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Signs of ageing and special health needs in your senior pet

A senior dog is an excuse to payback all the wonderful things they have given you over the years. Think of all those waggly-tailed welcomes, snuggles on a cold day and times when your dog knew when you needed some fur-therapy. Old age for your dog means changes to most facets of their life. Like humans, this generally means looking at diet, exercise, workload and managing health.

Making your senior dog as healthy and happy is a big part of the Fox Valley Animal Hospital experience. But the job doesn’t begin and end with the careful eye of our Wahroonga veterinary hospital.

senior dog

Photo by Kev Costello via Unsplash

Here’s what you can do at home to make your senior dog healthy, happy and as mobile as possible

Senior dog status is not one-size-fits-all

Unlike the myth that each year works out to be 7 doggy years, dogs enter their senior years at different ages depending on size and breed. For example, gigantic breed dogs like Great Danes may be classed as a senior dog after 5 or 6 years. A small dog breed like a Chihuahua may find it is closer to 10 years before senior dog status kicks in. Knowing when your dog is starting to enter the senior phase of life can help get the jump on supporting them through the transition.

A couple of clues you may wish to observe are:

  • Their age in relation to their breed or size. The staff at our Wahroonga veterinary hospital will be able to help you out with this
  • Any whiteness or greying appearing around the eyes, muzzle or whiskers
  • Slowing of movements and/or less interest for activities they may have enjoyed previously

Make vet visits a priority

All healthy dogs should see their vet on a regular basis. For puppies and senior dogs, this means seeing a vet ideally each 3 to 6-month intervals. This will depend on the breed, overall health of the animal and considerations such as pre-existing conditions, age and any impact from accidents or surgeries earlier in life.

Senior dogs become more vulnerable to ill-health as they transition. Prevention is better than cure, so diagnosing any issues as quickly as possible should be a priority.

You should bring your dog to us at our vet clinic if you see any of the following:

Changes to movement

Slowness progressing into laboured movement, limping or a lack of movement may begin in old age. This may be a sign of arthritis and general wear and tear on joints, bones and ligaments. We can help you with dietary supplements for osteo-support, senior or osteo-support diets, exercises to help improve mobility and medications including synovan injections.

We can also help with tips on making everyday activities and items such as walking and playing less painful. And stock a range of pyjamas and advise on bedding to help keep your senior dog toasty warm and as comfortable as possible.

Less obedient or interested in commands

We might see a certain amount of stubbornness in our senior dogs. After a lifetime of dedicated service, you might think this is a doggy version of retirement. It might be. However, the more likely cause could be the difficulty with movement mentioned above. Or it could be a sign of hearing loss.

We can test for hearing loss at Wahroonga vet clinic. We can also advise on any issues that might be contributing to hearing loss outside old age and treat them. For example, wax build up, untreated ear infections, foreign object lodged in the dog’s ear (e.g. grass seeds) or inflammation can all impair your dog’s hearing.

Hearing loss in dogs can often be countered by using hand signals instead of voice signals. Dogs are excellent readers of hand signals and using them throughout your dog’s life can help fortify you against the impacts of hearing loss later in life.

Bad breath or teeth discoloration

At Fox Valley Animal Hospital, we make dental care for dogs a priority. Keeping your dog’s mouth clean can help keep your dog healthier for longer.

As we’ve mentioned before, brushing your dog’s teeth helps prevent all kinds of issues including tooth loss, gum disease, plaque build-up, jaw pain, infection, loss of appetite, heart disease and more.

Look at our blog on how to brush your dog’s teeth. And pop on in to grab some Greenies and dental toys from the vet nurses.

Don’t allow old age to deter you from giving your senior dog a healthy and happy smile.

Pungent and potent smells

Don’t let the idea of having a stinky dog, whether it’s from the mouth, skin or rear end become an acceptable thing. The truth is, bad breath, smelly bodies, increased odour and passing wind are usually signs that your dog isn’t well.

Many of the stinky by-products can be treated simply and easily if caught in early stages. Usually by a change in diet, new medicated shampoo, a visit to Katie our skin specialist vet and proper cleaning and maintenance regimes. You could even consider a visit to Dr Katie and regular trips for dog grooming at the Pooch Parlour. 

If your dog is starting to get on the nose, don’t accept it as a senior dog side effect. Get advice from our Wahroonga veterinary clinic.

Low vision and cloudy eyes

Like any one of us, as your senior dog gets older, their vision will usually decrease. You may notice your dog has difficulty spotting toys that it might otherwise seen quite easily. Perhaps you call them and what seems like a standard bee line to you sees your dog looking around more than usual. Or the odd glance at your dog will show a glint of milkiness in the eye.

Most dogs will show some signs of nuclear sclerosis in their eyes as they age. That doesn’t mean you should skip getting them checked though. These may be early signs of eye problems such as cataracts in your senior dog.

Ask our vets about eye checks to ensure proper eye health.

Lots of toileting and potential incontinence

Our senior dogs do need more time to toilet. They may need extra time to be interested in the act of toileting, which means more time to sniff or carry the act to completion. They may also be prone to frequent urination or a more active bowel than before.

While the time it taken, and the additional backyard trips may be frustrating, it is important not to scold your dog. They are doing the best they can to manage the increased load.

Keep an eye on toileting as too frequent may be signs of diabetes, disease, urinary tract infection or ill-health. Also make sure that leavings are solid and healthy looking. If you see changes in toileting habits, it’s best to bring your dog into the vet for a check-up.

If a previously toilet trained dog begins to have accidents in the house, please exercise patience. If your senior dog is left inside all day and has a reduced capacity to hold on until you come home, leaving them with training pads or some form of safe toileting area may be an option. Again, if you see reduced capacity to make it to the toilet, bring your dog in for a check-up to ensure there are no underlying causes.

Changes to coat and skin

As a dog matures, it’s coat will change. As they enter the senior dog phase, it may grey or whiten. It could also become coarser. Another part of the process is seeing skin that is more prone to drying out, flaking, hot spots, itchiness and general damage. You may even see some hair loss and balding.

This could be a skin of changes to the health of the skin. Your best course of action is to book a consult with our vet Katie and get proper advice on how to look after the coat.

As a dog ages, you may also need to consider changing wash routines and introduce medicated baths and shampoo as part of the mix to support coat and skin health. Again, this is something our veterinary team can help you with.

Speaking of coat and skin, many senior dogs will develop lumps and bumps on their body as they age. These aren’t always something to worry about, as our vet nurse Hayley has explained in a previous blog.

It is however a good idea to do a regular scan of your dog’s body to monitor the growth of any lumps and bumps you find. And as always, if you have noticed the lumps forming quickly or are concerned about their presence, please bring your dog into our vet clinic in Wahroonga to make sure.

The journey of senior pets continues

We’ll be checking out the needs of senior cats and looking at what you can do as a pet owner to make your senior dog as healthy and happy as possible. Stay tuned!

Want to book a check up for your senior dog? Call us on (02) 9489 4805 to arrange an appointment today.

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.