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Geriatric Care for your Dog
On January 7, 2018, we started to look at why and how special care is required for an elderly pet. Today, we continue from where we stopped:
As dogs age, their senses decline and examinations of their eyes, ears and hair coat are recommended. Older dogs are more at risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma and “dry eye”. Be aware that as vision deteriorates, your dog may not be seeing as well as he used to which may explain why he may sometimes be disoriented or bump into walls and furniture. It is important if you have a dog with blindness that his physical environment not be changed as he will be navigating his home based on memory. Hearing in dogs also deteriorates and it may be that your dog is not coming as readily when you call because he is not hearing you as well as he used to, rather than because he is getting stubborn or “senile”. Skin and hair may be more prone to dryness and loss of elasticity, and your veterinarian may recommend additional grooming, special shampoos or supplements.
Your dog’s immune system will not be functioning as well as when he was young and his body’s ability to repair itself decreases with age, so it is important to keep him up-to-date with his booster vaccinations.
Take extra care to control external parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice and mites as these carry potentially fatal diseases that can be transmitted to your dog. A fecal examination should be done by your veterinarian to identify intestinal parasites, but your dog should already be on a regular worming schedule throughout his life, which must include heartworm prevention.Further diagnostic tests are strongly recommended as part of any geriatric wellness programme. Your veterinarian will advise you which tests are appropriate for your dog, but these should include: complete blood counts, biochemistry panels, urinalysis, electrocardiograms, radiographs (x-rays), thyroid tests and ultrasounds. These help your veterinarian to identify potential diseases associated with internal organs such as the dog’s heart, liver, kidneys, stomach, bladder, lungs and reproductive systems. Metabolic and endocrine problems, organ dysfunction and cancer are all seen with increased frequency in the senior pet.
Your dog’s behaviour will considerably change as he ages. In addition to slowing down, he may show increased reluctance to get up, to move from a comfortable spot, to walk up stairs and to jump into cars.
These may be associated with degenerative joint diseases such as arthritis, and your veterinarian will advise you on the use of painkillers and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. It is also common for your older dog to sleep for longer periods and be less responsive than before. Pay special attention to your dog’s nails which may require more regular trimming if he is not using his paws as often as usual.
One of the main tools your veterinarian uses to assess your senior pet is an accurate medical history, so it is important that you monitor your older dog and keep records of any signs of illness or changes in behaviour. Practising prevention is always better than trying to treat a disease that is already present which may not even have a cure. Preventive medicine also improves quality of life and is more cost-effective in the long run. A well-educated and proactive owner is the first step in optimal geriatric care for your dog. The most important virtue to exercise with your old dog is patience.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018
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