Common Health Problems in Older Dogs
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Aging is a complex biological process which occurs in every living organism. Unfortunately, it results in changes to the organism's cells which cause deterioration over time. Dogs are no exception. This deterioration can lead to various health problems, including disease. This is partly due to a reduction in immune system functionality, as well as the physical toll of years of movement will cause. The results include loss of muscle mass, periodontal problems, mucosa atrophy and more.
At AnimalWised, we look into more detail at the common health problems in older dogs. We understand the causes, symptoms and treatment of diseases in senior dogs and what we can do to help prevent them.
The incidence rate of cardiac problems in elderly dogs is high. The main symptoms are coughing, tiredness, weakness, lethargy, syncope (fainting in doss) and pale mucus membranes (gums and ocular conjunctiva). Heart diseases that affect older dogs include dilated cardiomyopathy and myxomatous mitral valve disease (degeneration of the mitral valve).
When noticing some of these symptoms, the guardian should take their dog to an evaluation with a veterinarian specialized in the subject. Diagnostic tests such as X-ray, electrocardiogram and echocardiogram should be carried out and the correct treatment is established immediately.
Treatment of heart disease in older dogs
Some heart diseases have no cure. They are a consequence of the aging of the animal's body and treatment is either unavailable, too invasive or prohibitively expensive. For some types of canine heart disease, surgical intervention and/or pharmacotherapy treatments may be available. These will depend on the underlying pathology. Symptom management may also need to be carried out via lifestyle changes.
Learn more with our article on canine cardiomyopathy symptoms and treatment.
As with humans, dogs also more prone to developing cataracts with age. It is one of the most frequent causes of vision loss in canines. The progressive opacification of the lens interferes with the absorption of light that will reach the retina, significantly impairing vision.
The main symptoms of cataracts in dogs are:
- Whitish or cloudy eye
- Difficulty navigating their environment
- Collisions with household furniture (which can result in head injuries)
The dog should be taken to the veterinary ophthalmologist for evaluation of the cataract and its classification according to its development (incipient, immature, mature and hypermature). Learn more with our article on why dogs have cloudy eyes.
Treatment of cataracts in older dogs
The treatment will be chosen according to the stage of the disease. Cataracts are a progressive condition, with surgery being the only definitive treatment. If treated in time, they can return the dog's vision to near-normal levels.
Osteoarthritis or osteoarthritis
When it comes to common health problems of older dogs, joint diseases are one of the most prevalent. Degenerative joint disease known as osteoarthritis is a chronic, slow-growing, non-infectious disease that affects the synovial joints. It is classified as primary when it results from the natural aging of the body, without a defined cause. Secondary osteoarthritis in dogs is a response to joint instability due to bone fractures, patellar dislocation and knee ligament rupture, among other issues.
The main symptoms of osteoarthritis in senior dogs are:
- Claudication (muscle pain) after exercise
- Difficulty walking
- Change in posture
- Difficulty in locomotion
- Joint pain
- Joint inflammation
- Muscle atrophy (in severe cases)
Treatment of osteoarthritis in older dogs
There is no cure for this health problem in senior dogs, so treatment is aimed at relieving the animal's pain and discomfort. It will also act to prevent or delay further degenerative changes, as well as restoring affected joints where possible. Rest and weight reduction of the animal are important. Exercise is still needed to maintain overall, something you can learn more about in this article on physical therapy for dogs with arthritis.
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic kidney disease, also known as chronic renal failure, is the most common degenerative disease in older dogs. it is both progressive and irreversible. Some animals live a few months after diagnosis, while others can achieve a certain quality of life for several years. The most common symptoms include:
- Increased thirst
- Polyuria or oliguria
- Weakness (due to anemia)
- Bad breath
Polyuria (increased urination) or oliguria (decreased urination) will occur depending on the stage of the the kidney failure.
Treatment of kidney disease in older dogs
As we have mentioned, this disease of older dogs has no cure. The objective of the treatment is to delay the evolution of the disease and manage symptoms. A change of diet for dogs with kidney disease is necessary. We need to reduce the amount of phosphorus, sodium and protein they consume, as well as ensuring proper levels of fatty acids and B complex vitamins.
