Dear YAP,


Question:  I have an older dog. Does he need any special care? 




OK, let's begin with the things that you can do at home first. Please bear in mind that these things can also apply to all dogs, too.
One of the best things that you can do for your older dog is to keep him or her at a healthy body weight. Like people, obesity in dogs is directly related to, or severely affects other medical disorders like arthritis, heart disease, lung disorders, diabetes, and collapsing trachea. Then, there is also weight-related joint damage like rupture of a cruciate ligament (knee) or a spinal disc. Even the skin and immune systems in dogs are affected by excess weight. An overweight dog is an increased surgical and anesthesia risk.  Studies have found that dogs who have been fed on a restricted feeding schedule and kept at an ideal weight can live up to 15% longer than a dog who is allowed to have a 'free choice' feeding. 
Older dogs have a more sensitive stomach than younger dogs, so its better to feed your dog a high quality dog food made for older dogs. I keep a measuring cup with the dog food to always measure out the correct amount of food to feed my older dog, because its too easy to feed the wrong amount, especially with smaller dogs..
Keep fresh water available for your dog, at all times. Older dogs tend to dehydrate faster, which can lead to developing kidney or bladder problems.
Clean your dog's teeth. One of the most common diseases in older dogs is periodontal disease. The bacteria from the infected gums gets into his bloodstream, causing liver, kidney and heart disease. If your dog will not let you clean his teeth, then encourage him to chew on a chew toy that helps clean teeth. Your veterinarian can clean the tooth tartar off, and check for any periodontal disease, as well as remove any infected or decayed teeth. Your vet can tell you the best dental care regimen for your dog.  
Trim your dogs toenails regularly, or have a groomer or vet, or vet tech do it for you. Your dog will feel much more comfortable walking, and be more willing to walk or play to get the moderate level of exercise that his older body needs. Which reminds me: walk your dog, and/or play with him! Its actually a de-stresser for you as well as for him. Walking with your dog is a bonding and socializing event to him, and good exercise for both of you. Petting your dog has been found to reduce the human's blood pressure.
Brush and bathe your dog regularly. OK some dogs hate a bath, but they do like feeling clean. Be sure that he is thoroughly dry before you take him out for a walk. Brushing and bathing will also act as a way to check out your dog's skin for any lumps or skin disorders. Refer any new bumps or skin irritations to your vet. When you bathe your dog, try to make it an encouraging and positive event for your dog. Here is where a few tiny training treats may come in handy at different steps during his bath. If he's stressed, speak in a pleasant voice, so he will feel better. If you sound stressed, he will respond with his stress reaction..
See, that's not hard.. but there's another very important thing to help your dog age well: Bring your dog to your vet regularly
Depending on his age, condition, or health history that could be once or twice a year. 
When you arrive, you have to do the talking for your dog. Bring a current stool sample, because the vet will check that for digestive tract health. Tell your vet how long you have this dog, and approximate age, if you know it. Tell the vet about any changes in your dog's behavior or body that concern you. If your concern is a lump or skin bump (benign cysts or fatty tumors called 'lipoma" are common in older dogs) be sure to tell the vet if your dog licks, bites or scratches the area. Its better to have it surgically removed than risk having the dog tear it open, and get infected. Most dogs just ignore their benign bumps. 
Your vet will look at the dogs teeth, eyes, ears, and feel his abdomen, and take his pulse and temperature. The vet will listen to your dog's heartbeat and respiration, and then gently probe, especially in older dogs for any arthritis, and any skin bumps or rashes. Show the vet any bumps or skin lumps that you found. He may also take a blood sample. 
Your vet can give you a food and exercise regimen to help your dog either loose weight or maintain his current healthy weight. He may recommend a dental cleaning, especially if your dog has tartar or an offensive oral smell, that could be a sign of an infected tooth or gums. He may recommend vitamins or medication to help your dog stay healthy, or medications to ease his arthritis aches.
Some of the more common ailments in older dogs are: 
Cataracts or not cataracts:
When we see that our dog's eyes are becoming cloudy, we usually think cataracts. Actually, most of the time that cloudiness is something called "Lens Sclerosis" or "Nuclear Sclerosis." This is found in most dogs over six years of age, and is a normal change in their eyes. It mostly occurs in both eyes, and does not significantly affect his vision. There is no treatment that is recommended at this time, because it appears most of his vision is still adequate for daily doggy activities. This condition is a slow progressing disorder, and the dog will adapt to his changes in vision.
