Common Illness In Older Dogs
You and your dog have been together for years, and the bond is unbreakable – except by death. And, because anyone who takes on a new dog knows only too well that the chances are high that you will outlive your beloved four-legged friend, it’s your duty and responsibility to keep an eye on your dog as the years roll by too quickly, and age starts to be an issue.
Not all dogs age at the same pace, and some dogs seem to defy mortality by staying active and perky long after they should have started slowing down, so it’s always good to be aware of just what the signs of ageing are; and, on the other side of the coin, one needs to be on the lookout for the kinds of ailments and diseases that present in older dogs.
Sometimes, it’s quite obvious. A lot of dogs change colouring, going grey or white around their muzzles, for example; or their fur’s texture coarsens, depending on breed.
They literally slow down and appear less enthusiastic about life in general. They sometimes appear confused and often need much more uninterrupted sleep than they did in their prime.
As they age, their joints are very likely to degrade, and because they’ll instinctively hide aches and pains, it might not be that obvious, so look for signs of decreased mobility.
Senses such as smell, eyesight and hearing all deteriorate, not necessarily at the same rate; and old dogs can become blind or deaf – most usually when the underlying cause goes without proper treatment.
Noticeable changes in weight – whether gain or loss – are easily detectable signs of age; and, of course, incontinence will very often become an issue, often causing the old fellow considerable embarrassment.
Probably one of the most reliable ways of telling whether your companion’s ageing process is becoming a real factor in his or her life is your own intuition. Having spent so much time together, you just know that life is getting tougher for them, even if it’s hard – for both of you - to acknowledge and admit that fact.
What are the diseases to be on the lookout for?
Regular visits to the vet are highly recommended because vets are trained and experienced in seeing signs and symptoms that we as dog owners can’t see or don’t want to see.
Tooth decay and infected gums will very likely crop up in older dogs. Look for bad breath, plaque, swollen gums and a loss of appetite. Aside from being uncomfortable, decaying teeth can allow serious infections to enter their blood stream which can be very dangerous. Visit your vet right away.
Failing eyesight can have a number of causes. It’s worth noting that a cloudy eye lens doesn’t necessarily mean a dog is blind or going blind, but it’s a definite warning sign. Cloudy lenses can be caused by cataracts, which is a far more serious condition than nuclear sclerosis that is also a cause of cloudy eyes. That said, you can’t guess, or hope for the best. Veterinary advice is absolutely vital.
Diabetes can cause your dog to develop cataracts more quickly, as it’s linked to an excess of glucose in the blood. Diabetes is most likely to occur in dogs who are overweight, so ask your vet for your dog’s ideal body weight. Conditions like cataracts are often linked to diabetes. Regular visits to your vet can help catch this condition early; in 80% of cases, cataract surgery undertaken in the preliminary stages of the disease has been successful.
Hypothyroidism is the most common hormonal disease in older dogs and occurs when the thyroid gland begins to weaken and become underactive. What causes hypothyroidism isn’t completely clear; it could be that your dog’s immune system is somehow damaging their thyroid, or even the treatments for an overactive thyroid can cause this. It can even be caused by the dog’s collar if the dog is doing excessive pulling or being yanked. If your senior dog is suffering from hypothyroidism, he’ll gain weight, often exhibit reluctant behaviour towards exercise, and his coat becomes dull and dry with hair loss, alongside thick, greasy and sometimes itchy skin.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the gradual deterioration of the cartilage covering their joints. Ageing dogs aren’t able to regenerate cells as easily or quickly as they did when they were in their prime. Treatment can’t cure the condition, but does help to lessen pain, and it can slow the progression of the illness. If you notice your dog experiencing difficulty moving, don’t see it as simply a sign of age. Ask your vet’s advice; they should be able to help you ease some of your dog’s suffering.
Cognitive dysfunction manifests itself in dogs in similar ways to Alzheimer’s in humans. Behaviour changes are the tell-tale signs of this condition. Their blood vessels degenerate as it gets older, and this inevitably reduces the blood flow and oxygen reaching the brain. This manifests as disorientation, forgetfulness, disrupted sleep, lack of recognition, and even agitation or hostility. Importantly, although this condition can be very distressing, dog-dementia can be alleviated.
Incontinence is a particularly inconvenient problem as dogs near the end of their lives. These accidents can distress them, so please never punish them. Instead, try to give your dog more opportunity to do its business throughout the day. It is comforting to note that most issues can be managed with medication.
It’s worth reiterating that all dogs age differently, so you’ll need to tailor your care in a way that meets his unique requirements. You definitely need to consult your dog’s vet if you notice behavioural changes, lumps, incontinence or any other symptoms, as these could be caused by a treatable (or at least manageable) disease.
The hardest part of all is that awful day when one knows it’s time to euthanise one’s beautiful, faithful old fellow. Desperately sad though it is, euthanasia is a very gentle process that has to be done to spare the dog any more suffering. More often than not, you’ll know when it’s time; your vet will know; and – most importantly of all – you’ll sense that your dog is saying, “Enough, now. Let me go.”
Meanwhile, to keep your four-legged friend healthy and safe, read Can My Dog Eat This?