Buddy doesn’t get up as quickly as he once did. It takes him a little bit longer and he seems stiff. He limps for the first few steps before he gets going. He doesn’t run after the ball with as much energy as he used to and after a long walk he likes to lay down.
You begin to notice other details about Buddy’s physical appearance, too. His muzzle has slowly been turning gray, his skin is beginning to sag a little and it looks like he is losing muscle mass.

Buddy’s getting older and the symptoms he’s experiencing aren’t all that different from the ones people go through as they age. The changes he’s going through are natural and, in and of themselves, nothing to worry about. But when dogs reach this stage in their lives, pet parents do need to take note of what’s happening and how they can accommodate their dogs’ new bodies.

One thing is certain: Just like with advances in people medicine, modern veterinary care now enables dogs to live much longer than in the past. That means dogs are seniors for a longer amount of time.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinarians are increasingly treating more numbers of senior dogs. senior-dogs-gray-faces“The studies revealed that the percentage of owned dogs age 11 or older increased from 14.6 percent in 1987 to 15.5 percent in 2001 … During that same period, the percentage of dogs age 6 to 10 rose from 27.1 percent to 31.2 percent … Many veterinarians attribute the longer, healthier life of the typical pet to care provided by owners as well as medical advances. And the lives of cats and dogs might become even longer and healthier within the next few years,” the AVMA wrote.

As a general rule of thumb, dogs and cats are considered ‘senior’ around age 7. Larger dogs sooner (age 5 or 6), and smaller dogs later (age 8 or 9). Dogs have such a large variety of breeds and sizes that there isn’t a single age that automatically translates to senior status.

Knowing when your dog is approaching his senior years can help you make adjustments to his diet, exercise routine and veterinary care to provide optimal health. One of the first things to remember is that while the symptoms of aging in dogs and humans are similar, dogs mature much more rapidly than people.

Most people are familiar with the old standard of “seven years to one human year” ratio, but we now know that’s not exactly accurate. A closer guide can be found here but even within those guidelines, one must take the breed, size, health and weight into account, as those factors may affect the way a dog ages. A larger dog, for instance, generally ages more quickly than smaller dogs so, say, an Irish Wolfhound might be hitting his senior phase at around age 6, while a Chihuahua is entering middle-age at the same age.

Common Ailments

Paw Print Bullet Arthritis: Arthritis is a common ailment in both pets and humans as they age. Generally, as your dog gets older and you notice he’s moving slower, let your veterinarian know. Joint stiffness can occur in anywhere in the body, but it’s most common in the legs, neck and back. Veterinarians can prescribe medication that eases discomfort.

Paw Print Bullet Cancer: Cancer is fairly common in older dogs but, as with people, not all forms are fatal. Treatment depends on the type of cancer, its location and how far advanced it is. Options might include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation that can extend a dog’s life or knock the cancer into remission.

Paw Print Bullet Cataracts: When a dog develops cataracts, his eyes will look white and opaque (note that this is different than a cloudy or blue haze over dog-cataractthe eyes, which appears to be a normal sign of aging).

“The area of the lens involved by the cataract amounts to a spot that the patient cannot see through,” writes Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, DipABVP for VeterinaryPartner.com. “If the cataract involves too much of the lens, the animal may be blind in that eye and there could be cataracts in both eyes, which means the pet could be rendered completely blind.
“A cataract can luxate, which means that it can slip from the tissue strands that hold it in place. The cataractous lens can thus end up floating around in the eye where it can cause damage. If it settles in a place that blocks the natural fluid drainage of the eye, glaucoma (a buildup in eye pressure) can result, leading to pain and permanent blindness. A cataract can also cause glaucoma when it absorbs fluid and swells so as to partially obstruct fluid drainage from the eye.”

Treatment for cataracts generally involves surgical removal. The dog must be in relatively good health to be a candidate for the procedure, which a thorough veterinary exam can determine. If left untreated, blindness may result for the dog.

Mitral valve insufficiency (heart disease)

Hearts are designed to push blood forward in the body and prevent back flow. “In the case of a mitral valve disorder (referred to as mitral insufficiency), the valve ages and shrinks and thereby fails to completely close off the area on the left side of the heart between the two chambers,” according to PetEducation.com. Eventually, the right side of the heart will begin to fail because it’s working too hard.

Veterinarians can treat mitral valve disorder with medications that strengthen and coordinate the muscles’ contractions. Medication slows down the disease’s progression but the condition typically worsens. Early diagnosis can help slow progression and keeping a dog at his optimum weight lessens the severity of symptoms. Good oral health is also ideal, as bacteria from an infected mouth can enter the bloodstream.

Dental disease

Basically, periodontal disease is inflammation of a tooth’s support structures (gingival, cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone). Tissue destruction dental-disease-dogsand bone loss can be the ultimate result. Signs of the disease are inflamed gums, bleeding, bone loss, bad breath and pustular discharge. Veterinarians can help with periodontal disease by professionally cleaning a dog’s teeth and treating infections with antibiotics.

At home, pet parents can brush their dogs’ teeth with toothbrushes and toothpaste created especially for dogs. There are some toys and treats specifically formulated to help remove buildup on teeth. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

Kidney disease

Also known as canine kidney failure (CKF), kidney disease, or failure, is the result of poisoning or external toxins. Because kidneys filter out toxins from the body via urination, keep a look out for increased thirst or urination. A healthy kidney can concentrate toxins into a smaller amount of liquid to be urinated away. When the kidneys are damaged and become less able to concentrate the urine, more fluid is used by the dog’s body. As the disease progresses, other things to look out for are weight loss, nausea, constipation, low energy or fatigue and poor appetite.

