No matter how big they get, we like to think of our dogs as eternal puppies who will be with us forever. As much as you may wish to deny that your pup is getting older, it's important to keep an eye out for senior dog health conditions so that you can help improve his quality of life. Keep reading to learn about common health problems in senior dogs that might one day affect your pet.
When Is a Dog Considered Senior?
On average, a dog is considered senior when he reaches seven years of age, although it really depends on the size and breed of the dog, says the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Very large breeds age more rapidly than small breeds. While a Great Dane would be considered a senior by age six, a tiny Chihuahua may not reach old man status until eight or nine years of age. Of course, other factors, such as genetics and environmental conditions, can affect how rapidly an individual dog ages. Once your dog starts showing signs of age-related health issues, he can be considered a senior dog regardless of his years.
Here are eight common health problems in senior dogs:
1. Hearing and Vision Loss
Tissue degeneration in the eyes and ears can cause varying degrees of deafness and blindness in older dogs, says The Spruce. Senior dogs are also prone to developing cataracts, which Pet Health Network defines as a cloudy layer that forms over the lens of the eye that can cause partial or total blindness. Although cataracts may be able to be surgically removed, dogs rely less on eyesight than on their sense of smell when it comes to exploring and navigating their environment, and often have little trouble getting around after vision loss. With hearing loss, it generally becomes permanent as a result of aging. Consistently cleaning and caring your dog's ears can help slow the progression of hearing loss as your dog ages.
2. Joint Problems
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain and stiffness in dogs, says The Spruce. This is a progressive degenerative disease that causes loss of lubrication and the wearing away of cartilage in the shoulders, hips, and leg joints. Although there is no cure, there are a number of treatments that can reduce pain and slow the progression of this disease. Nutrition plays a strong role in reducing joint problems in dogs. Make sure your dog is eating a healthy, nutrient-rich dog food to maintain joint health. If joint problems progress, ask your veterinarian about a prescription dog food for joint health.
Like people, dogs can lose cognitive function as they age, resulting in symptoms similar to those of senility or Alzheimer's in humans, says The Spruce. Confusion and disorientation, whining or barking for no apparent reason, appearing to get lost in familiar surroundings, and bathroom accidents can all be signs of dementia. These symptoms can also indicate other conditions, so it's best to talk to your veterinarian if you notice these behaviors in your dog. Like arthritis, there is no cure for dementia, but it can often be helped with certain medications. Foods like Youthful Vitality dog food help promote brain function with powerful antioxidants.
Older dogs are prone to getting lumps and bumps, and luckily, not all of them are cancerous. But age increases the risk of cancer in dogs, so it's best to get any strange lumps checked out, says the AVMA. Regular checkups and cancer screenings can help catch tumors that aren't easily seen or felt.
5. Heart Problems
Heart disease can also develop as dogs age. One common form of heart disease in dogs is congestive heart failure, which occurs when the heart isn't able to pump blood efficiently and fluid backs up in the heart, lungs and chest cavity, says the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, loss of consciousness and unexplained vomiting are all signs of possible heart disease and should be checked out by a vet right away.
Your dog's weight can have a significant impact on his health, especially as he ages and becomes less active. Older dogs carrying excess weight are more prone to illnesses, such as diabetes. Obesity can contribute to and complicate the treatment of heart disease, joint problems, and certain types of cancer, says the American Kennel Club. In addition to providing as much exercise as your older dog can safely tolerate, it's important to feed your dog age-appropriate meals to make sure he's getting the right balance of nutrition, as well as the correct amount of daily calories.
7. Gastrointestinal Issues and Incontinence
A number of problems can cause gastrointestinal (GI) issues in your aging dog. While not always serious, GI problems can point to problems, such as kidney disease, so if vomiting or diarrhea doesn't clear up quickly, it's best to talk to your vet, says the AVMA. Older dogs sometimes have accidents as the muscles controlling the bladder weaken, but again, incontinence could be a sign of a bigger problem like a urinary tract infection. Accidents can also be an indicator of possible dementia. If GI and incontinence issues continue, it's best to talk to your vet.
8. Kidney Issues
Aging kidneys tend to lose their function as dogs get older. While chronic kidney failure can't be cured, notes The Spruce, it can be managed with proper treatment, prolonging your dog's life and improving his quality of life. Kidney issues and conditions can also be caused by certain medications used to treat other senior dog health conditions, says Wag!, so it's important that your dog be seen every six months by your vet. Routine blood work can catch kidney disease in the early stages and improve your dog's chances. Proper nutrition is also extremely important at keeping healthy kidneys for your dog, so if you have any concerns about what you're feeding, be sure to consult your veterinarian.
Getting older is as hard on your senior dog as it is on you. One of the best things you can do for your aging pup is to take him for regular wellness checks every six months to screen for these common health problems. Keeping an eye on him at home and reporting any unusual behaviors to your vet can also help catch these illnesses early, improving your dog's chance at a long and healthy life. He may not be a puppy anymore, but he'll always be your pup!