Age-related issues your dog may be hiding

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

older dog health issues

Story at-a-glance -

  • Generally speaking, a dog is considered to be a senior when she reaches 7 to 9 years of age
  • Problems with urination, eye issues and oral health problems are among the most common maladies affecting aging pets
  • Also keep a watch out for joint issues and arthritis, unusual lumps and bumps and changes in behavior, which could signal cognitive decline
  • In older dogs, weight, muscle tone, joint range of motion, diet, supplement protocol and exercise habits should be reviewed at least semi-annually, if not three times a year, if your proactive vet has identified problems that should be monitored

As your dog ages, it’s important to keep a close eye on her, watching for any changes in her health. Generally speaking, in this day and age (sadly), a dog is considered to be a senior when she reaches 7 to 9 years of age. However, giant breed dogs, such as great Danes, age faster, reaching their golden years by age 5 or 6, whereas small dogs, such as Chihuahuas may live longer and aren’t considered to be elderly until 10 or 11 years.

Your dog can be well into her senior years and still be very healthy, but it’s a time when health issues sometimes become apparent. Some of the most common age-related problems are listed below.1 Because some of these cause subtle symptoms, or symptoms that your dog may try to hide or remain stoical about, twice yearly visits with your veterinarian are recommended to nip any problems in the bud before they worsen or become permanent.

Top health conditions to watch for in your senior dog

1. Problems with urination — Any signs of straining or increased urination should be checked out by your vet, as they could indicate a urinary tract infection (UTI). Older pets can also develop weak pelvic floors or poor bladder tone that can result in urine dribbling. Among dogs with canine senility or dementia, she may also forget to let you know when she needs to potty outside, allowing her bladder to overfill and leak.

2. Eye issues — Cataracts, dry eye syndrome and conjunctivitis may also occur in older dogs, leading to discomfort and vision problems. If your dog’s eyes appear red or cloudy, have your veterinarian do a thorough examination. Some conditions, such as dry eye, can be treated, but left unchecked it can be very painful and even may lead to blindness.

3. Oral health problems — Monitor your dog’s mouth for signs of periodontal disease, such as red, inflamed gums, teeth with a buildup of brown or greenish plaque and tartar, bad breath and bleeding gums. Your dog may also exhibit behavioral changes, such as dropping food, running away from her food bowl or chewing only on one side of her mouth.

These are all signs that your senior dog is likely in pain and needs intervention to improve her oral health. Not only can leaving this unchecked cause your dog to suffer, but it can also lead to chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Preventively speaking, brushing your dog’s teeth regularly is one of the best ways to protect your dog’s oral health.

4. Joint issues and arthritis — If your dog is limping or having difficulty moving the way she once did, it could be due to arthritis causing pain in her joints. Your dog may also lick at a painful joint in an attempt to find discomfort.

Anti-inflammatory and pain medications are often prescribed to manage day-to-day discomfort in aging arthritic pets. However, long before pain management drugs are required to treat arthritis symptoms, you can slow down the root cause of degeneration by instituting a joint support protocol.

Even if drugs are needed to manage your dog’s quality of life, always use them in conjunction with chondroprotective agents (CPAs), to slow further degeneration and support remaining healthy cartilage. In my practice, I won’t prescribe prescription drugs without also prescribing a supportive joint protocol, as blocking pain (without slowing further degeneration) is counter-productive.

There are many effective natural treatments and remedies for arthritis that can reduce or eliminate the need for medications, including:

A high-quality omega-3 supplement (krill oil)

CBD oil

Ubiquinol

Supergreen foods (spirulina, astaxanthin)

Turmeric

Homeopathic remedies (Rhus tox, Arnica)

Natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs, proteolytic enzymes, nutraceuticals, TCM formulas)

Esterified Fatty Acid Complex (EFAC) complex

If your senior pet suffers from chronic pain, some options that may be helpful in reducing pain include:

Chiropractic

Therapeutic massage

Helping your pet stretch

Acupuncture

Laser therapy

Underwater treadmill and rehabilitation

5. Lumps and bumps — Growths are very common in older dogs, and most of the time they’re benign and nothing to worry about. If the bump appears to be causing your pet discomfort or is rapidly growing or changing in appearance, it should be checked out by your veterinarian right away.

A fine needle aspirate, which involves inserting a needle into the lump, extracting cells and typically, sending samples to a pathologist for evaluation and a preliminary diagnosis, will likely be performed.

If the fine needle aspirate shows there's something dangerous brewing, possibly cancer, then surgically removing the mass will give the pet the best chance to be cancer-free. If the fine needle aspirate shows the lump is benign, which means there are no abnormal cells, then I leave things alone.

6. Behavioral Changes — As your dog ages, it’s common for her to nap more often and move a little more slowly. Other behavioral changes, however, could be signs of an underlying illness. Everything from pain, which may make your dog irritable or unsettled, to cognitive decline, which may lead to strange behaviors like standing in corners, facing walls or aimless wandering, could be involved in your dog’s behavioral changes.

Cognitive dysfunction in a dog is a diagnosis of exclusion, however, as there are many conditions your older pet can acquire that mimic the signs of cognitive decline. For instance, a seizure may cause your pet to stare off into space, while inappropriate elimination can be a sign of cognitive decline, kidney disease and many other conditions.

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Schedule a senior pet wellness screen for your dog

If you haven’t already, scheduling a senior pet wellness screen for your dog is an excellent way to detect early changes in your dog's health so that treatment, including appropriate lifestyle changes, can begin immediately. Without checking your pet’s organ function, you really have no idea if they’re doing as well on the inside as they appear to be doing on the outside.

Regular wellness screens allow your veterinarian to compare current test results with past results to check for changes that may need further investigation and allow for early treatment should any diseases or illnesses be uncovered. You should also keep a close eye on your pet’s condition, including noting any new lumps, skin issues or other subtle signs of illness.

In older dogs, weight, muscle tone, joint range of motion, diet, supplement protocol and exercise habits should be reviewed at least semi-annually, if not three times a year, especially if the last exam revealed abnormalities on bloodwork or your pet’s physical exam. Taking proactive steps will help ensure your pet stays comfortable, active and healthy even in her later years.

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