This is a very broad subject. So consider this article just a primer on the topic.
Regular visits to your vet are a close second in importance to proper diet for your senior dog. Most vets will recommend check-ups twice each year, more often if a prevalent disease is a factor.
These visits can include any or all of the following: blood and urine tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, eye exams, dental check-ups, maybe even CT scans or MRIs. Procedures required will depend upon the information you provide your vet regarding your dog’s current condition.
Has there been any change in appetite, stamina, vision, hearing, behavior? Does your dog have bad breath, flaky skin, lackluster coat? Is he slow to get up, does he limp the first few steps, is he afraid to climb or descend stairs? Is he getting cranky, has he lost interest in playing, does he often appear disoriented? Remember, your dog can’t tell the vet what’s bothering him. It’s all up to you to make sure your vet is properly apprised of your dog’s physical and mental condition.
Knowing any and all symptoms your dog may be exhibiting will enable your vet to administer the proper procedures so that he can accurately diagnose the presence of cancers, skin tumors, diabetes, liver, heart or kidney failure, bladder stones, cataracts, glaucoma, hearing loss, acute allergies, or dental issues.
Most veterinarians will tell you that complete blood screenings and urinalysis will detect the earliest stages of most diseases that affect older dogs. Both procedures should always be a part of your twice-annual check ups. And, depending on your dog’s age and condition your vet may recommend an even more recurrent schedule for blood and urine work.
Blood Screenings and Urinalysis
Quick, easy, extremely revealing. A blood test is the most useful tool for the care of your older dog. So essential is this test that most veterinary labs have a test called a “geriatric panel”. To make it especially useful for senior dogs, they often add thyroid testing. When these tests are conducted regularly they provide your vet with an excellent monitoring tool that highlights changes in your dog’s health.
If your dog’s liver or kidneys are failing, the blood test will reveal this long before any outward signs appear. Unusually high white blood cell count could identify a developing infection. Low red cell count will point towards an anemic condition which will prompt further investigation.
Considering the fact that any disease is more treatable in the early stages, a blood test can be a real life saver. A urinalysis is a simple series of tests that can uncover many health issues before they become life threatening. Disorders of the urinary system, the kidneys, diabetes and hypothyroidism can be detected in their earlier stages. Again, it should be a regular part of your dog’s routine vet visits.
While vaccinations were an important component of your dog’s health care in his younger days, they can become an issue with senior dogs. Review with your vet which inoculations should be continued and which become more detrimental than beneficial to an old dog. Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association recommend fewer vaccinations as a dog ages.
There is a very good chance that this is the affliction you will notice first in your aging friend. Depending upon the breed, arthritis can actually manifest in a dog’s joints as early as 6 years of age, but it normally becomes a factor in slowing your dog down a bit in later years. Tell tale signs include slowness getting up, limping during the first several steps after a nap or in the morning, stiffness. At the first signs, it is wise to notify your vet. There are medications such as chondroitin, MSM and glucosamine that can relieve arthritic symptoms .
Plus, if there is any evidence of pain, pain relievers can be prescribed to make your dog more comfortable until the joint medications can be effective. It’s also important that your dog continue with an exercise regimen, so these pain medicines can help to keep your dog active. Without exercise, arthritis can actually worsen at a quicker pace. Above all, do not ignore the early signs of arthritis. It’s a degenerative disease, and the sooner it is detected, the quicker treatment can begin to delay advance stages. Also, it’s important that your vet make an accurate diagnosis to rule out any other more serious afflictions.
To ward off arthritis, or ease arthritic pain, make sure your dog has a well-padded bed that will keep him off the hard, cold floor. But, be careful it isn’t too high and too padded which will make it difficult for him to climb in and out. There are also dog beds that are made of an orthopedic foam material which can provide support and comfort.
Other Afflictions of Old Age
Here are some other diseases and maladies to look out for that are associated with old age:
Diabetes – As mentioned above, blood screenings and a urinalysis series will detect diabetes. Older dogs are more susceptible to developing diabetes. Causes could be poor diet, poor secretion of insulin or even a resistance to insulin. Proper medications can go a long way in minimizing the adverse affects of diabetes.
Heart disease – Just like humans, old dogs aren’t immune to hardening of the arteries. The most common heart disease – chronic valvular heart disease – causes a thickening of the valves of the heart that will disrupt the normal flow of blood in the chambers of the heart. Without early detection and proper treatment, valvular heart disease will cause enlargement of the heart and ultimately heart failure. If detected in its early stages, proper therapy will slow down the onset of heart disease.
Urinary tract issues – Another malady we share with our furry buddies is incontinence – the inability to control our bladders. This could result in small leaks or complete discharges. There are medications that can alleviate these symptoms.
Bladder stones – There is a tendency for older dogs to develop bladder stones. These can be detected through abdominal X-rays, yet another precautionary screening test your dog should receive as he ages.
Kidney disease – A very common metabolic disease of older dogs. But, your regular blood screenings will detect kidney disease at its earliest stage. Special diets and medications will allow an afflicted dog to live a normal life for a long time.
Glandular disorders – These afflictions are the result of over- or underactive secretions of specific glands. Both an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and the excessive secretion of the hormone cortisol from the adrenal gland (Cushing’s disease) can cause illness in your dog. Fortunately, glandular disorders are often treatable. With proper medications, your dog’s physical health can be improved considerably.
Skin tumors – Though they are normally benign, it’s always a good idea to monitor the appearance of lumps under the skin as well as any changes in the size and location of these lumps. Apprise your vet. He may recommend the removal of certain cysts.
Prostate problems – Prostatic disease, enlargement of the gland, infections, abscesses and cysts are all issues that can affect older dogs, particularly in intact males. Both neutered and intact males can be victim of prostate tumors. Regular routine exams will improve the chances of early detection and treatment.
Cancer – Yes, like us, our senior dogs are also susceptible to cancers. And also like us, not all cases are fatal. The type of, and the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment depends on the type of cancer, the location, and the stage the disease has progressed. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can be administered and can often significantly increase your dog’s life span and maybe even result in a cure.
Mental health issues – Aging dogs can become stubborn, inflexible, impatient, and even cranky. They may forget learned behaviors, like their potty training. You may notice delayed responsiveness to external stimuli. Called behavioral and cognitive dysfunction, these symptoms could be indicators of an underlying disease. Or they may just be due to a decline in their senses and thought processes. Medications can often help diminish the impact of your dog’s mental health problems.
You can play a major role in the monitoring of your dog’s health. Careful attention to changes in behavior, physical limitations, slow response and delayed reflexes, can be useful information for your vet during routine checkups. Regular tests like blood and urinalysis screenings will help uncover unseen symptoms. The rewards for your diligence will be immeasurable in added years to your best friend’s life.
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