Unfortunately, kidney disease is often either asymptomatic or has generalized symptoms in its early stages, so it can be difficult to diagnose promptly. As with all the common health problems in older dogs, early detection is important. Fir this reason, we need to take senior dogs on more regular veterinary checkups than younger canines.
Periodontal disease is the most common cause of oral infections and tooth loss in older dogs. It results in inflammation and destruction of the periodontal tissues which support and protect the teeth. The main cause is the accumulation of bacterial plaque (due to food debris, bacteria, defense cells of the body and scaling of the mouth), which mineralize and form dental plaque known as tartar.
The clinical signs of periodontal disease in dogs will depend on the stage of the disease:
- Bad breath
- Pain when chewing
- Swollen and red gums
- Brown stain on the teeth
- Not eating due to pain
- Loss of teeth
Treatment of periodontal disease in older dogs
Treatment should be started as soon as possible to provide relief and comfort to the animal. It is usually based on the administration of antibiotics, although this will depend on the severity of the clinical condition.
It is recommended to brush your dog's teeth at least once a week and to perform a dental cleaning (carried out by a specialized veterinarian, under general anesthesia) whenever dental calculi begin to appear, as well as the restoration of affected teeth or the extraction.
Neoplasms are one of the most common skin diseases in older dogs. They are skin tumors that can be benign or malignant. For this reason, it is essential to go to the veterinary center to analyze the neoplasm and determine its cause. Malignant tumors that appear on a dog's skin include carcinoma, melanoma and sarcoma.
The most common symptom is the appearance of a lump caused by an abnormal growth of cells under the skin. It is also possible to see hardened wounds, moles or warts.
Treatment of neoplasms in older dogs
The most effective treatment is usually removal of the tumor, something which requires surgical intervention. Whether it is benign or malignant, the veterinarian may decide to establish chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment. It will also be necessary to follow a series of care instructions at home, such as ensuring that the dog is allowed to rest, avoiding stress, etc.
What can I do to improve my dog's quality of life?
Although we have seen that almost all of the common diseases of old dogs are degenerative and have no cure, there are treatments that help slow down development. They can improve the dog's quality of life and avoid euthanizing the dog. The care we provide as guardians can also greatly affect their quality of life. As it is a natural process in all animals, old age is something we need to consider once they start to reach around 7 years of age.
Here are some general tips you can use to improve a dog's quality of life and best prevent the most common health problems of elderly dogs:
- Provide a warm, dry place for them to sleep, preferably padded.
- Improve accessibility of food and water, especially if the dog has mobility problems.
- Pay attention to whether dog can still chew dry food. If not, provide wet food or add water to dry feed to make it more palatable. If you want to start a homemade diet, it is important to do so with the help of a veterinarian specialized in nutrition.
- Do not force them to take long walks or do intense exercise.
- Remove furniture or objects that may pose a danger to your dog if they no longer see well.
- Give them love and let them enjoy your presence, as they would have when they were younger.
Now that you know the most common health problems in older dogs, don't miss the following video in which we talk about the most common behavioral problems during this stage:
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Common Health Problems in Older Dogs, we recommend you visit our Degenerative diseases category.
- Assumpção, ALK (2020). Introduction to the Dog Geriatric Clinic. Monograph presented at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.
https://lume.ufrgs.br/bitstream/handle/10183/38719/000791614.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed on 07/13/2022.
- Wang, T. (2020). Quantitative translation of aging from dog to human by conserved remodeling of the DNA methylome. Cellular Systems, 11(2), 176-185. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405471220302039.
- Pontes, L. L, Correa, F. G. (2011). Diagnostic imaging methods in dogs with cataract. Electronic Scientific Journal Med. Vet., 16. http://faef.revista.inf.br/imagens_arquivos/arquivos_destaque/oJqbzqQcqiejXtg_2013-6-26-10-50-31.pdf