Old Dog Health

Q & A

Health and Dietary Concerns in Aging Dogs

Q: At what age is my dog considered old?

A: That’s highly variable. In general, the giant breed dogs age much faster than the large breed dogs, which age much faster than the small breed dogs. A Great Dane or a Mastiff can enter into the older phase of life at five or six. The medium-sized dogs, like cocker spaniels or corgis, the ones that are in the 30- to 50-pound range, we start considering them older at about age eight. Then for the smaller dogs, your Shih Tzus, the toy poodles, it’s about eight to 10 years.

Q: What are some of the physical signs that my dog is getting older?

A: Often it progresses so slowly that a lot of times people just don’t notice it. Graying around the muzzle, on the chest, on top of the head. There are more lumps and bumps and eyelid tumors, and those are just signs the immune system is starting to slip a little bit. They’re not as playful and active. They can have jutting hip bones, muscle wasting. They just don’t have a spring in their step. The stairs become forbidden, they don’t want to jump up in the back of a pickup truck any more. Their senses start getting dull -- their eyesight isn’t as good. Their hearing isn’t as good.

Q: As my dog ages, are there mental changes I should look for, too?

A: They can become less social or even more aggressive as they age. There can be house soiling accidents. They’re not as interested in their food or play.

Q: Do dogs get Alzheimer’s disease?

A: Some people call it that. It’s called cognitive disorder syndrome, canine brain aging. Sleeping patterns change; they’ll sleep more during the day and be awake at night. They’ll stand by the wrong side of the door to be let out. They’ll wander into a room they typically don’t go into and act like they don’t know why they’re in there. Again, their senses are dulled. It’s like they’ve gone from a world of 3-D back to a one-dimensional world.

Q: What are the most common medical problems with older dogs?

A: Fifty percent of dogs over the age of 10 are going to die of cancer. Other common problems are renal and kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes. Look for increased or decreased thirst. Changes in their bathroom habits. A lot of time you’ll see pain of movement, or lack of movement.

Q: Do I need to change my dog’s diet as she ages?

A: We used to think that we wanted to reduce the protein for older dogs, and now we’re finding out some of them need a higher-quality protein or more protein as they age. We certainly need to put them on something that’s reduced calories, reduced fat, so they don’t get obese. Sometimes we put them on a diet for a specific disorder; if their kidneys are starting to slip, we put them on a specific diet.

Q: What are some things I can do to make it easier for my dog as he gets older?

A: Have real soft bedding. A lot of people use heated orthopedic beds.
And heat their food up. Their sense of smell and sense of taste don’t work as well as they used to. If you’re still using dry food, you can put a little water on it or mix a little canned on it and put it in the microwave for seven to 10 seconds to release that aroma.
Social interaction is so important. Exercise also is important.

Q: Do elderly pets still require yearly vaccinations ?

A: That’s a hot topic. At one time we did a one size fits all -- everybody gets the exact same thing. But we over vaccinated because we gave everybody the same thing regardless of their life stage, lifestyle, or risk in the community. If your dog is boarded or goes to dog parks, you’d better vaccinate him.

Q: Are there any new drugs or therapies that can help an old dog get back some of his spark?

A: Some of the arthritis drugs are incredible. They can take a pet that’s really suffering -- that’s not playing, is depressed, inactive, getting overweight -- and you put him on these drugs and it’s like you loaded new batteries in him.

Q: Any supplements or vitamins I should add to my pet’s diet as he ages?

A: Sometimes there are supplements a specific pet might need, but again it’s not one size fits all. Talk to your veterinarian. Maybe your dog needs a fatty acid coat supplement or would benefit from additional calcium. But inappropriate or too many supplements can also cause problems, so it's always important to talk to your vet before starting any type of program.


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