By: Rachel Arora
It is a blessing to have a senior pet at home. Your pet has stayed with you ever since he was a puppy and now that he’s entered the golden years of his life, you must ensure he is happy and comfortable. A seven-year-old dog is considered to be a senior since one year of a dog’s life is equivalent to seven human years. Healthy dogs can glide smoothly through their golden years provided they are given proper healthcare, nutrition and exercise.
As the parent of a healthy young dog, you don’t need to visit the veterinarian frequently. Keeping an eye on your pets means protecting them from harming themselves by getting involved in an ‘accident’ or keeping them out of mischief. But as your dog ages, you need to watch him closely for any signs of distress, changes in passing toilet, changes in sleep pattern and changes in diet. In case you observe anything unusual, you must immediately report it to your vet as any disease caught at an early age can be checked and its progression delayed.
You must take your senior pet to visit the vet at least twice a year. Your vet will not only conduct a comprehensive examination of your dog’s joints, teeth, eyes and coat but will also order various diagnostic tests to screen for numerous diseases of the kidneys, lungs, liver, thyroid and immune function. The physical check-up will include looking for lumps, taking the blood pressure and heart assessment.
One of the most common questions asked about senior pets is whether or not a specific symptom or change is normal. Since our pets cannot talk, their every move needs to be closely monitored. Some of the most common ailments in senior dogs are:
Decrease in activity: As your pet ages, his physical activity is decreased. Most pet parents point it out as ‘slowing down.’ This can also be accompanied by occasional limping or difficulty in getting up or changing position. It is hard for most pet owners to accept the fact that their once highly energetic puppy has become a senior pet. They, however, need to focus on making these years relaxed and comfortable for their pet. If you think your pet isn’t as agile or appears to have joint pain or discomfort, take him to the vet. Most cases of decreased activity in dogs are the result of joint disease or injury. The most commonly affected joints are those of the knees, spine, hips, elbows and shoulders. These injuries are treated by administering appropriate medication, weight loss, surgery and supplements.
Fear and aggression: Some senior pets exhibit changes in their behavior during their twilight years. For instance, if your dog never feared thunder, he might suddenly shudder at the slightest of sounds. A friendly pet might suddenly snap at guests or become fearful of the dark. Such changes should be reported to the vet without delay to prevent them from worsening. They can be the outcome of hormonal changes, brain disease or mental illness.
Mental slow down: This is also known as mental dullness and is associated with weakened mental or sensory abilities. A pet experiencing mental slow down will be sluggish and may appear to be dull and lack interest in training or playing. This can also be an outcome of cataract, pain or hearing loss. Such dogs seem to be lethargic and have a snag in their step. Your senior dog might also show loss of taste and smell. In such cases, you must get your dog examined at the earliest to rule out cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), Cushing’s disease or dementia.
Toilet issues: If your senior pet frequently loses bladder control or exhibits changes in toilet training, you must get him examined. You need to rule out stones, kidney disease, bladder infections, tumors and diabetes.
Cancer: Also known as the big C, cancer is one of the most common causes of death in aged dogs. You need to look for any changes in your pet’s body such as bumps and lumps and discolored spots on the skin or warts. Most cancers are diagnosed when it’s too late as the pet parents couldn’t spot the symptoms at an early stage.
Arthritis: Senior dogs are at high risk for joint disease. Factors such as heredity, weight gain, injury, wear and tear of the joints and inflammation cause arthritis in dogs. The most common symptoms include limping, difficulty running or jumping, trouble climbing stairs, inability to get into the car, etc.
Diabetes: Senior and overweight dogs are prone to developing Type 2 diabetes. Its symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss and changes in appetite.
Oral Problems: These range from bad breath and calculus to tartar and periodontal disease. Oral problems can cause constant drooling, inability to chew the food properly and tooth loss. Proper dental care is necessary for your senior pet as it can prevent damage to the gums, jaw and sinuses and keep your senior dog smiling.
Kidney Disease: This is common in ageing dogs. Its symptoms include increased thirst and urination accompanied by weight loss and vomiting. Proper medication, diet and lifestyle changes can help combat kidney disease in senior dogs.
To make your senior pet more comfortable give him the best care, exercise and diet recommended for your dog. Keep him active and spend quality time with him. Remember that your dog has been your loyal companion and family member ever since he was a pup. You mean the world to him and he loves you unconditionally.
P.S. As a pet parent you must stick by your furbuddy through the twilight years of his life and never think of abandoning him. I am writing this with a heavy heart, but its true- many pet parents give up on their senior dogs and leave them when they are no longer able to care for them. Please don’t do this. In case such a scenario arrives, contact your vet or a local shelter or organisation to help out.