The aging process for dogs is gradual and varies among individuals. In general, the smaller the dog, the longer the life span, but most experts consider dogs to be “seniors” once they reach the age of seven. Twice a year health exams are necessary because our pet cannot tell us what is hurting them. There are many mental and physical changes that affect our pets as they age. It is important to recognize and understand the common aging changes your dog may undergo. Four of the most common problems associated with canine aging are arthritis, cancer, chronic kidney disease and cognitive or behavioral changes.
Arthritis - Dogs with arthritis have joint pain. Arthritis pain is due to inflammation in the joint, damage to the joint from disease and daily wear and tear on joints. Signs of arthritis may include favoring a limb (not bearing full weight on the leg); difficulty or increased effort in rising, jumping, or climbing stairs; and decreased activity or less interest in playing. On physical exam, your vet may notice joint swelling, stiffness, thickening of joint and even decreased muscle mass. Taking x-rays of affected joints can help to diagnose arthritis in dogs. Combating arthritis usually requires multiple types of treatment including joint supplements, weight loss, physical therapy, and medications to decrease pain and inflammation.
Cancer - The warning signs include abnormal lumps within or below the skin, wounds that won’t heal, enlarged lymph nodes or “glands”, lameness or bone swellings or abnormal bleeding. Sometimes the initial symptoms can be vague, so alert your veterinarian to any changes. Some common types of cancers include tumors of the lymph nodes, spleen, skin, bladder, breasts, testicles or bones. Frequent exams and blood analysis can help your veterinarian detect cancer as early as possible. Lumps within and under the skin can be evaluated with a simple needle aspirate and examined for abnormal cells under the microscope. Fortunately, there are many new treatments and therapies for cancer that can significantly extend the lives of affected dogs.
Chronic Kidney Disease - Dogs in the early stages of kidney disease may seem normal. Pets with more advanced disease can lose weight, show appetite loss, lethargy or vomit. Kidney disease is best treated in the early stages when your pet’s examination may even be normal, therefore annual blood and urine specimens need to be checked to identify kidney disease and monitor its progression. Blood pressure measurement and management with medications becomes important if kidney disease is diagnosed. With proper monitoring and treatment, dogs with kidney disease can live longer and more comfortable lives through dietary and medical management.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) - “Doggie Alzheimer’s Syndrome is the onset of gradual behavioral changes in older dogs, which are not attributable to other medical conditions. Signs include forgetting how to navigate the stairs or doorways, changes in interaction with family members, spending more time sleeping during the day, pacing at night, staring blankly at walls, having housebreaking accidents, becoming aggressive or developing separation anxiety. If you notice changes in your older dog’s habits or behavior, be sure to talk with your veterinarian. Above all, resist the urge to tell yourself that your dog is “just getting old.” With your help, your veterinarian can determine if the changes in your dog are associated with canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Best wishes for healthy aging with your favorite canine!