughly treated, and the root cause of the hot spots must be identified and resolved.

Our canine companions are living longer these days, just as we are.

The downside to an increased lifespan is the inevitable age-related health challenges that come along with it.

If you share your life with a furry friend who’s getting up in years, you’re not alone. According to

“Fifty percent of owners share their hearts with pets age 7 or older. Modern veterinary care helps many dogs stay healthy a decade or more, and small dogs sometimes double that and age gracefully well into their twenties.”

It’s very important for your aging dog to see the vet regularly so you can stay on top of any changes in his health. But there are also many things you can do at home for your furry buddy that will help to make his golden years healthy, happy ones.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

It’s generally assumed your dog at age 7 is heading into the second half of her life. I know it seems a little premature to view a 7 year-old dog as a senior citizen, especially if your pooch still looks and acts like a puppy.

But for purposes of supporting her health, mental status and quality of life as she ages, it’s really not a bad idea to think about ways you can take extra-special care of your pet as she crosses the 7 year threshold and beyond.

The article linked above discusses 8 health conditions commonly seen in older dogs. I’ve picked 5 of their 8, adding my own recommendations for things you can do to help prevent or alleviate these symptoms of aging.

Common Condition #1: Arthritis

Maintaining your dog at a healthy weight and insuring he’s physically active throughout his life will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease in his later years.

Chiropractic adjustments, massage, stretching, aquatic therapy and acupuncture are therapies that can make a world of difference in the mobility of your pet as he ages. Talk with your holistic/integrative vet about supplements you can add to your dog’s diet to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage. Some of these might include:

Common Condition #2: Cataracts

Unfortunately, cataracts are common in older dogs. However, it’s important to know whether your dog really has cataracts, or whether she has an even more common eye condition called nuclear sclerosis.

In nuclear sclerosis, the eye tissue gets harder and more rigid over time, and the eyes take on a bluish-grey tint. Unlike cataracts, nuclear sclerosis doesn’t seriously compromise eyesight and no treatment is necessary.

One way you can help your dog avoid cataracts is to make sure she never gets overweight, which increases the likelihood of diabetes. Diabetic cataracts cause blindness in way too many precious pups.

Another cause of cataracts is toxicity. This is just one more reason you should never allow your dog to receive vaccinations she doesn’t need, or to depend on other drugs commonly overprescribed to pets. Be very careful as well with heartworm meds and flea/tick preventives.

Bilberries are a rich source of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. When taken in capsule form combined with Vitamin E, they protect the eye tissue of humans and halt lens clouding in 97 percent of people with early-stage cataracts. This herb is safe for dogs, so it’s certainly something that might help and won’t harm your pet. Integrative Therapeutics Bilberry Extract (scroll down for dosing instructions).

Common Condition #3: Constipation

A decreased activity level and poor muscle tone in the GI tract due to aging can contribute to constipation in older dogs. However, if your pet is otherwise healthy, is eating the right diet and getting plenty of clean water to drink, there’s no reason to assume he’ll become constipated in his senior years.

How to prevent constipation in dogs of any age:

If additional fiber is necessary from time to time, good sources include:

  • Psyllium husk powder: 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food
  • Ground dark green leafy veggies: 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily with food
  • Coconut fiber: 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food
  • Canned 100 percent pumpkin: 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food

Common Condition #4: Tooth and Gum Disease

Eighty percent of dogs age 3 and older have gum disease. I can’t stress enough the importance of helping your dog keep her mouth clean. Taking the following steps will insure your canine companion won’t have to spend her golden years with missing teeth, gum disease … or worse.

  • Feed a species appropriate, preferably raw diet. When your dog gnaws on raw meat, in particular, it acts as a kind of natural toothbrush.
  • Brush your dog’s teeth, preferably every day.
  • Perform routine mouth inspections. Your dog should allow you to open her mouth, look inside, and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on the tongue, under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of her mouth.
  • Arrange for regular oral exams and professional cleaning, if necessary, performed by your veterinarian.
  • Offer a fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew like Mercola Healthy Pets Dog Dental Bones or the Mercola Gentle Dental Bone to provide mechanical abrasion and help control plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth. The effect is similar to chewing raw bones, but safer for powerful chewers or dogs that have had restorative dental work done, and can’t chew raw bones.

Common Condition #5: Senility

Signs your dog’s brain is aging include an increase in the amount of time spent sleeping, decreased attention/disinterest in his surroundings, intermittent loss of acquired knowledge (for example, housebreaking), increased anxiety in the form of wariness, panting, moaning or shivering.

In addition to feeding a species-appropriate diet and regularly exercising your dog, do the following to help keep your pet mentally sharp:

  • Continue to socialize your dog with other pets and people, and provide him with stimulating toys.
  • Provide a SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) supplement. Studies show dogs with age-related cognitive decline given a SAMe supplement for eight weeks achieved a 50 percent reduction in mental impairment. Consult your holistic vet for the correct dose for your dog.
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older dogs. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support.
  • Other supplements to consider are resveratrol, which protects against free radical damage and beta-amyloid deposits, ginkgo biloba, and phosphatidylserine – a nutritional supplement that can inhibit age-related cognitive deficits. Again, I recommend you consult a holistic veterinarian for dosing guidance.

+ Sources and References