Caring For The Older Dog
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Caring For The Older Dog
Age is a matter of feelings rather than years. How long we or our pets will live is a function of diet, genetics and a bit of luck. Having been a veterinarian for over 20 years, I have had the pleasure of caring for many cats and dogs from the time they were puppies and kittens into their geriatric years. Pets as well as people are living longer. In my experience, pets that age most successfully are those whose owners have adopt the philosophy of preventative care.
The size of your dog will determine how quickly it will age. A giant breed like a Great Dane, while celebrating its tenth birthday would be equivalent to a 78 year old person. A tea cup poodle at the same age would only be 56 year old human. Most veterinarians will recommend that special precautions should be instituted when a dog reaches 7 years of age. This would be similar to the recommendations that our doctors make for us. Maturing men have yearly psa tests run, women have mammograms and then there is the ever favorite colonoscopy. Why do M.D.’s and veterinarians strongly suggest screening medical procedures? We have found that if you can detect a health issue in its early stages, there is an enhanced likelihood that it will be easier to address, have a superior outcome and typically costs less to treat.
So what are some of the preventative measures that an owner of a senior dog can adopt?
1. Keep a pet health diary. Record changes that you see at home. Make notes regarding alterations in appetite, water intake, general behavior, sight and hearing. Variations in bowel habits, breathing patterns and weight should also be documented.
2. Schedule a health consultation with your veterinarian at least twice yearly. Bring your health diary with you. Though your dog may look healthy to you, studies have shown that more than a quarter of them are suffering from underlying medical issues. By integrating what you have seen at home with what the doctor is able to discover during his or her physical exam can be very useful.
3. Lumps and bumps are common in older dogs. Not all lumps are dangerous but you can't tell just by looking at them. Give your dog a thorough whole body massage at least monthly and record any bumps you find. If they grow quickly, have an ulcerated surface, seem painful or you just don't like a particular mass, bring it to your veterinarian's attention. Often a quick and painless procedure, a fine needle aspirate can assist your dog's doctor in determining if it is nothing more than a wart or fat lump or something more serious.
4. Flip the lip and check your dog's teeth. They should be white, the gums pink and not swollen. The breath shouldn't make you gag. Just because your dog is a senior, doesn't mean that it can't undergo an anesthetic procedure such as a dental cleansing. Your dog is not going to get any younger and the teeth are not going to get any better on their own. Dental disease can adversely affect the entire body. Anesthesia is much safer than it was just 10 years ago. Many of the same safeguards that are used on you and I can also are used on your dog.
5. Your senior dog should be able to move freely and without pain. If it is no longer able to climb stairs with ease, or doesn't seem to want to go for a walk, it may be silently suffering with arthritis. Arthritis affects one in five adult dogs. It is a slowly progressive disease that has no cure. There are safe and effective medications that your veterinarian can prescribe that will improve your dog's quality of life.
6. Routine appropriate exercise and proper nutrition is a key component to successful aging. Just because your dog is old enough to join aarp, that is no excuse for it to start packing on the pounds. Obesity complicates many medical disorders and is truly a medical disease. Even if you have tried to cut back on treats and your dog is still overweight, your veterinarian can run test to insure that it is not a metabolic issue. Thankfully, there is now medication that can safely help to curb your dog's appetite and assist in the battle of the bulge.
It is the veterinarian and pet owner working together who will give the senior dog the best chance of living each day to the fullest, experiencing more good days than bad.
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