The older dog
Your dog is now getting older – just think of older family members and you can appreciate that your dog’s needs will change.
It may seem reasonable to suggest that if your dog has had annual vaccinations throughout its life that further boosters are no longer necessary. However, the immunity to some diseases is relatively short lived, and with age the efficacy of the body’s immune system deteriorates. So, regular annual vaccinations are important.
The risks to the well-being of your dog and the health of your family remain irrespective of the age of the dog. Adult worming protocols should continue into old age.
Flea / parasite control
The risks to the well-being of your dog and the health of your family remain irrespective of the age of the dog. Adult parasite control protocols should continue into old age.
In general, the kidneys of older dogs have more difficulty to deal with the products of protein metabolism than younger dogs. For this reason, commercial “senior” diets have relatively lower protein content. However, older dogs may suffer from a range of clinical problems, each of which may ideally require specific dietary considerations. Diabetes, obesity, heart problems, arthritis and dementia can all benefit from the correct diet.
Sadly, old age usually means that more than one problem occurs at the same time, so it is important to prioritise what is most needed. Your veterinarian can advise and clinics with nurse consultations may be able to monitor your dog’s condition over time.
There are a number of conditions such as arthritis, sugar diabetes and heart problems that are much more likely to be present if the dog is obese. The prevention of obesity is a major welfare issue. Recognition that this is an issue is an important step, and monitoring the weight of your pet is crucial.
The wear and tear of joints inevitably leads to degenerative changes that we normally call osteoarthrosis. This is a fact of life and the progression of the disease depends on the degree of stress on the joints and the length of time the stresses have been present.
We can limit the consequences by:
- Surgically correcting traumatic injuries as necessary
- Limiting obesity
- Providing pain killers as necessary
- Providing drugs which help the health of the joints
- Changing lifestyle and expectations to suit
- Providing physiotherapy
The progression of osteoarthrosis in inevitable, but your veterinarian may be able to advise how best to manage the problem. It is important that osteoarhtrosis is a painful condition, so your dog may not tolerate rough and tumble play from children as well as when he was younger. The presence of pain can influence the likelihood that a dog might bite.
Visual / hearing impairment
People often assume this is a function of age. However, there are other specific causes and professional advice should be sought. A reduction in these faculties may mean the dog does not appreciate a child is approaching and may be caught by surprise. This could increase the risk of a bite occurring.
This may reflect an impairment of sensory input, or a general deterioration of brain function. Your veterinarian will be able to advise.
Breathlessness and coughing
Age may lead to deterioration in heart and lung function. Medication may help to alleviate the symptoms and so professional advice should be sought.
A number of conditions can lead to the accumulation of fluid within the abdomen. This is called ascites, and it is often associated with the loss of body condition such that the body becomes “pear-shaped”.
Old age is often associated with deterioration of the teeth. The deposition of plaque and gingivitis can often lead to tooth root abscesses. The infection not only causes pain in the mouth and halitosis, but may lead to a septicaemia.
Regular exam for lumps and bumps
Tumours are more likely in older animals. Some may be benign and some may be malignant. The choice of treatment may reflect the age of the dog, but the options are better discussed sooner rather than later. It is therefore important that you check your dog for the presence of abnormal lumps and bumps and seek advice as appropriate.
Monitor your dog’s thirst
An increased thirst is a sign of a number of disease problems. It is therefore important that you monitor the amount of water your dog drinks.
Quality of life
Old age is inevitable! We cannot live forever! Modern veterinary therapies will help your dog to live for longer, but eventually the time will come when the quality of your dog’s life has deteriorated to such a degree that euthanasia is the kindest option. This is a delicate situation and find out more in the section: the death of my dog.