Lots of “old age” behaviors are due to an illness that’s hard to spot. Schedule your pet’s yearly checkup today. We can help!
Dog Life Stages – Senior (7+ years old)
If you find that your dog is eating less but still putting on weight, it may be due to a slowdown of metabolism or a decrease in activity. Ask your vet for advice on your dog’s nutritional requirements.
Do as much as you can to prevent fleas and ticks. Make sure your dog and his environment (bed, play area) are spotlessly clean.
Besides your dog’s usual complete physical exam, your vet may conduct urine and fecal analysis and blood work. Ultrasounds and other imaging tests may also be recommended.
As your dog ages, many of his basic needs, from diet to exercise, will begin to change. This guide will help you understand what it takes to keep your senior dog happy and healthy.
Dogs are very good at hiding their health problems and as an owner, it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on your senior dog to ensure that you are adjusting his routine to match changes in his body and immune system that make him less able to cope with physical and environmental stresses. Routine exams, preventive medicine and adjustments to your dog’s lifestyle can help your pooch stay healthy even as the years creep up.
Different sized dogs age at varying rates, with larger dogs reaching senior status much sooner than smaller dogs.
While each dog reaches “senior hood” at a different age, most canines become seniors between 7 and 10 years old. It’s important to know your dog’s age, so you know when he becomes a senior. Ask your vet about when your dog’s needs may begin to change.
You and your vet will begin looking for specific issues that become more prevalent as a dog ages. Here’s a list of some of these issues:
- Cancer (especially testicular or breast cancer)
- Prostate disease
- Cognitive disorders
- Intestinal problems
- Dental disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Vision problems
Just as with people, regular health checkups become increasingly important as dogs grow older. Most experts agree that senior dogs should be seen at least once every six months. The purpose of these wellness exams is to do three things:
- Promote your dog’s health and longevity.
- Recognize and control your pup’s health risks.
- Detect any illnesses at their earliest stages, when they’re most treatable.
During a typical wellness exam, your vet will ask a variety of health-related questions in order to build a snapshot of your dog’s medical history. These questions often focus on your pup’s regular behaviors and whether you’ve observed any recent changes that may indicate a developing health concern.
During this checkup, vets typically check a dog’s body for tumors, signs of pain, or arthritis. In addition, your vet will assess your dog’s overall appearance and body condition, scanning his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth for irregularities as well as listening to his lungs and heart. A routine checkup may also include the following battery of diagnostic tests.
- Blood pressure
- CBC (complete blood count)
- CHEM screen (liver and kidney function)
- Thyroid function testing
- Heartworm blood test
- Fecal test
Most veterinarians agree that these baseline laboratory tests should be performed at least once a year in adult dogs ages two to seven years old, and more frequently in senior dogs. These baseline screenings allow your vet to monitor any developing trends in your dog’s health status as it changes from year to year. Additional testing may be necessary if your dog has any ongoing health issues, or if these routine screenings uncover any unusual results.
Many of the illnesses that commonly plague senior dogs are obvious even to the untrained eye. So it’s important that you monitor changes in your dog’s health between regular vet visits. If any of the following signs present themselves, contact your vet immediately.
- Incontinence (sometimes evidenced by accidents in the house)
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath or other difficulty breathing
- Unusual discharges
- Changes in appetite, water intake, or urination
- Stiffness or limping
- Increased vocalization
- Uncharacteristic aggression or other behavioral changes
Unexplained fluctuations in your dog’s weight may be an early sign of an underlying disease. Weight management itself can be a huge factor in your dog’s health. Obesity in dogs increases the risk of developing arthritis and a number of other diseases.
Older dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as they could in their younger days. It is important to keep your dog warm, dry, and indoors when he’s not out getting his exercise. Senior canines are also more sensitive to heat and humidity, so protect them from conditions in which they may overheat.
If your dog has arthritis, he may prefer a ramp instead of walking up the stairs, extra blankets on his bed, or even a new bed designed to promote orthopedic health. If your dog suffers from vision loss, it’s a good idea to ease his anxiety by keeping floors clear of clutter. These little things add up.
Plaque and tartar buildup can lead to a number of nasty health problems for your dog. Regular brushing with a specially formulated canine toothpaste can reduce the likelihood of any problems. Discuss with your vet whether your dog should come into the office for a thorough cleaning.