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Caring for Your Older Dog

Dogs age in a very similar way to humans, except that it happens faster. As they get older they begin to slow down, develop arthritis, have problems with vision or hearing, develop dental problems, may develop diseases such as diabetes or Cushing’s disease, develop liver or kidney problems, or even develop cancer. The best prevention of problems in older dogs is early detection.

Since dogs age more rapidly than humans we recommend that senior dogs (usually a dog is considered senior by age 7 to 9 years) have a physical exam by a veterinarian twice a year and routine bloodwork and urinalysis at least annually.

The following chart gives a rough guide to how old your dog might be:

Arthritis: Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Just like people, arthritis can cause stiff and sore joints. Many dog owners notice that their dog seems to be “slowing down”, has difficulty climbing stairs or getting on the couch, or seems stiff after sleeping. Arthritis tends to slowly get worse over time and may be more noticeable in cold weather, early in the morning, or late in the day.

You can do some simple things to help your dog with arthritis. Probably the best thing you can do to help your dog’s arthritis is to make sure that they are not overweight. When dogs are overweight there is more stress on their joints which causes arthritis to develop faster.

Many older dogs with arthritis benefit from joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These are building blocks of healthy cartilage and joint fluid and can help slow down the progression of arthritis and decrease the soreness and stiffness.

We recommend Cosequin, Dasuquin, or Adequan (injectable product). These brands have been shown to be safe and effective. Many of our patients see relief from arthritis symptoms on these products. Our staff would be happy to discuss the benefits of these products with you.

Over-the-counter joint supplements found in the pharmacy or grocery store are not regulated by the FDA. There are not strict standards for manufacturing and quality and there may be variation in effectiveness or even the amounts of active ingredients in over-the-counter products.

Pain Medications: For some dogs with arthritis weight loss and joint supplements isn’t enough and they may need anti-inflammatory pain medications. Always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any medication. You may hear people recommend giving aspirin to dogs, don’t. While aspirin is a very effective pain reliever it has a number of side effects. Aspirin can cause stomach ulcers, bleeding problems, and is easily overdosed in dogs. Other pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also cause serious problems or even death in dogs.

There are several prescription pain medications available that are very effective and safer than any over-the-counter medications. Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Metacam are approved for long term treatment of arthritis pain in dogs by the FDA and have helped extend the lives of countless dogs with arthritis. Generally we will do periodic bloodwork to make sure that there are no adverse reactions to the medications (usually every 4-6 months).

Dental Disease: Many people notice that their dog’s breath gets worse as they age. This usually means that they have developed dental/periodontal disease. Dental disease can be prevented by routinely brushing your dog’s teeth (preferable from an early age) and getting routine dental cleanings. As advanced dental and periodontal disease develops we often see a decrease in appetite and energy due to chronic mouth pain. Disease in the mouth can also have a large impact on the overall health of older dogs. Keeping their mouths healthy and treating any advanced dental disease can help keep your dog happy and even extend their life.

As part of a routine physical exam your veterinarian will examine your dog’s mouth. They may make recommendations such as teeth brushing, routine cleaning, or advanced dental procedures. The doctors at Anchor Animal Hospital have had advanced training in dental techniques and are able to provide advanced dental procedures and oral surgery when needed.

Most older dogs can go through the anesthesia needed for a dental procedure. Our veterinarians and staff our trained to perform anesthesia and dental procedures on older dogs and take care to meet their special needs. Your veterinarian will discuss any risks or special needs that your dog may have before such a procedure is performed.

Metabolic Diseases: As dogs age their risk of developing a disease such as diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, liver disease, or Cushing’s disease increases. Symptoms of these diseases can often be seen at home by observant owners. Monitor your dog’s daily routine. Note any changes in thirst, urination, appetite, weight gain or weight loss, activity, and fur coat. In many cases these changes are gradual, but they can be sudden. You should discuss any changes with your veterinarian. Often bloodwork or other tests are used to diagnose these diseases. Early detection of problems makes it easier to manage these diseases.

Cancer: Unfortunately, one of the leading causes of death in dogs is cancer. As dogs (or people) age, the likelihood that they will develop cancer increases. Cancer occurs when a cell in the dog’s body mutates and becomes malignant. Malignant cells lose the ability to turn themselves off and grow at an uncontrolled rate. Malignant cells rapidly turn into tumors. Cancer can occur anywhere in the body and may be slow growing or progress rapidly.

Watch your dog closely for any problems. You should have all lumps and bumps on the skin checked by your veterinarian. Watch for weight loss, changes in appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea. Bone cancers can cause limping. Some cancers can be easily identified but others can hide inside the body and be difficult to find. In most cases blood tests, x-ray or ultrasound, and aspirates or biopsy samples are necessary to diagnose cancer.

Again, early detection and diagnosis is critical in treating cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy can be used to treat cancer in dogs. Most dogs tolerate these treatments better than human cancer patients. The goal of veterinary oncology is to extend quality life for as long as possible with minimal side effects from the treatment. This is different from human oncology where people receiving cancer treatment frequently experience severe side effects.

Summary: Being observant of your dog’s behavior, activity, appetite, thirst, and weight can help detect a number of problems at an early stage. If you notice any problems or changes in your dog’s behavior make sure you discuss them with your veterinarian. Having your older dog examined twice yearly is a good way to pick-up problems early as is doing routine blood tests on a regular basis.

Remember, picking up problems early makes them much easier to manage and can help improve your dog’s quality of life and extend your dog’s life. Call Anchor Animal Hospital today to schedule and appointment or to discuss any questions or concerns with our staff.