Once you adopt a puppy, you are amazed at how fast he grows up and becomes your most trustworthy and lovable pal. Like people, pet also go through life stages of growth, maturity, and aging. But, it is a hard thing to accept that dog’s lifespan is much shorter. The passage from one stage to another is often blurred, and owners must be on guard to recognize the signs that their lil’ darling is getting old or geriatric. As our pet ages, changes in his behaviour and physical condition will occur, taking care and understanding the needs of your pet under medical supervision is most important.
Signs of aging
Rate of aging increases with body size. Giant breeds tend to age early, for their life expectancy is generally less than 10 years. Large and medium-sized breeds have a life expectancy of 11-14 years, and small breeds can live 15 years or more. On an average, a dog or cat in the age group of 7-10 years is a senior dog. The senior years of life are marked by a progressive decline in organ function, immunity and physical and mental abilities.
Early warning signs
As your dog ages, a number of degenerative changes may occur and this can affect his behaviour. Following are the signs of aging and age-related diseases:
- Change in appetite
- Decreased hearing and vision
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of housetraining
- Increased thirst
- Increased urine output
- Difficulty in rising, walking or climbing stairs
- Confusion or disorientation
- Persistent cough
- New lumps or bumps
- Change in sleep patterns
Preventative health care
While some age-related diseases may not be preventable, early detection and intervention is the key to successful management. Senior pets should undergo a thorough physical examination every 6 months, which will help in assessing your pet’s body condition and his dietary and exercise recommendations to help maintain his ideal body weight.
Since dental disease can provide bacteria an entry way into your pet’s bloodstream, it can lead to infection elsewhere in the body. Hence, the teeth and gums of your pet should also be examined on a regular basis. Signs of dental disease include bad breath, plaque and tartar accumulation, red and swollen gums, difficulty in eating and tooth loss.
Dealing with overweight dog
Older pet are apt to gain weight as their body’s metabolism and activity level slows down. Therefore, food consumption must be balanced with the activity level of the pet.
Exercise for older dogs
Regular exercise is important to maintain bone strength, muscle tone and stamina. Daily walks and playing with your pet are excellent ways of promoting physical activity as well as enjoying their companionship. However, if your pet has difficulty standing up or walking, a degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, exercise may be a problem. Arthritis is a common problem in older dogs which often impairs their ability to stand or walk.
Grooming an older dog
Since your pet is getting older, it is important to know that skin problems may occur more often since the skin may be thinner, less elastic and does not repair itself as quickly. If it seems that your pet is losing more hair, it may be due to disease or because hair follicles are not as active as in the younger years. Grooming is an ideal time to look for external parasites as well as notice the general condition of the skin and especially the eyes, ears, mouth, paws, anus and genitalia. If you happen to notice any abnormal odours, discharges, swellings or lumps during grooming, report them immediately to your vet.
Health screening tests for senior pets
- Complete blood count
- Organ function and electrolyte profile
- Faecal exam for parasites
- Chest, abdomen and hip X-rays
- Dental exam
Our pets give us unconditional love and support and it becomes our moral duty to make their life comfortable in their older years. Most importantly, dogs thrive on love and in turn you will receive self-less love.
(Inputs from Dr. Afzal H Mohammed, Dr. S.M. Aravind Kumar and Dr. G.R. Baranidharan of The Ark, 24 hour veterinary clinic. Their emergency mobile no is 9841811445.)