Senior dog aging, health and happiness

Chronic pain

Cancer 

Hearing Loss 

Loss of appetite 

Nutrition in senior dogs

Supplements for senior dogs 

 

Introduction

Dogs become seniors a lot younger than we may think. A year for a dog is many-many years of a human life. You may have an early senior 6- to 7-year-old or a geriatric 15 year old. A long time before dogs show signs of aging, they have already started aging. Our Senior dogs face unique challenges as they become prone to age-related diseases (kidney disease, heart disease, dental disease) in addition to regular disease that all dogs are prone to. So, if we are able to identify signs of disease early, we can intervene early. Changes in appetite is one of the common ways dogs may communicate that something is wrong - not finishing meals, intermittent or fluctuating eating patterns. Let’s examine what disease could affect our senior dogs. 

Chronic pain 

Chronic pain can affect most senior dogs at some point and unfortunately this may be missed as they do not communicate pain like we humans do. Dental pain may be one of the causes. The dog may eat slow or may look at food for a while before eating, may have bad breath of you may see blood on the gums. Yearly professional dental clean under anesthesia by vets is recommended to monitor dental health. The need for professional cleans could be reduced by daily brushing and including chewing activities as a way to reduce plaque buildup. 

80% of dogs develop joint pain which may be caused due to the wear and tear of the musculoskeletal system of dogs. Dogs may show lethargy, appear depressed, lose appetite, or you may notice lumps and bumps as you feel them. These are signs that they may be in discomfort. Journaling these changes and taking them to the vet is what you can do to help them. You may want to consider senior proofing your home environment for your dog to prevent further injuries such as ligament strains from slipping, losing balance on stairs etc. You could consider nonslip cushioned mats on floor for somewhere for your dog to go to. 

Keeping dogs lean can help dogs live healthier and age better. A good guide for healthy weight is that you can’t see your dog’s ribs from looking at them but you are able to feel them easily. If your dog is overweight, you may need a weight reduction program which may include a vet recommended diet.  

Cancer 

50% of dogs over age of 10 will develop cancer. Only in recent times, it is now possible to have a screening blood test for common cancer in dogs. It is called NuQ and available in Australia. The dog need to fast 8-12 hours for the test, requires 5mls of blood, takes 3-5 days for testing and could cost $300-500. This is recommended for larger dog breeds from middle age to older age that are susceptible to cancer. You could enquire about this test at your veterinary clinic next time, but as it is very recent development, not everyone may be aware of it.  

Hearing Loss 

Dogs may not be able to hear as well as they age. This could be due to age-related loss of hearing, ear infections, ear medications, due to tumors or due to extended exposure to loud noise. The ability to hear higher pitched sounds is lost before losing low pitched sounds. So maybe they may not respond to the whistle as well as they used to. Often times, this will come as a surprise to the pet parents, but the hearing loss has been happening for a while, but dogs may compensate for it for some time. Always bring the pet into vet if you start to notice hearing loss so they are able to view the ear canals, test different frequency sounds, test for infections that may be treatable. 

To help dogs with hearing loss there are things you could do to help dogs adjust to the hearing loss that may bring on anxiety, or they may startle by sudden touch or loud noises. Providing them with a positive safe experience during this transition period can help with the anxiety. Here are some tips- approach them from front where they can see us, allow them to smell you before wake them up with a gentle touch, use flashlights to gain attention in the dark if you are out and want them to come to you, and ask kids to not startle a dog by waking them up. 

Loss of appetite 

Measure the amount of dog food you give them daily. Feed them twice a day, not throughout the day as it makes it hard to measure what you are feeding. 

Keep note of what dog treats you feed them and number of calories in the treat. Only feed one kind of treat at a time. 

See a vet and find the primary cause of loss of appetite. You may not always find answers, but they could rule out some diseases and improve the quality of life of your pet. 

Take your dog for wellness checks. Twice annual visits and annual blood works are recommended in senior dogs. 

Nutrition in senior dogs 

Currently there is no set standard for senior diet. AFCO has set minimal standards for growth, adult and lactating dog. In the absence of that, the commercial food marketed as senior dog food may include what the manufacturer has deemed important to be in senior dog food. It doesn’t mean that all food marketed as senior dog food is not good, but you may want to choose and pick diet that may address the issues in your dog. 

Some senior dog foods are lower in calories, as the senior dog metabolism may slow down. But some senior dogs may be more inclined to loose weight and you should not be putting them on a lower calorie diet often the ones advertised as senior dog diet. Healthy senior dogs do not need restricted protein diets unless they have kidney disease but again some commercial senior dog diets may have restricted protein content. Therefore the message is, there is not one size that fits all. 

Thus first, get support from veterinary in decision making. And secondly ensure that you look at the ingredients and energy label on the pet food packaging. 

Supplements for senior dogs 

Supplements don’t go through all FDA approval steps to be approved as medications, so they are not medications. They are tested for effectiveness for some health benefits by FDA but there may be some disreputable companies that may put out supplements that haven’t undergone testing for labelling quality and safety. Therefore always buy your supplements from a brand that undergoes testing and has some seal such as NASC (National Animal Supplement Council) Quality Seal to ensure they comply with standards. 

Joint supplements and cognitive supplements can help your aging dog. Introducing supplements early in the aging can make a difference in quality of your dog’s life. 

Another useful supplement is gastrointestinal supplement. In aging dogs, increased permeability of GI tract can lead to some generalized issues- fatigue, food sensitivities and immune responses. By supporting the GI health we can reduce the GI stress. Prebiotics and probiotics are important part of GI supplements. When picking supplements, look for   

 

 

 

 

 

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