Senior dogs are extremely special beings who are often cast aside and abandoned in our society due to their old age. Many dogs 5 years and older are considered “too old” by cruel families, and are subsequently dumped at a shelter or on the streets in order to make room for a new puppy. Elderly dogs are surrendered especially often when they face medical issues, which is absurd considering most (if not all) senior animals encounter at least a couple medical issues that will require treatment. For us responsible animal owners who understand the commitment and loyalty required to be a loving dog owner, we will keep an eye out for these imminent medical problems in order to treat them to the best of our ability. We will do anything to keep our furry family members healthy and happy for as long as possible, so here are some possible symptoms to look out for in your senior dog:
- Lethargy – One of the biggest indicators of illness in senior dogs that gets overlooked, is general lethargy and lack of movement. Many owners shrug it off, because they think it’s normal for senior dogs to sleep a lot; which is true to an extent. But, if your dog has absolutely no desire to move around the house – especially when it’s time to eat – then there could be a problem. When your dog DOES occasionally walk around, be sure to monitor how they are moving; are they moving slowly? Are they avoiding use of a specific leg, or perhaps more than one leg? Do they appear to be hopping rather than walking? Even if there appears to be a slight stiffness to their walking, any of these indicators could be a sign that they have Canine Arthritis, or Dysplasia of the Hip and/or Elbow. In this case, it would be advisable to visit the vet and explore your options for treating these (or other) bone disorders. If there are no abnormal walking patterns and your dog just simply seems exhausted and sleepy most of the time, they could possibly have Congestive Heart Failure. This is due to the fact that their heart is weakening and not pumping correctly, resulting in the lungs and liver filling with fluid. CHF is very treatable with medication, so please go to the vet and figure out your next course of action. Other illnesses that lethargy could indicate are Cushing’s Disease, Kidney Disease, Addison’s Disease, Hypothyroidism, and Cancer – so please don’t just assume your dog is tired because they’re old!
- Vomiting and Diarrhea – It’s one thing if your dog has an occasional incident with throwing up or having loose bowels, but it’s another thing entirely if it is a common occurrence. Of course, before you jump to any conclusions, make sure that you rule out any possibilities such as improper diet, or your dog rummaging through the trash while you aren’t home. If your dog doesn’t appear to be eating anything that should be upsetting their stomach, then they could possibly have an intestinal worm or parasite that can hopefully be treated quickly and effectively with a veterinarian’s help. Another possibility is Addison’s Disease, which is an illness that occurs when your dog’s endocrine system stops producing normal hormone levels; causing disarray in many bodily functions. Other illnesses that could be present are Kidney Disease, Upper Urinary Tract Infection, or Hypothyroidism. Other symptoms of Hypothyroidism are hair loss, lethargy, weight loss, and other signs of aging, so be aware!
- Clouding Pupils – As a dog (or human) ages, the lenses in their eyes – which are made up of protein and water – sometimes begin to become cloudy, resulting in blurred and/or impaired vision. Commonly referred to as Cataracts, the “clouds” are actual protein buildup that has accumulated and is preventing the optimal levels of light from entering the iris and pupil. Besides clouded pupils, watch for any irritability, difficulty navigating, and signs that would otherwise indicate that your dog cannot see. Cataracts are treatable, and if left untreated they could lead to blindness and Glaucoma – so don’t take this issue lightly!
- Frequent and/or Painful Urination – If your dog seems to be making urination attempts too often, it could be a sign that they are confusing discomfort caused by an illness with the sensation they usually feel when they have to pee. It is common for elderly dogs to have a bladder infection, Cystitis, at some point, especially if they had a Urinary Tract Infection (upper or lower) that went untreated for too long. Aside from peeing too often (or trying to unsuccessfully), symptoms include cloudy and/or bloody urine, as well as unusual odor. If their UTI or Cystitis is particularly painful, they could even whimper or cry out while trying to urinate. Luckily these conditions are treatable with medication, unlike Bladder Stones, which is another illness that could be the possible culprit. In the case of Bladder Stones, the only treatment is for your dog to drink lots of fluids and pass the “stones” which are calcium deposits that often form in older male dogs.
