What to Expect When Your Dog Starts Getting Older
Despite giving our pet dogs the best and highest quality pet food, regular exercise, and plenty of physical and mental stimulation, they will always reach a point when they are already growing old. As morbid as the thought may be, there are a few things you can do to soften the impact of an elderly or senior dog. By learning what to expect from a pet that’s starting to go over the hill, you can also prepare yourself in the proper care of the animal. Here are some of the things you can expect from your aging hound:
Presence of Age-Related and Degenerative Diseases
One of the surest signs that your dog is starting to get older is the presence of certain diseases. In many cases, these health conditions are the result of normal wear and tear on the dog’s body. From the joints to individual organs to whole organ systems, the effects of many years of abuse can take its toll on the dog.
One has to understand that the cells and tissues of any living organism don’t stay young. They grow old, too. There are also specialized cells that no longer regenerate once they undergo cell death. A good example of these are brain cells. Once these cells and tissues die, they can no longer regenerate. They are unlike other cells of the body that have basal cells which continue to produce new cells in case the old ones die a natural death.
What this means is that the signs of aging we see in our dogs are reflections of the aging process that occurs in each of its cells. This can bring about disease.
For instance, we mentioned that brain cells cannot regenerate. This can have an impact on the cognitive function of the animal. That is why you may notice your dog to be showing signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction that resembles the Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in humans.
There may also be problems in the cardiovascular system. The tissues within the blood vessel walls are no longer as efficient as they were when the dog was younger. Because of these changes in the anatomy of the body organs, there can be problems related to increased blood pressure. Chronic hypertension can put a significant strain on the dog’s heart. This can make it have to work harder. Unfortunately, the muscles of the heart are also not as efficient as before. So, you may notice your dog to be very weak or will grow tired very fast.
Of course, there is always the issue of arthritis. Over the years, your dog’s movements and body weight can have an impact on the integrity of its joint capsule. With aging comes the deterioration of this part of the dog’s body, leading to painful and swollen joints.
There’s also diabetes, liver problems, and kidney issues. Almost every other organ in the dog’s body will show some form of dysfunction because of the effects of aging. These can manifest in the form of age-related and degenerative diseases in dogs.
As a pet parent, it is your responsibility to look after your senior hound’s health care needs. Getting more frequent veterinary checkups can help give you a heads’ up on the status of your pet’s health. You will also be able to know the specific actions needed to take care of the animal at home.
We all know how remarkable a dog’s senses are. They have an excellent sense of smell and hearing as well as vision, although they don’t see the full spectrum of colors that we humans do. The point is that canines have remarkable sensory organs. Mother Nature designed these sense organs in such a way to help dogs live and thrive in a harsh environment. They use it to hunt for food and to protect their loved ones.
Unfortunately, the process of aging affects every living cell. As such, the cells and specialized tissues in these sense organs can also undergo degenerative changes.
For instance, cataracts and glaucoma are very common among senior hounds. Cataract results in a cloudy lens, making it very difficult for the animal to see. Glaucoma, on the other hand, results in an abnormal increase in pressure inside the eyes. This can make it very painful and can compress the nerves in the dog’s eyes. This can also affect the dog’s vision. Other vision problems in senior dogs can include dry eye syndrome, corneal damage, and conjunctivitis, among others.
As for the dog’s sense of hearing, identifying hearing loss can be tricky. In most cases, people might think that the dog is becoming more aggressive or more skittish. Hence, they may think that it has a serious behavioral problem. However, there are ways in which you can test for your pet’s hearing acuity at home.
Expect your senior pet’s senses of hearing, vision, and smell to decrease as it starts to grow old. This means you also have to adjust your interactions with the pet. Make sure to place the dog’s bed and food and water bowls in the same place. This will make it easier for the dog to find them. Also, refrain from startling your pet or making sudden movements. It can be very frightening for a dog that has lost control of its senses.
There are many reasons why a senior dog may display changes in its behavior. For starters, a reduction in its ability to hear, see, or smell can be very nerve-wracking for a dog. A once-confident and self-assured hound can turn into an anxious, skittish, and sometimes aggressive pet canine. Your friends and neighbors might interpret these changes in your pet’s behavior that it is already becoming mad.
A dog that cannot hear commands from its owner may seem like it is being disobedient or stubborn. But the fact is that the pet cannot hear the commands. It may hear the sound, but its cognitive function is already deteriorating that the dog doesn’t know how to respond anymore.
