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Health Considerations for the Older Dog

It snuck up on me.  One day I looked at my dog and thought to myself, “when did you get old?”   Wasn’t it just last week you were pulling me all over the neighborhood on our walks, with me pleading with you to slow down?  When exactly did you stop jumping up onto our bed for your morning hugs and cuddles?  When was it that you decided not to jump into the back of the SUV to go for a treasured ride?  I remember researching dog ramps and ordering one online, but that was because I thought you might need one “someday,” and now you cannot get into the car without it.

That’s the way it is when our beloved dogs gain senior status.  It is wise to prepare for that inevitability emotionally and to educate yourself so that you will be ready and able to help them when they need you.  Of course, you cannot predict when your dog is going to officially become a senior.  It is certainly not at a specific age.  In fact, generally the smaller the dog, the longer the expected life span.  For example, if you look at two dogs who are both 10 years old, the one who weighs under 20 pounds is roughly 56 years old in human years, and the dog who is over 90 pounds is about 78 years in human years.  That’s a 22 year difference!  A lot will have to do with your dog’s overall health to begin with.  But if you are able to make yourself aware of the subtle changes that come with aging, you will be in a better position to get help for your dog’s health problems when they might be easier to treat.

Common signs of aging:

  • Tiring more quickly;
  • Reluctance to jump into the car, or falling when attempting to jump onto something that used to be easy for the dog;
  • Graying hair, especially on the face;
  • Difficulty getting up from or lying down on the floor;
  • Sleeping for more hours of the day than before;
  • Increased dream activity, shown by the dog moving his legs as if running while sleeping;
  • Problems with vision or hearing;
  • Excessive sneezing, where the dog’s nose sometimes hits the floor with the explosion of the sneeze;
  • Dragging hind legs over the knuckles during a walk;
  • Tumors, especially fatty tumors that form under the skin;
  • Growths like warts that form on the dog’s skin, often on the face;
  • Incontinence, resulting in accidents in the house.

What can you do?

  • Be vigilant to the changes your dog is going through and educate yourself about the therapies that are available for aging dogs;
  • Adjust exercise so your dog remains confident and does not get stressed by overdoing it;
  • Keep excess weight off if at all possible.   I found that this is easily accomplished by feeding an all raw, natural diet.  Obesity is probably the most common reason for stress on the overall health of your dog;
  • Have a geriatric work up done by your veterinarian about every 6 months to screen for common ailments in senior dogs such as a thyroid imbalance, kidney, heart or liver diseases, arthritis and diabetes;
  • Keep your dog’s teeth clean, (periodontal disease is one of the most common problems seen by vets in their senior patients).

What Therapies and other Aids are available for aging dogs?

In addition to traditional medicines, such as the commonly prescribed  Rimadyl for arthritis pain in dogs, there are a host of “alternative” therapies that are becoming popular to the great relief of owners of senior canine citizens.  They include holistic therapy and homeopathic remedies.  Here are some examples:

  • Arnica Montana, is a homeopathic remedy that you can buy in any health food store.  It works wonders for dogs with aches and pains, and there is absolutely no danger of any unpleasant side effects.  It especially provides relief from sore muscles after exercise.  (This remedy is actually made for humans, so you won’t find it at the pet store);
  • The following must be done by licensed professionals, but the benefits can be well worth the cost:

Hydrotherapy;
Acupuncture;
Massage, (often combined with the      hydrotherapy in the same session);
Chiropractic treatments.

Other Aids:

Life Jackets, if your dog is a swimmer;

A harness may help if the dog’s rear end is weak and he needs assistance walking   or using the stairs;

Portable Steps to allow the dog to get up on the furniture; (did somebody say “to help dogs get up on the furniture”?)

A sturdy telescoping ramp to allow the dog to easily get into and out of the car or RV;

Carts (See K-9 Cart Company.  They make custom carts for dogs, tailored to their specific needs).

I realize that there is much more that can be said about health considerations for the older dog, but it is not my intent to write a book on the subject.  I hope that the things I mentioned to watch for and the suggestions for what you can do will help you with a place to start.  It is a sacred journey we share with our canine companions and a special honor to have them live long enough so that we can care for them in their golden years.

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