Taking Care Of Your Elderly Dog
Canine longevity is hard to measure, but most veterinarians agree that dogs are living longer. They attribute this to better health care, effective vaccination programs that eliminate puppy-hood diseases, more balanced diets and new medication for health disorders. More dog owners are educating themselves about how to properly take care of their dogs to prevent serious conditions.
Daily exercise plays a significant role in maintaining muscle tone and mobility. Exercise for elderly dogs is gentler and not strenuous enough to cause the dog pain. A walk is much better exercise than a run. Regular exercise twice a day is better than a couple of long walks a week.
Geriatric nutrition is designed to maintain appropriate weight with easy to digest food. Because older dogs have difficulty with diet changes, keep the food constant in both type and quantity. Older dogs become more sedentary and need fewer calories than when they were younger, so quantities need to be adjusted to prevent weight gain. An over- weight dog will have more health issues and not live as long as it would if it was at an optimal weight. Check with your veterinarian to be certain how much the dog should weigh. In general, you should be able to feel the dog’s rib cage but the rib cage should not be visible when looking at the dog.
The best thing an owner of a geriatric dog can do is be watchful and aware of their dog’s needs and behaviour. This means understanding when your dog is in pain or needs help. He may need more frequent bathroom breaks, more attention or alternately he may need more sleep and quiet time if the household is very busy.
Unfortunately, greater longevity means dogs do live long enough to develop geriatric diseases. Cancer, diabetes, arthritis and even dementia are now common ailments seen at veterinary clinics.
The most common condition in geriatric dogs is arthritis. Though it cannot be cured, it can be treated with pain medication. Modern veterinary medicine has developed safe anti-inflammatories that can be administered on an ongoing basis. Older dogs appreciate the comfort of beds with more padding and some might even enjoy a heating pad for extra heat to help ease joint pain.
Treatments in alternative medicine have much to offer geriatric dogs. Acupuncture helps decrease pain and restores mobility. Sometimes the vertebrae of sedentary dogs become “fixed”, unable to move through their full range of motion. Chiropractic is especially beneficial for these dogs. Numerous supplements can help joints (glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, boost liver function (mild thistle) it has hormones in it, or improve memory (gingko). Many herbs that will help humans will also help your dog.
Veterinarians are recognizing more dementia or what some people call “doggy Alzheimer’s” in their older patients. The first thing owners may complain about is the loss of bladder control. The dog might go out and not do anything, then come in and immediately urinate on the carpet. If this is attributed to dementia (and not a bladder ailment), there are medications (e.g., Anipryl) and special diets (e.g., Prescription Diets b/d) that can help restore, or at least slow, the deterioration in brain function.
As your dog enters the twilight years, be aware of symptoms that are more serious. A dog that starts drinking more than normal could have kidney disease or diabetes. Pale gums and sudden weakness could suggest a bleeding tumor. Any change in behavior warrants an examination from your veterinarian. As well, older dogs can have the same failing eye sight and hearing loss as older people. Don’t startle and old dog by suddenly prodding him. Don’t let him go out unsupervised in unfamiliar territory. Thinking of a senior dog as you would an ailing relative can help make him comfortable in his last days.