From about 7 years of age, dogs can start to show signs of old age. Aging is not a disease, it is actually a loss of adaptability in the body. Older dogs require special attention, which may require a geriatric consultation to assess their health and points to watch for. This may be an opportunity to identify some common problems in the older dog. Here are the most common ones.
Inside the eye is the crystalline lens, a kind of completely transparent lens, which allows us to see a clear image. With age, a dog’s eye takes on a bluish appearance. This is called senile sclerosis. This is a normal phenomenon in the older dog, which does not affect his vision, because the lens remains transparent.
However, in some cases the bluish eye becomes progressively whitish, milky. It can then be a senile cataract. The crystalline lens loses its transparency. This phenomenon affects both eyes at the same time, and generally occurs around the age of 8 years. The evolution is slow and the dog gradually loses his sight (he bumps into furniture for example, or becomes completely lost as soon as he is not in a familiar place).
It is important to consult your veterinarian as soon as you observe an opacity in one or both of your dog’s eyes, in order to proceed to an ophthalmological examination to differentiate a simple opalescence from a real cataract. On the other hand, some cataracts can be a sign of a more serious disease (diabetes) that should be looked for. Depending on your dog’s eyes and his state of health, an operation may be possible. Ask your veterinarian for advice.
Periodontitis is the ultimate stage of the “periodontal disease”. This oral disease is not the prerogative of old dogs. However with age it is observed more frequently and at more advanced stages. It starts with the presence of a little pie on the dog’s teeth, then with a small gingivitis. At this stage, the disease retrocedes if the plaque is removed by scaling. On the other hand if nothing is done, the lesions can evolve until touching the ligament of the tooth and the bone located under the gum (periodontitis). The damage is then irreversible. The evolution of the disease from gingivitis to periodontitis is facilitated by the decrease of the immune defenses which occurs with age. Moreover, small dogs (poodles, yorkshire) are predisposed to this disease.
The inconveniences are multiple, one observes in particular bad breath and difficulties to eat. Teeth become loose, sometimes even falling out. Finally, complications are possible. Bacteria present in the dog’s mouth can pass into the bloodstream and contaminate other organs such as the heart for example.
The origin of the periodontal disease is the presence of dental plaque, which generates an imbalance of the bacterial flora of the mouth. Its evolution depends on :
- Of the food: It is the chewing which allows the dog a natural brushing of the teeth. Therefore, low-fiber, moist or soft foods or small kibbles promote the appearance of tartar.
- The dog’s genetic makeup: Some individuals tend to accumulate more tartar than others.
- Dental care received by the animal: regular brushing of the teeth, scaling.
Throughout the dog’s life, the condition of the teeth must be monitored by your veterinarian. If necessary, tartar removal can be done under general anesthesia. Large, hard kibbles and some specially designed chew sticks can also slow down the appearance of plaque. However, only brushing your dog’s teeth as often as possible can really protect him. Once this disease has been declared, if your dog’s condition allows it, the veterinarian will proceed with a scaling and the extraction of teeth that are too damaged. In some cases antibiotics may be necessary.
Osteoarthritis is an extremely frequent process, the evolution of which is irreversible. It is one of the primary causes of chronic pain in dogs. Every day, the joints of the limbs and back are stressed by movements and jumps. This damages the cartilage which, with age, regenerates less and less well. Gradually, osteoarthritis sets in: the cartilage disappears and the bone is reworked. The dog generally has more difficulty moving around and getting up. The pain is more intense “cold”, in the morning for example or the day after an important exercise. Symptoms may be exacerbated at certain times, in the form of attacks. Sometimes the owner simply feels like the dog is “getting old.
Signs of osteoarthritis are often visible on x-rays. Treatment most often involves the administration of anti-inflammatory drugs during attacks. The goal is to reduce pain to improve the dog’s quality of life, but will not reverse the osteoarthritis.
Some supplements based on chondroprotectors or mussel extracts are commercially available to prevent osteoarthritis and reduce symptoms. Their effectiveness is variable and difficult to evaluate. You can ask your veterinarian for advice. Be aware that one of the pillars of prevention is to monitor your pet’s weight and avoid being overweight: overweight or obese dogs put more strain on their joints.
Chronic kidney failure
Kidney failure is a serious and very common problem in older dogs. The kidney is composed of nephrons, in limited number. Throughout his life, the dog’s kidney is subject to attacks that lead to the loss of nephrons. When there is not enough of them left, the kidney is no longer able to ensure its function: this is renal failure. It is therefore a disease that evolves progressively over time. At the beginning the dog drinks a little more, sometimes it goes unnoticed. Then he becomes progressively lethargic, he sometimes stops eating. In the later stages, the dog may vomit, or have diarrhea. His condition gradually deteriorates.
Fortunately, solutions exist to improve the dog’s quality of life and slow down the progression of the disease, especially if it is diagnosed early. Specialized feeding is essential. To diagnose chronic kidney failure, the veterinarian uses blood tests (uremia and creatinine levels) and urine density measurements.
If possible, try to quantify your dog’s intake of fluids. If your dog’s intake increases, talk to your veterinarian.
Urinary or fecal incontinence
Whether it is urinary or fecal, incontinence is a very disturbing problem for the homeowner on a daily basis. During urinary incontinence, the dog spreads urine everywhere without realizing it, which poses a major hygiene problem. In his sleep, the dog can also urinate in his basket. He does not put himself in a position to urinate. This should not be confused with uncleanliness (in this case, the dog is aware that he is urinating and does it voluntarily). In case of incontinence, reprimanding your dog is completely useless.
It is then necessary to determine if this incontinence is exclusively related to a loss of sphincter tone due to aging, or if there is another underlying medical cause. Be aware that treatments exist to strengthen the sphincter of the urethra. Finally, dog diapers exist and can help to manage the situation in the first instance.
Simple measures can ensure that your older dog will have a good life. This is not a question of therapeutic persistence: sometimes the dog simply needs a little “push” to live better for a few more years.