Recommendations when caring for senior dogs
Published 6:22 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019
By HELEN PALMER
My dog will be 12 on his next birthday, so I feel that I have a senior or elderly dog. However, when I came upon an old article in Dog Watch’s November 2002 issue that started “The oldest dog on record lived 29 years,” I had to read it, compare it with current articles on longevity and write about it.
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The first thing recommended for owners of elderly dogs is to have a panel of geriatric screening tests to evaluate the physical condition of the animal and set a baseline. The tests listed include: a complete blood count, urinalysis, thyroid screen, chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram.
These tests will screen for hidden problems like anemia, infection, kidney and liver problems, cardiac and respiratory disease. Some of the other diseases to be checked include: diabetes, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome, which is a problem with the adrenal cortex.
Some of the problems that start with aging include: loss of muscle mass, bone density, cartilage and strength. Heart valves will often thicken making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. The liver and kidneys also can undergo cellular changes that affect the function of the organs. Skin problems may appear that need veterinary attention.
Also, the gastrointestinal tract usually fails to absorb nutrients like a younger dog. This is treated with food with high nutrient density and increased palatability. The animal’s weight should be monitored monthly in order to maintain the optimum weight.
Diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s and Addison’s are all endocrine problems that can be treated with medication. Since the immune system becomes less active, each patient should be evaluated individually by a veterinarian for best vaccination protocol, according to the Dog Watch article.
Tumors seem to grow more readily on older dogs. In the past, my standard schnauzers had to have numerous surgeries for tumors. I was fortunate that I was able to find the tumor in the early stage in time to have it removed. Only one dog developed brain tumors that were not noticeable and she died hours after her first seizure, a real shock to me. Knowing that tumors are a distinct possibility makes me vigilant when I pet, groom or handle my current dog.
Now, for some items that I haven’t had to deal with in the 40-some years of having canine pets. Some elderly dogs have behavioral changes such as wandering, disorientation and incontinence. Other dogs may have a change in sleeping patterns and roam the house at night while sleeping during the day. My little Papillon had an enlarged heart and died at the age of 16. She was active until the day she took a nap and never woke up.
My advice, if you have an older dog, is to have a specific veterinarian that you can team with to keep your pet as healthy and happy as possible. Then be sure to have fun with your companion each day and build some happy memories.