Our guest blogger this week is Sloan McKinney, a journalist based in Southern California. After writing about pop culture for a number of years, she has recently begun writing for a new audience. Inspired by DeAnthony, her cat, as well as her dog Max, Sloan now hopes to help other people guarantee their animal companions happy and healthy lives.
There has been a long held belief that man’s best friends age at a rate of of seven years to one of our human years. Unfortunately, that old ratio is flawed and is probably founded in the obvious fact that dogs have shorter lifespans and age much faster than we do. So it should come as no surprise that dogs are typically considered “seniors” around the age of seven for small breeds and the age of six for large breeds. However, the emergence of age-related health and behavior symptoms are the greatest signals of when a dog has bridged into senior territory.
As a senior pet owner, it can be difficult watching our sweet dogs age. However, it is our responsibility to detect possible medical changes to keep them healthy and happy. As the years pass, these signs become increasingly visible, often requiring special accommodations or the advice of a veterinarian.
The first signs of aging are typically graying fur and slower movements, but it is important for pet owners to realize our fur babies are changing on the inside. Similar to humans, our pooches are more likely to change and develop certain diseases as they age. Thankfully, with awareness we can help dogs enjoy their golden years.
Listed below are eight common health and behavior problems to look for:
Incontinence. Older pets often lose the ability to control their bladders or bowels which results in accidents around the house. Some dogs will even defecate or urinate while sleeping. It might be something as simple as a treatable urinary tract infection or a treatable condition regulated with prescriptions.
Pacing, moodiness, or snapping. When we first see our dog pacing or snapping at people they normally like, it is easy to assume they are experiencing the onset of dementia. However, these acts can be a sign of discomfort.
Arthritis. As dogs age, cartilage between their joints can become inflamed or damaged. This causes swelling, pain, and stiffness. We might notice them limping, walking stiffly, having trouble standing, exhibiting aggression, or even licking their joints. Medicines, diet changes, exercise, and assistive devices like ramps or orthopedic bedding are options to relieve arthritis.
Deteriorating eyesight. Over time, dogs can develop cataracts or lose vision. We may see a white looking film covering their eyes or notice an increase in clumsiness, falls, or irritated looking eyes. While this is disheartening, senior pups can learn to rely on hearing and other senses to live a relatively normal life.
Dementia. Older dogs have been known to experience brain changes that lead to canine cognitive dysfunction similar to Alzheimer’s disease. We may notice sleep pattern changes, irritability, pacing, and weird behaviors like barking in corners. Researchers are still studying this condition, but there are drugs and dietary changes to help control effects on aging brains.
Oral Infections. Tooth decay, gingivitis, periodontitis, or infections can wreak havoc on an older dog’s mouth. If left untreated it can result in bone loss, spread into the bloodstream, and harm internal organs. Older dogs may require more frequent brushings or need to undergo professional cleanings at the vet. Signs of oral problems are bad breath, bleeding gums, red or swollen areas in the mouth, and difficulty eating.
Diabetes. As dogs age, their pancreas may start malfunctioning and not produce the correct amounts of insulin. While diabetes is often hereditary, it typically manifests when dogs are between eight and nine years old. Look for thirst, increased urination, weight loss, irritability, repeated infections, vision problems, and slow-healing wounds. Seek a veterinarian for options to manage this disease.
Cancer. This disease is responsible for close to half of the deaths of pets over the age of ten. It might surprise many of us, but our dogs develop cancer at similar rates as humans. Unusual odors, weight loss, appetite changes, bumps or lumps on the skin, sores, vomiting, diarrhea, and pale gums might be warning signs a dog has cancer. If you suspect cancer, immediate veterinary care may be available to stop it from developing into a life threatening condition.
A majority of the health and behaviors symptoms for older dogs can be treated or managed with help from a veterinarian. Listed below are some tips to help care for senior dogs:
- Choose a healthy diet of easy to digest foods- no table scraps.
- Visit the vet two times a year.
- Look into purchasing ramps, soft bedding, and dog stairs.
- Keep weight gain under control.
- Upkeep parasite control for fleas, ticks, and worms to ward of weakened immune systems.
- Keep exercising and mentally stimulating dogs.