Cataracts develop in older dogs at about six years of age or older. The most common cause of cataracts in dogs is Diabetes Mellitus, because of increased levels of glucose in the lens. The glucose causes more water to get into the lens, which damages the lens fibers, creating the cataract. There are surgical techniques to remove canine cataracts, all with a high success rate. Your dog will require pre-op exams by his regular vet, plus testing by a veterinary ophthalmologist. The same testing equipment and surgical procedures performed on people are also performed on dogs, which is why the surgery is so expensive.  The pre-operative testing is done to determine if your dog is a candidate for a successful surgery. If he is medically unstable, aggressive or has retinal damage, he will not be a candidate for surgery.  Some veterinarians will not recommend cataract surgery for much older dogs.
At home, I'd recommend that you block off stairways to prevent a wandering dog from falling. When you walk your dog, hold his harness to guide him down and up your outdoor steps.I prefer a harness to a collar, because: the dog will feel more secure, a harness will prevent neck injuries or trachea problems. My own 13 year old yorkie/silky mix has cataracts, so I leave low wattage lights on at night, just in case he walks around. We also have a wood doggy ramp so he can go up the ramp to get to my bed. I even use the ramp to tie my walking shoes! I decided not to get those advertised dog steps, because they are steeper than the ramp, but the stairs may work fine for your dog. The ramps can also be made of dense foam, and are sold at some dog supply websites. You can make a ramp or even wider steps out of dense foam, gluing layers, and cutting with an electric knife or saw. Most of all, gentle encouragement and praise will make you old  friend feel safe and secure at home..  
Arthritis in dogs is most frequently found in the weight bearing joints of the hips or knees, and of the spinal column. The disease is also called osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease.( DJD). It occurs in middle aged to senior dogs upon loss or cartilage in the joints, or the cartilage producing cells die. In severe cases, it can lead to loss of joint function.
Arthritis or DJD can happen after an injury, or from poor nutrition, or even infections. In larger breeds, young dogs can develop hip dysplasia. 
At present, treatments of Arthritis or DJD aim to help your dog in four ways: reduce or control pain, slow the rate of the joint destruction, encourage cartilage repair and increase the dog's ability to move the afflicted joints. Pain is controlled by Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDS)
Aspirin: most commonly used, is effective, but can cause gastric upset.
Carprofen;(brand name Rimadyl): more effective and stronger than aspirin. Is safe, but vets have found rare events of liver toxicity.
Etodolac (brand name EtoGesic) is a potent pain reliever, and has less risk of gastric side effects.
Adequan,is the brand name of a medication that inhibits joint and cartilage inflammation, and joint enzymes that destroy joint cartilage.This is given by injection and works best when given early in the disease.
NSAIDS and cartilage repair medication work differently and can be given at the same time.
Also useful are medications that help maintain and protect the joint cartilage while the body tries to repair itself. My research found two dietary food supplements for dogs, both of which contain glucosamine and purified chondroitin sulfate, which help build cartilage. These are brand names Cosequin and Glyco-flex. As always, tell your vet if you are giving your dog these food supplements so he can determine if there needs to be any changes in prescribed medication, with these supplements.
While your dog is getting medication for his arthritis, you can also help him by keeping him/her at a slender healthy weight with measured food, low calorie treats like tasty veggies (baby carrots, my guy loves raw small broccoli florets) If your pet is diagnosed with DJD, your vet will advise you to keep your pet at a slightly less than ideal weight, just to reduce weight pressure on those sore weight bearing joints.  Gentle exercise, like walking is also great for arthritic dogs. Avoid playing that involves high jumps, and strenuous running, it just hurts too much to try to do that for you. Yes, they will try if they think that is what you would like them to do. Put a covered thick foam (or other soft filled) cushion or pad on the floor, so he can sleep in comfort without trying to get on the furniture. You can cover that with an old soft towel or piece of an old sheet, so its easier to wash than the pillow, and it will hold your scent so he will feel close to you. For winter walks put a dog coat on your dog, making sure it covers the hip joint.


