The physical and behavioral changes associated with aging can vary by breed and individual but eventually, all dogs become senior citizens. New challenges arise for both the dog and the owner during this stage of life, but with proper care and attention, a dog’s senior years can be golden years.
Watch for behavioral changes associated with getting older
Older dogs may take longer to get up in the morning. They may stop and appear to contemplate the stairs rather than bounding up them like they did when they were younger. They may elect to curl up in a corner away from the family, eat less, drink less, groom less and have more frequent urinary accidents. Growling, nipping, or yelping may occur when they are touched in certain areas as arthritis begins to set in. If one or more of these signs are present, it may be time to see the veterinarian. As dogs change, so do their nutritional needs. The veterinarian can suggest dietary changes that will ease some of the discomforts of aging and increase both the quality and duration of life for the dog.
Regular dental checkups are required
Dogs, like humans, are susceptible to periodontal disease, gingivitis, and plaque and tartar build up. As dogs age, they may present with bad breath and mouth pain. These are signs that bacteria may be building up in an unhealthy mouth. Senior dogs suffering from naturally weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to the spread of bacteria to vital organs including their kidneys and heart resulting in life threatening infections. As dogs age, it is crucial to keep their mouths clean through regular brushing and inspection. It is not uncommon for older dogs to develop impactions that require antibiotics and tooth extractions.
Check for lumps and bumps
Dogs commonly develop lumps and bumps under the skin as they age. Benign, fatty tumors called lipoma are very common in older dogs and tend to be soft and movable. Senior dogs may also develop tiny, pink wart-like growths called sebaceous hyperplasia. This too is common and benign. Large, hard, or immovable masses under the skin may be serious and cancerous and will require veterinary testing to determine if they are malignant or benign.
Sight and Hearing can be affected by age
Nuclear sclerosis, or clouding of the lenses of the eyes, is very common in older dogs and does not impair their vision, however, failing eyesight is not uncommon in older dogs and may be impossible to detect through visual inspection of the eye.
Signs of eyesight deterioration in dogs may include high stepping or stumbling when walking, bumping in to furniture or other objects, and walking with their noses very close to the ground. Senior dogs with vision loss can maintain a high quality of life when they are kept safe by their owners. They will probably require more time on the leash to get their daily exercise and should be confined to a fenced area free of obstructions when they are off the lease outdoors. They will create a mental map of their surroundings and get around quite easily when furniture moving is kept to a minimum and clear walking paths are provided. Older dogs may also develop cataracts in the eyes and surgery may be required to remove them.
Age related hearing loss, or Presbycusis, is the most common form of acquired hearing loss in dogs accounting for 30 percent of all hearing loss. Signs of hearing loss may include inattention or appearing startled when approached or touched from behind. There is little that can be done from a medical standpoint, but owners who are aware of the issue can help their dogs by always approaching them from the front and taking care not to startle them.