- Incontinence – Characterized by any loss of control regarding your dog’s urination or defecation habits, this usually happens to geriatric canines that are quite old. Urinary Incontinence is most common, resulting in senior dogs accidentally letting urine out, usually without their knowledge. A good indicator of this is if you notice wet spots in your dog’s bed (or your bed) after it’s been laying or sleeping for a while. Just like elderly adults must wear diapers sometimes, there are diapers for elderly dogs to wear! Although it is common, Urinary Incontinence could be a symptom of Kidney Disease, which is also indicated by lethargy, vomiting, fever, decrease in appetite, and increased thirst. If Kidney Disease is not treated, it can quickly spiral out of control and result in Kidney Failure – which can very well be fatal. If you find wet spots around the house, don’t be upset, be concerned that there could be an underlying medical issue!
- Weight Loss – There are quite a few issues that could be present if your dog seemingly loses a significant amount of weight as it ages. The most serious condition to be aware of is Diabetes, which causes the body to be unable to properly absorb sugar; resulting in malnutrition and weight loss. If your dog is eating normally (or even more than usual) and also has an increased thirst level but is still losing weight, then they very well could have Diabetes. Canine Diabetes is treatable, but you must be extra vigilant as an owner to ensure that their blood sugar levels are always at healthy levels, and you’ll have to modify their diet. Unusual weight loss in your senior dog can also be a sign of Bladder Stones, Cushing’s Disease, Congestive Heart Failure, Kidney Disease, or an Upper Urinary Tract Infection.
- Weight Gain – While it is normal for any aging dog (or human) to gain weight due to a slowing metabolism, there is a certain point at which “weight gain” becomes Obesity. If the weight gain is particularly quick, it could be an indication that your dog’s Hypothyroidism is becoming out of control. Obesity itself can cause a host of its own bodily issues, ranging from Hip and Elbow Dysplasia to Osteoarthritis, and also be responsible for harming your dog’s cardiovascular health. Hypothyroidism is treatable with medication, and Obesity can be treated as well with a change in diet, decrease in treats, and more exercise.
- Disorientation – Much like elderly humans, dogs’ aging brains can prove to be their own worst enemy at times, causing confusion and disorientation. Cognitive Dysfunction, which is basically the dog version of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, can result in your dog forgetting how to do simple tasks such as letting you know when they have to go outside to pee. They can also momentarily forget who you are for a moment, barking at you as if you were a stranger. As an owner of a dog with Cognitive Dysfunction named Odie, I often notice that when I take Odie outside to go to the bathroom, he forgets what he’s outside for. He looks around confused, as if asking, “Why am I out here, again?” Besides a change in your dog’s “potty habits”, Cognitive Dysfunction can result in pacing, tremors, and doggy Insomnia. Unfortunately, there are no treatments for this affliction that affects more than half of dogs over the age of 10, so just be patient with them and love them as much as possible.
- Wounds That Won’t Heal – If your dog has a cut or a bruise that just doesn’t seem to be healing as quickly as it should, this is actually a pretty serious matter. This is a sign that your dog’s immune system is not working as well as it should be to heal its wounds, which could be an indication of Cancer. Much like Cognitive Dysfunction, Cancer affects over half of the senior dog population ages 10 and older. There are many different types of Cancer, and they are all varying levels of treatable – so don’t freak out if they do have malignant (harmful) cancer cells or tumors present. Besides lumps and tumors, watch out for any signs of lameness and enlarged lymph nodes – but if you have a serious inclination that your dog could have a type of cancer, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis.
- Bad Breath – Obviously your dog doesn’t have the freshest-smelling breath, so don’t immediately assume that bad breath is a bad sign. But, if you notice that your dog’s breath is particularly awful, it could be a sign of Periodontal Disease, otherwise known as gum disease. This is actually one of the most common (if not the most common) disease in elderly dogs, because many owners don’t realize that they should be brushing their dogs’ teeth, providing dental chews, and otherwise promoting gum health. Your dog definitely has some degree of Periodontal Disease if their gums are bleeding, if they are chewing on only one side of the mouth, chewing slowly as if it’s a struggle, are experiencing loss of teeth and/or appetite. If your dog’s gum disease goes untreated for too long, their teeth may need to be extracted, and their jaw could also become infected. If a dog’s jaw is infected and becomes bad enough, their whole jaw may need to be removed, which is absolutely the worst-case-scenario!
As long as you are the responsible and watchful owner that you are, you will be able to detect any changes in your dogs’ habits and behaviors. While you shouldn’t flip out immediately if there is a minor change in their routine or activity, you should definitely keep track (either mentally or on a list) of the differences they are displaying so that you can monitor their overall health. Don’t be afraid to call up your vet if you have concerns, because trust me: you’ll regret it if you let an otherwise treatable condition get out of control and become a serious issue. Just be smart, loving, and aware, and everything will be fine!