Surgery is an option for younger dogs with hip dysplasia, to keep the femur (thighbone) from rubbing or grating against the hip socket. If medication weight loss and all other home comforts fail, there is also a hip replacement surgery using a dog prosthetic device can be done.  Acupuncture has been found to help some dogs with many painful muscle-bone diseases, but so far, I have not found results of a clinical study confirming its effectiveness.


Hearing Loss
First, there is genetic deafness, which a pup is born with, and occurs more frequently in certain breeds like Dalmatians and English Setters. (Dogs are born hearing, but congenital deafness shows itself in the 3rd or 4th week after birth.)  As with other genetic disorders, with any breed, obtaining a dog from a good professional breeder who breeds for the purpose of improving the breed, will minimize your risk of having a deaf dog.
Acquired deafness mainly occurs in older dogs, but its causes can affect younger dogs, too. Acquired deafness can be caused by infections, aging, excessive noise, drug toxicity or medication side effects. There is a hearing test for dogs called a BAER test, done in larger veterinary facilities, and is expensive. A dog with loss of hearing in one ear is harder to diagnose, except that he is unable to locate the direction or source a sound is coming from.  A dog with acquired deafness will often learn on his own to watch for commands, or food preparation, like putting out his food bowl. He will also sleep through your calling him. He will need to be protected outdoors, either on a leash or in a penned in play area, because he cannot hear traffic, voices, or warning sounds. He can be taught to feel vibrations, as a sign that you are calling to him. That works well on hard floors. He may even adapt to the deafness on his own. Never startle a deaf dog, because they may take that as a sign of aggression and  respond in kind. Discuss home care of a deaf dog with your vet, and look up websites relating to canine deafness for additional hints.

Now, while the BAER test for a dog's hearing is expensive, it does tells whether hearing is gone in one ear or both. For a home pet, you can try this simple hearing test.  You see, a dog, like a small child may develop 'selective hearing.'  You can call him forever, but if he don't want tocome, he won't. So this test is based upon a dog's wanting to show he can hear:

If you are doubtful if your dog can hear, go to the next room or a far room in your home, away from the dog. Put a crinkly sounding bag of his favorite treats or your favorite chips there. Wait a while for the dog to forget its there. Make sure the usual sound level is going on in your home. Then, when the pooch get comfortable in another room,  have someone  crinkle the cellophane or crispy mylar bag.  If the dog comes looking for a treat, he can still hear pretty well.


Cancer is the most dreaded diagnosis we can hear when it comes to our pets. But now there are three important things you should know:
1. There are specific symptoms to identify cancer, so you can get your pet to a vet for earlier treatment
2. Veterinarians have identified specific preventative things you can do to help your pet
3. Canine cancer is more treatable than in the past: cure rates are increasing, because of earlier identification, and newer treatments..
Cancer symptoms: (From the American Veterinary Medical Association) If you notice any of these symptoms bring your dog to the vet as soon as you can.
 Some of the symptoms are the same as other disorders,(stiffness can be arthritis, too). Remember the earlier the treatment the better a chance for a cure.
1. Abnormal swelling that does not go away
2. Sores that don't heal.
3. Weight loss, with no dietary reason,
4. Blood or other discharge from any body opening,
5. Loss of appetite,
6. Difficulty eating or swallowing,
7. Offensive odor
8. Loss of stamina, and/or reluctant to exercise,
9. Persistent lameness or stiffness,
10. Difficulty in breathing or passing body waste,
There are also certain things you should know to help prevent cancer in your pet. First, some breeds have a higher rate of cancer than others, so its best to work with a reputable breeder and discuss the breed of dog you are considering. Keep your dog at a slim healthy weight, feeding him only a high quality food from a reputable company (or veterinary prescribed home made food) and give him plenty of exercise.  Give him healthy treats like baby carrots, raw broccoli florettes, sweet pepper bits, or other veggies that your vet says is good for your dog. Spay or neuter a dog early in life decreases its risk of cancer. For instance, spaying a female before her first heat cycle, reduces her risk of breast cancer. Avoid exposure to carcinogens such as weed killer, pesticides, kerosene or coal heaters, tobacco smoke, asbestos, even radiation and strong magnetic fields.  
If your dog is diagnosed with cancer remember cure rates are improving, as is quality of life during and after treatment. If the Cancer cannot be cured, there are still treatments that can give your dog a quality of life that is close to what he had before getting cancer. Almost all dogs can be helped with treatment. Discuss all the options available with your vet, and ask questions. You can seek a second opinion and ask about other alternative methods of treatment.
Finally, whatever treatment regimen or care you decide, always remember, the decision you make is based upon what is right for you and for your dog. 


Terry Powell



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