What is the most important thing to know about when caring for a senior dog?
I think the most important thing is just to simply realize that there is a difference in a senior dog versus a younger to middle aged dog. Catching any kind of problem earlier in their life is going to be much more beneficial to us as veterinarians. We prefer to attempt to treat any issues immediately as opposed to seldom seeing a dog and by the time they come in to see us, they have an advanced problem already. So realizing that there is a difference and trying to address those differences early is the key to senior care.
What is the life expectancy of a dog?
Well, that's a hard question to answer because there is no black and white answer, let's be honest. Depending on the breed and size of the dog, those can vary greatly. If you have a large breed dog—say like a Great Dane or a Mastiff—making it into double digits is kind of a big deal. So 10 or 11 years is pretty old for those large breeds. It's not unusual to see a Doxin or a Yorkie or a Chihuahua live to 15, 16 years, or maybe even older than that. So normally my knee jerk answer is 13 to 15 but, just as with the examples I listed, you can have variations in that depending on the size and breed of the dog.
How does getting older impact the health of my dog?
It’s a little different than it is for you and me. A lot of ailments that we as humans suffer from veterinary patients suffer from as well, but they show it differently. In fact, a lot of times they don't show it at all because they tend to be very stoic. But one of the most common things that we see is arthritis. We also see eye conditions, whether it's cataracts or nuclear sclerosis. There are various things that affect their vision. Skin growths are also very common, very common. When it comes to lumps and bumps, some of them are benign while others are malignant, so the sooner we catch those and address them, the better off we'll be.
How can wellness care extend the life and vitality of my dog?
As I just mentioned, the sooner you can catch any of these ongoing conditions, then the better chance for a successful outcome that you have. I'll just use a different example, kidneys. If an animal comes in and, say, he's eight, nine years old, we do a blood panel on him and he comes back his kidney numbers are starting to become escalated, we can do diet changes, and there are supplements that we give to improve the kidney function. But yet if that all comes in at 12 years old and the dog is in full blown kidney failure, options are extremely limited at that point.
Does my dog still need regular wellness exams as they get older?
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I would argue that it's much more important, and I know that's kind of an odd thing to say, but with a young, healthy animal, there's less likelihood that they're going to have any of these issues that I keep referencing. However, considering how fast dogs age and how stoic they are, again, they don't show you very many signs. Why? Because they're a dog, because they're pack animals. If they show weakness like that in a pack, they're going to get left behind, singled out, or worse. So they are programmed to not show you anything, and usually by the time they do show you something it's already pretty advanced and they just can't compensate for it anymore. That's why it's very important to continue doing examinations and perhaps even more frequently than you had in their younger years.
What are some signs and symptoms that my dog may be slowing down?
Well, again, thinking about the problems that are most common, arthritis is one of the first things I mentioned earlier. And so what does that look like? In a dog that used to bounce all over the place, run, jump fences, jump on and off of furniture, bed, stairs—well now they're looking at that staircase and they're just like, "Oh God, I don't want to go." They want you to pick them up. Maybe they don't jump on and off of things anymore. Sometimes they're wobbly when they go to posture to use the bathroom, or maybe even it's just a step to get to the yard that they're stumbling and falling down now where they never did that before.
Another very common thing is when they've been sleeping for a while, either all night or even a long nap during the day, they wake up and they're really stiff and have trouble getting up and getting going, so to speak.
Those are some of the not-so-subtle signs in some cases of what arthritis can look like, and again, depending on what condition. They can look a lot of different ways, but those are some of the most common signs.
Another one in older dogs might be heart conditions. I didn't touch upon this earlier. So what you might think a very inconsequential cough might be the beginnings of congestive heart failure. If you bring them in, we as veterinarians can hear a heart murmur, maybe we hear fluid in the lungs, we do an x-ray, we diagnose it, we get them on meds, and they do better. So just be mindful of those seemingly subtle changes and if you see something that just doesn't look right or maybe the dog's doing something that you never did before, it's probably worth getting them looked at just to be safe.
Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing if my dog is slowing down or whether they're actually sick?
Because it's easily mistaken. I'll use one example with dogs that come in for vomiting. It's one of the most common things that we see animals walk in this clinic for. Vomiting could be that they've found a dead something in the yard, maybe they found a piece of food that they weren't supposed to eat. Maybe they overate. It could be any or all of these basic things. But you know what? Vomiting could also be the first sign of kidney disease, liver disease, or that perhaps a toxin is presenting that way.
You run the risk if you try to diagnose some of these things at home and say, "Oh, it's probably nothing.” Yeah, you might be right. But what if you're not right? Then you run the risk that you could have treated a condition much earlier and cured that condition, but if we don't address it quickly enough or we're wrong on that initial diagnosis, then it could have a very less than desirable outcome.
Dog Senior Care - FAQ
Hi, I'm Dr. Broussard with the Waggin' Train Veterinary Clinic, and in today's segment, we're going to discuss how to care for your senior dog. My assistant, Chole, and I have made a list of questions that we're going to run through together to hopefully give you a better understanding of how to care for your dog in his golden years. Chole?
What health issues do I need to look out for in my senior dog?
This is obviously a pretty broad question. So I would tell you it's impossible to list every single thing that you can look out for. What I will simply say, to answer this question, is you're looking for anything abnormal, such as your dog being slow to get up, having pain going up and down stairs; anything that shows that an animal is affected adversely, whereas they weren't previously, I would have looked at by your veterinarian and addressed.
What are some things I can do to make my aging dog more comfortable?
When it comes to basic comfort, I think things like giving them a nice, cozy bed go a long way. They even have Tempur-Pedic mattresses for dog beds.
Minimize the amount of steps or climbing that they would have to do to get in and out of beds or furniture or the house. Just be mindful of that because that is going to be a little bit more difficult for them to do.
Also, when it comes to loading for those that take their animals on trips often or like to take them for rides on a daily basis, consider getting a ramp so that they can load a lot easier. Those are the kinds of things that you will start to see them slow down in as they do age.
Does my senior dog need vaccinations and preventative care?
Absolutely is my answer to that one, although there are certain vaccinations that may be able to be slowed down or not given with as much frequency perhaps as the dog ages. For instance, I'm not really worried about Parvo in a 13-year-old Labrador as I would be in a 13-week-old Labrador. Your veterinarian will use their discretion to decide if those things are still necessary or not.
Preventative care, absolutely. I consider preventative care to be things such as routine blood work, heartworm prevention, flea control, and other things like that.
Why does my senior dog sometimes yowl at night?
Hmm. That could also be for a variety of reasons. I mean, the first thing that comes to my mind is senility. I don't want to say Alzheimer's because that's not really a condition we document in dogs, but it certainly happens.
It could be from being painful as well. If they're laying on a hard floor or hard surface and they're arthritic, there's not as much muscle there to provide cushion or support, so it could mean that they are in pain.
It could simply be a dog that just misses you and doesn't want to be away from you at night, so it’s hard to say for sure. Definitely get the animal looked at and have some blood work run, so that way, if there is something underlying, you can catch it early and address it.
Are there nutritional or environmental changes I should make as my dog grows older?
Nutritional, yes. There are various senior dog foods that are on the market and for good reason. They do have different nutrient requirements as they age. So yes, I think senior dog food would be a definite plus. And then some of the changes I kind of alluded to a few questions back when I was talking about ramps to get on and off furniture, into vehicles—those kinds of things are changes that you can make.
One other one that comes to mind if you have an animal with arthritis, you might consider elevated food bowls, food and water bowls that you can put on an elevated platform, if you will. It might make it a little bit easier for your dog to access. Just kind of think ahead of how you can make it a little bit easier for them to go about their daily lives.
If you have any questions, reach out to us. You can contact us directly here at the office by calling (337) 223-9581. Please reach out if you have any questions and we'll do our best to take care of you.