As dogs get older, they become more susceptible to disease. Therefore, special importance must be attached to health care for senior dogs. Read here what you absolutely have to watch out for in older dogs.
When a dog can be counted as “senior” depending on its breed and size. Because while large, heavy breeds usually only live a maximum of ten years, smaller dogs can live 15 years or more. In general, it can be said that a dog is considered a senior from the age of 5 to 9 – for example when it has reached half of its life expectancy.
In addition, of course, it also differs from dog to dog when it becomes “old”, i.e. when it shows signs of aging. Some dogs break down relatively early, others are fit into old age. Signs of aging can be:
- the decline in sensory performance
- loss of muscle mass and strength
- behavioral changes, for example, due to a decrease in memory performance
- increased need for rest
A senior dog may also need a diet adapted to his age. In order to be able to distinguish the normal signs of aging from diseases, older dogs absolutely have to have regular health checks at the vet.
Increased susceptibility to disease in canine seniors
As dogs get older, they become more susceptible to disease. Unfortunately, the course of the disease is more severe and lengthy in older dogs, because all organs and the immune system react more slowly to the changes caused by the disease. In addition, old dogs often suffer from various diseases at the same time. And last but not least: The chances of recovery are worse in old age.
In fact, many typical diseases of old age, such as arthroses in the joints and spine as well as heart problems, are irreversible. Nevertheless, in most cases, you can even do a lot to offer the chronically ill dog a nice old age.
However, only conditions that are discovered can be treated. And the sooner an illness is recognized, the more successful the therapy is. This rule of thumb applies to chronic diseases in particular. Because the treatment here is intended to stop the progression of the disease. Ideally, this can be done before the dog has any severe symptoms.
Health care for old dogs
The surest way to find out about chronic age-related diseases in dogs at an early stage is to have regular health checks at the vet. Veterinarians now offer screening programs specifically for older dogs. During these senior checks, not only is a thorough general examination carried out, but a very specific search is made for indications of typical age-related diseases.
A classic check-up for seniors includes a thorough survey of the medical history (anamnesis) and a careful clinical examination, as well as laboratory tests of the blood and urine.
The clinical examination of old dogs
During the clinical examination, the veterinarian looks at the dog at rest and in motion. He pays special attention to the following body regions of the dog:
- body orifices
- Oral cavity, because older dogs often suffer from dental problems, which often result in further damage to health.
- When palpating the dog, the vet will feel swelling, hardening, or painful areas.
- condition of the skin and coat
- cardiovascular system
The dog’s heart and the circulatory system must be examined in detail. If listening to the heart or symptoms such as coughing and restlessness at night indicate heart disease, special examinations such as X-rays, ultrasound, and ECG are recommended.
With timely drug treatment, the process of insidious heart failure can be significantly slowed down. In the case of the respiratory system, in particular, it is often difficult to differentiate between a normal age-related restriction in function and a pathological event. Additional tests, such as chest x-rays, may be needed.
The blood count of older dogs
Finally, the blood and urine tests should complete the picture of the health of the senior dog. Blood count, blood values of kidneys and liver are indispensable standards. These parameters provide information about whether the dog suffers from subclinical diseases.
Subclinical means that the disease has not yet caused any externally visible symptoms. For example, kidney disease only leads to symptoms such as great thirst when more than 50% of the kidney tissue has already been destroyed. The vet also gains important insights into the condition of the kidneys from the urine test.