Treating kidney disease will depend on what caused the problem. Some possibilities may include antibiotics, an IV of fluids, induced vomiting to eliminate a specific toxin or anti-ulcer medications, reports VetInfo.com. When other treatments are ineffective, a dog may need to go on dialysis. In rare cases, a kidney transplant is performed.

Hydration is very important for these dogs, so make sure to have plenty of fresh water available at all times. Diet is also important, so speak to your veterinarian about food choices.

Hypothyroidism

This happens when the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Signs of the disease include weight gain, skin problems, hair loss, dry brittle coats, lethargy and anemia. Dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism are treated for the rest of their lives with oral thyroid hormone medication.

Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence (not to be confused with submissive urination or inappropriate urination) means that the dog has lost control of his urination. There can be several causes, and may involve the bladder, the urethra which is the tube from the bladder to the outside, or incontinence can be caused by abnormalities in the parts of the brain and spinal cord that control bladder function,.

If a veterinarian determines the dog has incontinence, the treatment will be determined by the underlying cause. When no specific cause can be identified for the incontinence drugs may be given that increase the tone of the muscles that hold urine in the bladder.

Epilepsy

Try to stay calm while your dog is having a seizure. He’ll find it more reassuring. Also, take notes so you can describe what happened to your vet. Dogs often appear disoriented while recovering from a seizure. That’s normal.

Remember that just because a dog has a seizure, there could be other causes than epilepsy. A veterinarian can determine if epilepsy is causing the seizures.
Paw Print Bullet Gastrointestinal disease: When a dog’s stomach and intestinal tract become inflamed, usually resulting in vomiting, diarrhea or both. There are numerous causes, including food dogs should not have eaten, parasites, foreign bodies, poisoning and diseases, such as bacterial or viral.

The treatment will be determined by the cause and severity. Remember that in these cases dehydration can occur quickly, and this is especially true for older dogs. Mild cases of vomiting and diarrhea can be treated at home, but anything more threatening or severe should result in veterinary care right away.

Dog’s Diabetes

As in humans, diabetes comes in more than one form. Type II diabetes is characterized by the dog’s dependency on insulin and it is normally observed in senior dogs and those that have passed their middle years.

Diabetes can be managed by a proper diet (consult your vet) and medications, including the possibility of insulin shots. Diabetes can be life threatening, so treatment is a must.
Paw Print Bullet Liver disease: Liver disease can be tricky. The liver will detoxify the blood and produce numerous enzymes and proteins gradually decreases with age. Sometimes, the liver enzymes measured in a chemistry panel may be abnormally elevated in an apparently normal animal. On the other hand, some animals with liver disease have normal levels of liver enzymes circulating in their blood. This makes interpretation of these tests very difficult.

Medication dosage will depend on how well the liver is functioning, as it is the liver that metabolizes the medications.

Bladder stones

Almost all dogs are susceptible to bladder stones, which are produced if excess minerals and other waste products bladder-stones-in-dogssolidify or crystallize in the dog’s bladder area, BladderStonesinDogs.com says. A stone, also called a urolith, can be a very painful condition and if left unattended, complications can include severe pain and possible death. If treated, bladder stones are manageable.

Treatment may include a prescription diet (even after the stones are gone), medications and proper hygiene practices. If stones have become lodged somewhere in the dog, such as a male dog’s urethra, immediate surgical removal is required.

Hearing loss: It may become apparent that a dog is losing his hearing when, say, he doesn’t come when his name is called. Before determining whether or not his hearing is really decreasing, have a veterinarian conduct an exam on his ears to make sure there are no medical issues, such as ear infection, a growth or foreign body, writes Dr. Crosby.

“If your dog does experience hearing loss, take care to protect him/her from hazards, such as cars and kids that s/he may not hear (or see)”, Crosby continues. “Dogs do learn and adapt well using hand signals to come, stay, sit, and so on. It is a good idea to ‘cross train’ your dog early in life to recognize basic hand signals.”

As Your Dog Ages

As dogs get older and begin slowing down, their needs change. Paying attention to how they’re moving, sleeping and eating can help provide the answers to what they need most. The most important thing is to keep pets comfortable as they enter their golden years and begin to experience aches and pains.

In general, provide plenty of fresh drinking water and an age- and weight-appropriate diet. Keep their growing limitations in mind. Buddy dog-bottom-of-stairsmay not be able to go on those long runs that he loves so much with you. Provide a comfortable place for him to rest and remember that he may need assistance climbing stairs, getting into the car, or jumping up on the couch with you. Doggie ramps or little steps can help him access certain favorite areas that are now difficult for him to reach.

Dogs often know when they’re newly vulnerable. Losing sight, hearing and mobility is a concern for them, too, and they may become frightened or irritable by their new physical limitations and aches. Peace of mind is the kindest thing pet parents can give their dogs in these situations. Try to eliminate things in the home that might startle them, such as sudden movements or noises. Remind small children especially that they need to be careful around older dogs.

To help ease dogs into old age, the best thing to do is give them a lifetime of preventive care. Keep them on a high-quality diet, give them supplements, make sure they exercise and keep those annual checkup appointments for the veterinarian. A little extra love and care from the beginning can possibly extend their lives by a few years.