The same is true with a dog that may already have vision loss. It may bump into things and turn your house in complete disarray. For most individuals, they will think that the dog has a severe behavioral problem.
You may also notice the senior dog unable to jump, climb stairs, or walk as far as it used to. This is because the animal may already have issues with its joints, making it painful and difficult to move. There are also mild-mannered dogs that may begin showing signs of aggression. For a healthy adult dog, this can be a real problem. However, if you see such a behavior in a senior dog, then it may be related to the pet’s declining cognitive function.
It is also possible that your senior dog will become less tolerant of children. It may no longer be able to withstand the roughhousing of your kids and can snap at any moment. It may react in an unusual way to unpredictable movements and sudden squeals. If there are loud noises, the elderly canine may also exhibit increased distress.
For households with multiple dogs, it is best to watch for any shift or change in dominance patterns among dogs. Depending on your pet, it may become more dominant or more submissive as it grows older. In general, however, most senior canines will often have difficulty adjusting to the presence of a new puppy. The senior hound may already be too old to keep up with the puppy’s high energy levels, causing it to react in a more aggressive manner.
Many of these behavioral changes in senior hounds are the result of the aging process. However, there are also those that are secondary to a disease process. As such, don’t look at these changes as nothing more than a part of canine aging. You should still look at the general welfare of your pet. Getting it to a vet for a thorough examination can help you identify the medical issue that may be causing these behavioral changes.
Loss of Control of Urination and Bowel Movements
Known as fecal or urinary incontinence, a senior dog may lose its ability to control its defecation and/or urinary elimination. There are many possible reasons why incontinence can occur. The most important reason for elderly canines is the loss of muscle control.
We know that the brain cells of the senior hound are no longer as efficient as it used to be. As such, the different neural pathways from the brain to the group of muscles that control the orifices in the anus and the urethra may no longer be working that well. Instead of contracting these muscles, they may not receive the correct signals coming from the brain. Hence, there is only partial contraction, leading to partial closure of the orifices. This lets out urine or feces.
Of course, the presence of a medical condition can also lead to incontinence in elderly canines. Cancer and tubular obstruction can also produce symptoms of incontinence in a dog that is starting to grow old. Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury can also damage the nerves that send signals to the bladder and the colon. If there is no efficient transmission of nerve impulses, then the geriatric hound can also become incontinent.
Incontinence is never a pleasant experience for dogs. They know that they can get punished for defecating or urinating in areas where they’re not supposed to. But what can they do? They have already lost control of their urinary and fecal elimination abilities.
If you see this problem in your geriatric canine, then avoid punishing it. Take it out to do its business on a more frequent basis. Consider letting it wear doggie diapers. Your best course of action is to let a vet check your pet’s state of health. Addressing some of the diseases that can bring about incontinence can offer some relief for your aging dog.
Changes in Weight
A senior hound can either lose weight or gain additional pounds. Most geriatric dogs are no longer as active as they used to be. This reduced physical activity without a concomitant reduction in the animal’s calorie intake can result in weight gain. Since the pet is no longer as active as before, then it will not be able to use all the calories in its food. If this happens, the excess calories get converted and stored as fat.
However, it is also possible that a geriatric hound can lose weight. This can occur if it already has digestive issues. The dog’s digestive system can no longer process the food that the pet eats every day. It is also possible that there is a loss of appetite because of a diminishing cognitive function and weakness. The presence of degenerative and age-related diseases can also impact appetite. All of these can translate to weight loss.
Helping your geriatric dog means taking its weight on a regular basis. This helps in making the necessary adjustments in its diet.
Arthritis is a real issue among the elderly, whether dogs or humans. The degradation of the tissues of the joints can make movement almost impossible. Yes, the dog can still move but every time it attempts to do so, it experiences excruciating pain. There can also be swelling in the joints, making them stiffer than ever. This restricts movement and can affect the geriatric dog’s quality of life in a negative way.
Aiding in your pet’s mobility means exercising it the correct way. It is best to modify the physical activities that you may want to try to lessen the impact on its joints. You can take it for a swim or on more frequent yet shorter walks. Giving joint health supplements may help ease some of the symptoms of joint inflammation.
All living organisms go through a process everyone calls aging. No one is exempted from it. The same is true with our pet dogs. Your knowledge of what to expect the moment they start getting older will pave the way to better care for your pet.