Even the most robust of canines will start to show signs of aging at some point. Being aware of the physical changes your dog may face will help you and your veterinarian navigate the path through the golden years. Here’s what you may encounter:
- Hearing issues. Loss of hearing occurs in older dogs as nerve cells and the hearing mechanism starts to degenerate. Inner ear issues can cause dizziness or a loss of balance. Drop-eared breeds are prone to ear infections from yeast, fungus and bacteria.
- Sight changes. You may start to see a cloudiness in your dog’s eyes. This doesn’t necessarily affect his vision, but he may lose the ability to focus on objects or see in the dark. Other issues affecting the eyes include cataracts, glaucoma and retinal degeneration.
- Smelling ability. A dog’s sense of smell is very acute, and a large area of the brain is devoted to it functioning well. As a dog ages, brain messages he receives from the outside world won’t be as keen as they once were, affecting his sense of smell.
- Cognitive function. If the degeneration of the nervous system is extreme enough, your dog may encounter what’s called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Signs of this include decreased interaction with family members, disorientation, abnormal sleep patterns, pacing and lapses in housetraining.
- Respiratory issues. Lung capacity shrinks with age and they may be more susceptible to allergies. Overall functioning such as panting become less efficient, and dogs may experience more respiratory distress in hot and polluted environments.
- Heart disease. Dogs can also develop heart disease as they age, but heart attacks are rare. More common ailments include heart murmurs and heart valve disease.
- Joints and bones. Arthritis affects about 25% of senior dogs, caused by wear and tear on the cartilage connecting the bones and joints. The vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord can also deteriorate bringing on a range of complications from pain to paralysis. Dogs with short legs and long backs can suffer from slipped discs.
- Digestive issues. Older dogs may have issues tolerating the foods they once loved. Their intestines can also become less able to absorb nutrients. Signs of digestive problems can include diarrhea, vomiting and gas. Constipation is common in older dogs, which can affect anal sacs becoming blocked or infected. Obesity is common as their level of activity diminishes, making them candidates for diabetes.
- Bladder control. As their bladders become less elastic, this can cause frequent urination and oftentimes accidents in the house. Changes such as straining or pain with urination, or increased / decreased urination, can be signs of kidney failure, spinal injury or infection. If your dog shows any of these signs, a prompt visit to the vet is in order.
- Hormonal balance. When the production of hormones lessens, it will affect your dog’s metabolism, immune response and other vital functions. Many of the body’s systems are affected and can result in lethargy, weak muscles, dry skin, high blood pressure and heart problems. Diabetes can occur if the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin.
- Tooth loss. Older dogs that develop dental problems such as plaque buildup and gum disease can experience loss of their teeth. Their teeth also begin to lose minerals as they age, contributing to tooth loss.
- Reproductive system problems. Unneutered male dogs over 8 years of age have a 60-80% chance of developing enlarged prostates, and they are also prone to testicular cancer. Unspayed older female dogs can develop uterine infections, ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts. Female dogs that have been spayed before they reach sexual maturity have less than a 15% chance of developing breast cancer.
- Cancer. This abnormal growth of cells is more common among older dogs. It can start as a tumor and is often treatable. Dogs with incurable cancers can be helped with proper nutrition and veterinarian care.
After giving us a lifetime of their love, we can return the love by giving them patience as they grow old and develop these conditions. Older dogs should see the veterinarian every six months, and more often if you notice changes in their health.
Related: Tips for Senior Dog Care
Related: Senior Dog Adoption – Odie’s Story
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Under the Weather is also an avid supporter of finding homes for shelter dogs. We finance the Ruffy Rescue Transport Fund to cover the transport cost of bringing dogs from overpopulated kill shelters to Vermont for adoption. A portion of every dollar in sales is channeled to supporting this cause as well as financing the spaying and neutering fees of shelter animals. Get to know more about Ruffy.
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