We love our dogs and don’t want them to get old, but time passes and we can all too soon find ourselves looking after a golden oldie.
Some of the most common ailments in elderly dogs include Cushing’s Disease, dental problems, cataracts, dementia, arthritis and incontinence. Coping with elderly dogs health problems can be difficult and challenging at times, but there’s a lot you can do with new breakthroughs in medicine, even natural remedies too.
The acid test for us in helping a much loved dog through senior years is their quality of life. If they can enjoy life then it’s our opinion that you do the very best you can for them. Don’t give up on your dog if they show signs of ageing – there’s so much you can do to help them lead a happy life.
In this post I’d like to address each of the aforementioned ailments and what you can do to control and minimise the symptoms. If you think your dog may be suffering from an age related illness, please consult your vet at the earliest opportunity.
Also known as “hyperadrenocorticism”, Cushings is an unpleasant disease which involves the over production of steroid hormones from the adrenal glands.
The symptoms of over production commonly results in increased hunger, drinking, vomiting, muscle wastage, thinning hair and skin. One of the tell-tale signs is a pot belly and hair loss, but it can come on gradually and be hard to spot. The good news is that Cushings disease can be diagnosed via a blood test and can be controlled through drugs like Vetoryl. Vetoryl is designed to reduce the steroid levels in blood helping to reduce or reverse the symptoms. If you have a dog with Cushings, it’s not the end of the world. They can continue to have a good quality of life and our own dog, Taz, coped very well on Vetoryl. If you think your dog may have Cushings, please consult your vet right away.
It’s not always necessarily the case that older dogs have bad teeth, but if they do and aren’t healthy, this may make removing decayed teeth under anaesthetic more problematic. It’s therefore very important to do all you can to keep your dogs teeth healthy right from the start. Dental infections and decayed teeth, while causing pain, can also affect other organs like the heart and kidneys, so it’s very important to have your vet check them regularly. If your dog is old and healthy, it’s much better to have dental work done now than wait until they’re frail or unwell.
Cataracts can be inherited in certain breeds, or may be the result of old age, damage to the lens or dietary deficiencies as a puppy. Unfortunately, dogs can go blind when cataracts become advanced, so it’s a good idea to consult your vet if you notice any cloudiness or change in their eyes. Your vet may also consider the possibility of “nuclear sclerosis” which is a hardening of the lens commonly found in older dogs and unlikely to affect their vision.
If your dog is unlucky enough to lose any sight, there are lots of things you can do around your home to help them cope better. The first step is to leave everything in your house in the same position, which will help your dog to mentally visualise and map where everything is. Keeping their bed, food and water bowls in exactly the same position and placing mats at door thresholds will also help (dogs will be helped by picking up scent from the mats). Some people also find leaving a radio on at low level also helps their dog orientate themselves around the house.
Having a dog suffering from canine dementia can be extremely upsetting and requires a lot of compassion and patience from owners. The good news is that there medicines, diets and holistic options which really can improve a dogs mental functions. One such drug is Vivitonin which we’ve heard some owners having great success with (please discuss with your vet if you wish to find out more about this drug).
Symptoms of canine dementia often include inter alia forgetfulness, inappropriate toileting, tremors, disturbed sleep, barking, attention seeking, reduced appetite and social withdrawal. If you have an elderly dog whom you suspect is suffering from canine dementia, you should consult your vet right away. They will usually run a series of tests to eliminate the possibility of other problems. They will also be able to advise you on any diets and supplements which may help reduce symptoms. Caring for a dog with senility requires a lot of owners, but it is possible to give your dog a good life.
Dogs with dementia often require a lot of comforting and physical reassurance, especially at night when they may need some stroking and affection to get them to sleep. It’s also important to stick to a strict routine and try to let your dog know what’s happening with verbal clues. If your dog forgets where his water bowl is, you can take him there after he’s eaten and then to the garden for toileting. Try also to keep everything in its place and this will help your dog find everything it needs.
Arthritis in dogs is very common and often becomes worse with age. You should always be alert to arthritis as it’s not fair to have them suffer, when so much can be done to alleviate their discomfort.
Some of the common signs of arthritis include: limping, difficulty standing, reluctance to jump or tackle stairs, reduced activity and increased sleeping, along with a gain in weight. Vets will usually take a holistic approach to the treatment of arthritis and treatment will often include anti-inflammatory medication, joint supplements, diet and prescribed exercise regimes. As well as standard medical treatments, more and more people (and vets) are catching on to the benefits of acupuncture and homeopathic remedies for treating arthritis in dogs.
Acupuncture works by stimulating a dogs own natural internal painkillers. Acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin and left for around 5-20 minutes. Different parts of a dogs anatomy are used to treat different conditions which can include hip dysplasia, ligament/muscle problems and even incontinence.
Homeopathic remedies such as Arnica, Rhus Tox and Ruta Grav can also help in treating arthritis in dogs. If you are interested in treating your dog with acupuncture and natural remedies please consult your vet first before giving or booking any treatment.
One of the most important ways to manage and control arthritis is to maintain your dogs healthy weight. This is often the single most effective way to treat the condition by lessening the pressure on their joints. Getting the right amount of exercise is also important. For advice on all aspects of treating arthritis in your dog, please seek the advice of your vet.
A common form of bladder weakness found in older bitches is called “Sphincter Mechanism Incontinence” (SMI). Dogs suffering with SMI have weakened bladder valves and it’s usually worse when they’re relaxed and lying down. As always, keeping your dog at its correct weight should help. There are drugs that can help with SMI. Your vet can diagnose the condition by taking a urine sample. If your dog is unfortunate to suffer from incontinence, please be kind, gentle and patient with them – they simply can’t help it.
Diet & Nutrition
As they age, it’s very important to think carefully about your dogs diet. The biggest causes of death in older dogs are from kidney disease, heart disease and cancer. Putting your golden oldie on a “senior diet” (talk to your vet as each dogs requirements differ) which has less calories, protein and salt, can help to prevent these conditions as well as reducing the symptoms of weight related conditions such as diabetes and arthritis. Some older dogs also do better on smaller portions spread throughout the day, aiding better digestion.
We recommend that all older dogs visit their vet for a check up every six months. Some vets may even take a blood test at check ups to try and pick up on any problems at the earliest opportunity.
Caring for Older Dogs
Getting older is as much a fact of life for our dogs as it is for ourselves. It’s important to remember that old age isn’t in itself a disease and that most dogs can look forward to a very happy and healthy old age. Be kind, gentle and patient with your golden oldie and they will love you forever.
This article is dedicated in memory of our dear little Bedlington Terrier, Taz, who passed away recently. We did our best for you, but the angels deemed it time… till we meet again always in our hearts.