Last time, I talked about activities for your older dog, but now let’s step back and take a look at the health concerns that can face a senior dog.
First, keep in mind that just because your dog is a “senior citizen,” it doesn’t mean he’s near death. It simply means he’s past puppyhood, adolescence and adulthood. A small dog doesn’t reach this senior stage until about 11, whereas a giant breed becomes a senior around 7. Either way, both dogs may have several years of life left.
But there’s no denying that older dogs face health issues specific to their age. (And you’ll note that all these conditions are also common to older humans.)
Many older dogs develop osteoarthritis, the degeneration of cartilage in the shoulders, hips, and leg joints. Perhaps the most common sign of arthritis is increased difficulty in getting up after lying down or sitting. While there’s no cure, there are some prescription medications that can bring your dog a great deal of comfort, such as carprofen, deracoxib, meloxicam, and Adequan. Some dogs also find pain relief through non-prescription supplements like chondroitin and glucosamine.
Heart disease, especially congestive heart failure, is commonplace in senior dogs. This condition arises when the heart can’t pump blood efficiently and fluid backs up in the heart, lungs and chest cavity. As an owner, you need to be especially vigilant to possible signs of congestive heart failure such as difficulty breathing, coughing, exercise intolerance, and unexplained vomiting. Immediate veterinary care is necessary.
Cancers are extremely common in aging dogs, and many aren’t discovered until it’s too late. These aren’t the various lumps and bumps on older dogs, which most often are completely harmless lipomas, or fatty tumors. Rather, these are malignant cancers that are potentially lethal. While many are hidden on internal organs, if you find a surface lump that concerns you or grows larger, it’s worth a trip to the veterinarian.
Hearing and vision problems
Like humans, most dogs develop some level of hearing and vision loss as they age. These gradual changes usually go unnoticed until the condition is advanced, and generally, little can be done to correct them. The exception is the surgical removal of cataracts, although the rest of the eye will continue to age normally. In terms of hearing, you can help short-circuit hearing loss by regularly caring for and cleaning your dog’s ears.
You might not think of overweight as being a particular problem for older dogs, but as your pup ages and her level of activity decreases, obesity can have a profound effect on her health. Studies have shown that overweight dogs are much more susceptible to diseases like diabetes and certain types of cancer. In addition, the extra weight can worsen or even create problems such as arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Dogs can lose cognitive function as they age, resulting in symptoms similar to the human conditions of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Canine cognitive dementia can cause confusion, wandering and pacing, getting “caught” in corners, becoming lost in familiar surroundings, and elimination inside the home. As with humans, there is no cure for dementia, but there are medications and supplements that may help in some cases. Again, talk with your veterinarian for advice.
Caring for your senior dog’s health—including regular veterinary wellness visits—can help nip some of these problems in the bud, while improving your pup’s happiness, comfort, quality of life, and the chance that you’ll have that sugar-faced companion around for years to come.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at [email protected] And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue .