“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.”- Sydney Jeanne Seward

By Dr. Freya Javeri* 

Living with an older pet is one of the most beautiful experiences – a reward for years of dedicated pet parenting. Old age can bring with it a new set of health issues. Here’s how you can make your geriatric pet’s golden years more comfortable.

Prevention is always better than cure:

Regular veterinary checks are different for older dogs as compared to younger pets. Once your dog has crossed the age of 6 years, take your dog to your veterinarian for a thorough diagnostic investigation every 6-12 months.

This would generally include the following:

Blood tests: CBC, liver function, kidney function, blood glucose, protein. Your veterinarian may recommend other tests as well.
Routine urinalysis, microscopic urine exam (optional)
Ophthalmic examination

X-rays: Chest X-rays are done to check for any changes in heart, abdominal X-rays may be needed to check for any change in the size of organs or any possibility of a mass. X-rays of limbs are required to detect early arthritic changes.
Echocardiogram, abdominal ultrasound and other tests may be recommended by your veterinarian based on the results of your dog’s X-rays and blood tests.

As needs change, so must the routine:
The older dog becomes more sedentary for various reasons and hence may tend to put on an unhealthy amount of weight. As they age, there is more rapid “wear and tear” in their bodies. Therefore, the older pet needs a diet formulated for his advancing age. These diets should contain more anti-oxidants, be lower in calories to avoid the perils of obesity, and may have added nutrients to maintain joint and cardiac function. Discuss your pet’s special needs with your veterinarian. Over and above medication, your pet may need certain specific supplements.
Though your dog may have slowed down with age, it’s important to encourage him to maintain an exercise routine. Walk your pet at least twice a day. Let him decide the pace and duration of the walk.

Common conditions in older pets and the signs to look out for:
CARDIOMYOPATHY is an enlargement of the heart caused by the weakening of the heart muscles. Common symptoms are exercise intolerance, cough and an unwillingness to sleep on one side. Your veterinarian will prescribe medications to maintain your pet’s cardiac function.
CATARACT is seen as the opacity in the lens of the eye. You may observe your pet’s eyes becoming cloudy. As your pet’s vision begins to fade, you may notice that he can’t see in dim light and hence bumps into things or is reluctant to move around, especially in unfamiliar places. Take your pet to the veterinarian for a thorough ophthalmic examination and discuss with your vet whether surgery is suitable for your pet.

DIABETES is often seen in middle to old age dogs. Increased thirst and increased urination are often the first symptoms that are noticed by owners. If you are getting your pet’s blood and urine checked regularly, you will be able to detect diabetes at an earlier stage and begin treatment sooner. Work with your vet to learn how to administer insulin injections to your diabetic pet.
ARTHRITIS is seen even in young dogs who suffer from genetic joint abnormalities like Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. However, even dogs who have had healthy joints throughout life can develop arthritic changes in old age. Typical signs are a reluctance to get up or getting up slowly, limping or a stiff walk after getting up, which seems to get better with movement. Your veterinarian will suggest supplements to help maintain your pet’s joint function and to manage pain.
Over and above these, always be vigilant about any changes in your pet’s routine – appetite, stool, urine and so on. Check for any lumps or bumps on the body and contact your veterinarian immediately on noticing anything abnormal in your pet. A little goes a long way. Every preventative measure and observation you make can extend the number of years of companionship with your older pet.

Dr. Freya Javeri is a small animal and exotics veterinarian practicing in Ahmedabad at Dr. Chirag Dave’s Pets’ Clinic. She also runs Wagging Tails Dog Training Academy which helps pet owners to train their dogs and correct behavioural problems. She is also a qualified Championship Dog Show judge. Her own pets include four dogs and two birds.