Living With a Senior Dog
You knew it when you first brought that little puppy home. Eventually, it would become a senior citizen, and that time has arrived. As dogs age, they suffer many of the same infirmities as humans.
Hearing and vision start to go, joints begin to ache, and a nap is preferable to a walk. With proper care, you can make your companion’s remaining years happy and comfortable.
Gum disease is likely the most common malady in dogs, especially as they age. Fortunately, it is also the most preventable condition you are likely to come across. Just as with people, canine gum disease results from plaque, a bacterial film that coats the teeth.
Signs of doggie gum disease are much the same as in humans. These symptoms include, but aren’t limited to, bleeding or red gums, bad breath, chewing only on one side of the mouth, and aversion to having their head touched.
Prevention of gum disease takes no more work than preventing your own gum problems. Brush your dog’s teeth at least once per day (twice is better). Feed quality dry dog food, unless your vet says otherwise. And, perhaps most importantly, do not feed the animal people food -- ever.
Treatment also closely follows that of humans, depending on how far the disease has progressed. In the early stages, a professional cleaning may be all that is necessary. In the later stages, extraction may be the only option.
Another common age-related ailment is arthritis, which affects about 20% of all dogs. Not all dogs limp when they become arthritic; some begin to have trouble getting in the car, or they sleep more and don’t want to play.
The treatment for canine arthritis, as it is for human arthritis, begins with a healthy diet to keep the weight down. You may give your pet nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin. Veterinarians these days also will not hesitate to provide Fido with pain medications like Tramadol to make them comfortable.
Hearing loss often affects older dogs. You might first notice this when your dog seems to ignore you or gets startled when you walk by them. The dog can become aggressive because it can no longer hear someone approaching until they are right next to the animal.
A trip to the vet is the first step, to rule out treatable causes such as an ear infection. Beyond that, keep in mind that if the two of you are outside, your dog won’t hear warnings like approaching cars and so will need your protection. It is also a good idea to retrain your dog using hand signals; that way, if it goes completely deaf, you can still communicate. Dogs can adapt well to hearing loss.
Loss of vision is yet another age-related malady. Many people think that a bluish tint on their dog’s lenses is due to cataracts. However, the hue is natural. Cataracts display as a whitish discoloration of the lenses. While there is no treatment for cataracts in dogs, they adapt amazingly well to partial and even total blindness.
There are some of the many things you need to do for an older dog. In addition to ensuring fresh water at all times and keeping your pet on a healthy diet and at the proper weight, you should provide a comfortable bed on which to rest those aching joints.
And finally, don’t expect as much from your dog as you did when it was young. Take everything slower, and the final years can be as comfortable and enjoyable as the early ones.