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Senior Dog Health

Maintaining the health of older dogs is essential in providing them with good quality of life. This page looks at some common senior dog health problems and their symptoms.

Bull Dog
Aging in dogs, as in humans, is inevitable. However, there are things we can do to minimize the physical stress associated with aging by, for example, modifying the dog's care and daily routine. Additionally, some of the infirmities attributed to old age may be due to disease which, if diagnosed early, may be treatable or at least controlled.

As dog parents, it is important to be aware of some common senior dog health problems and their accompanying symptoms, so that appropriate action can be taken before the problem gets out of hand.

Senior Dog Health - Signs To Be Aware Of

There are some signs and symptoms that may indicate some senior dog health problems that dog parents have to be aware of. Aging dogs with any of these signs should be examined by a veterinarian.
  • Lumps: A growth or lump anywhere on the body may be a skin tumor. Giving your dog regular brushing and massage can help you discover any lumps or bumps on the dog's skin, so try to brush and/or massage your dog 3 or 4 times a week.
  • Abnormal Discharges: Abnormal discharges are bloody or purulent discharges from a body opening. They may have an offensive odor. Discharges from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, penis or vagina suggest infection. However, in senior dog, cancer may also be possible.
  • Increased Thirst and Frequent Urination: In older dogs, increased thirst and frequent urination are often signs of kidney failure. They may have "accidents" in the house especially at night. Do not prevent your dog from drinking water to control the incontinence as this may cause acute kidney failure in the dog.

    Besides kidney failure, diabetes mellitus and Cushing's disease, both rather common senior dog health problems, can also cause increased thirst and frequent urination.
  • Diarrhea: Chronic diarrhea that persists for more than 2 to 3 days is abnormal. In older dogs, it can be a sign of kidney or liver disease, pancreatic disease, malabsorption syndrome, or cancer. Older dogs, like puppies, can become dehydrated very quickly so timely professional treatment is essential.
  • Constipation: Constipation is a common symptom in senior dogs due to many reasons; for example, they drink less water, they exercise less, and the muscles of their abdominal wall are weaker. Old male dogs may have prostate problems such as enlarged prostate which can narrow the rectal canal and cause straining to defecate.
  • Weight Loss: Weight loss in senior dogs can be caused by kidney disease, heart disease, cancer, or periodontal disease. Sometimes, it can simply be because the older dog has a smaller appetite due to inactivity or even depression. Weight your dog once a month using the same scale. If your dog has lost weight, seek veterinary help to find out the reason.
  • Coughing: A chronic cough in older dogs suggests bronchitis, airway disease, or cancer. Coughing especially at night in an elderly small dog suggests chronic valvular heart disease.
  • Rapid Breathing: A rapid breathing rate (more than 30 breaths/min. at rest) suggests respiratory disease or congestive heart failure.
  • Rapid Heart Rate: A rapid heart rate is a sign of anemia, infection, or heart disease.
  • Fever: Fever usually indicates inflammation and infection. Two common sites of infection in senior dogs are the lungs and urinary tract.

Other Physical Problems

In aging dogs, there are also physical changes that may cause senior dog health problems. For example:

  • Joint Problems: Many older dogs have stiff joints and show some signs of osteoarthritis. In serious cases of osteoarthritis, the dog limps and suffers from severe pain. Weight control, regular and moderate exercise, and using joint supplements can help manage joint problems and osteoarthritis. Acupuncture and massage may relieve some of the pain associated with osteoarthritis and make the dog more comfortable.
  • Dental Problems: Older dogs may suffer from periodontal disease if they have not been receiving regular dental care, such as daily brushing and routine dental checkup. Dogs with dental problems have bad breath, mouth pain, and they eat poorly resulting in weight loss. Older dogs may need more frequent dental care, including scaling the teeth at least twice a year.
  • Skin and Coat Problems: Skin tumors and coat problems are rather common in senior dogs. While grooming your dog, check for any lumps, sores that do not heal, parasites, any sudden increase in hair loss, and any abnormal odors.
  • Eye Problems: Senile cataracts may occur in dogs when they are around 6 to 8 years of age. Dogs with cataracts may suffer from vision loss and may bump into furniture. Do not move the furniture if you have a senile dog with vision loss. Serious cases of senile cataracts (e.g. if both eyes are affected) may require surgery.
  • Hearing Problem: Older dogs, like older people, may gradually lose their hearing but this may not become apparent until they are 10 years or older. Senile deafness has no treatment but dogs with hearing loss can compensate by relying more on their other senses. Sometimes, hearing loss can be caused by an underlying disease, such as hypothyroidism or an ear tumor. It is therefore necessary to have the dog checked out if he shows signs of hearing loss.

Behavioral Problems

Most older dogs are less active and energetic, more sedentary, and sleep more.

They are not as curious as puppies and younger dogs, and may not like to be disturbed. They may even be cranky if you keep trying to disturb and play with them. Some older dogs may show aggressive behavior even toward their family members.

They are more "set in their ways" and do not like changes in their diet, activity, and daily routine.

Most of these behavioral "problems" are the result of physical discomfort and ailments, such as joint pain, hearing loss, weak muscles, and so on.

Some older dogs also suffer from "canine dementia" (canine cognitive dysfunction) which causes them to exhibit behavioral changes. CCD is similar to Alzheimer's disease in people. Visit our page on Canine Dementia for more information.

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