Beginning the new year my dog Cheyenne will be 13 years old. It’s hard to believe that the puppy that used to endlessly hunt for ground squirrels while camping is now reaching the end of her years. I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss a topic that all pet owners will need to deal with eventually — the care and needs of the older pet. Aging is a slow and gradual process so it’s not hard for problems to sneak up. Animals are also good at hiding when they don’t feel good, it is an inherent trait not to show signs of weakness. Knowing what to look for and catching these problems early may increase the quality and quantity of your pets life.
1. Obesity - the extra weight due to inactivity, slow metabolism, or over feeding can stress the heart, joints, internal organs, and promote diseases like diabetes.
2. Dental disease - the is one of the most common problems I see on a daily basis. It’s an easy thing to ignore but you shouldn’t. Rotting teeth can cause severe pain and spread bacteria via the bloodstream and seed infections into other parts of the body
3. Skin problems - as the skin ages it loses its elasticity and can’t repair itself as quickly. Hair follicles become less active causing the hair to thin. Skin tumors and infection are also more common in the older pet
4. Reproductive problems - if a pet has not been spayed or neutered this can lead to life threatening infections or cancers. Females can develop an infection in their uterus that most of the time requires emergency surgery to correct and can be very expensive. Male dogs are more prone to prostate enlargement which can interfere with urination. Both intact male and female dogs are more susceptible to reproductive tract cancers as well.
5. Losing sight or hearing - many pets develop cataracts or become deaf as they age. This can be just a sign of aging or a marker of disease. Dogs that develop cataracts quickly could have diabetes.
6. Internal organ damage - your pets internal organs have been running for years and at some point may be slowing down. Diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver occur more commonly in the older pet. If the symptoms are detected early enough they may be managed by reducing stress on the affected organ either through medications or diet.
7. Behavior changes - Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s in people. They can become disoriented, altered or decreased interaction with family, decrease in greeting behavior, changes in sleep cycle, changes in activity, and loss of house training.
8. Arthritis - this is a very common problem with our pets as well, they might slow down on walks, not want to jump up and down off the couch anymore, or be generally more grumpy because they hurt. Pain control has become a big issue in veterinary medicine over the past few years. Now there are may options to help; acupuncture, laser therapy, supplements, injections, pain medications, stem cell therapy, the list goes on…
Each forth coming article will address each of these topics in more detail. There are many things to watch for in your aging pet. Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to about these changes. The good news is that there are many special diets, medications, and other therapies out there that can help increase their quality of life and extend their years.
Happy New Year!
M. H. Archer, DVM