Just as the lifespan of humans is increasing, so is that of our dogs. This is due to improved nutrition and health care that our "best friends" receive.
As the years go by, the relationship between dog and owner deepens and whilst most owners will notice some natural signs of ageing, they may not be aware that a few small adjustments can improve the quality of an older animal's life.
Signs of ageing may include graying of the coat, especially around the muzzle, and lower activity levels. Degenerative changes in the eyes are common in ageing dogs. Owners may notice that the eye appears slightly cloudy, due to thickening of the lens. Most dogs cope well with this gradual loss of vision, but you must be aware of their need for familiar surroundings in which they can comfortably and safely move.
Other senses that may be impaired due to age include hearing and smell. The total loss of hearing makes it difficult to control your dog and the owner must pay particular care to ensure the dog is always supervised on the street and never out of visual control.
Your elderly pet will be happiest in an area with which he is familiar. Never let him wander alone.
Stiffness and difficulty in getting up or jumping are common problems due to arthritis in older dogs. These changes mean that your old friend moves more slowly and may not want to play rough or active games.
Medication can relieve some of the discomfort of aching joints and stiff muscles, so if your pet is showing obvious discomfort then make an appointment with us to check him out.
Whilst evidence is largely anecdotal, supplementation with glucosamine, chondroitin and fish oil can have a profound effect even commencing at a young age in those breeds that are particularly affected.
Later on when the effects are more widespread and debilitating the use of non steroidal medications for pain relief, and joint "conditioners" such as cartrophen injections can also help immeasurably in returning considerable quality of life to your older best friend. Weight control is also essential in managing stiffening joints.
Elderly dogs are also less able to cope with extremes of temperature. During the hottest days they must be kept in the coolest areas .... airconditioning is greatly appreciated by dogs as well as people! In the winter they require a warm, draught and damp free area, preferably up off cold surfaces such as concrete, and devices like hammock style beds are excellent but even a wooden pallet from a packing crate suffices.
Regular, gentle exercise is vitally important to retain muscle tone and to stimulate heart and lungs. A 15 minute walk once or twice a day is ideal but be sure not to walk them until they tire.
Grooming is also important, paying particular attention to removing any food or excreta adhering to the fur. This is an ideal opportunity to check for any unusual lumps or bumps, parasites or pressure sores.
Any skin problems should also be noted and reported to your vet at the next visit, which should be more frequent as your best friend ages .... at least twice a year.
Reduced activity may mean that the dog's nails are not worn down and these may require cutting more often as if left to grow they will make walking more difficult. This is best carried out by your vet as special implements are necessary and experience is essential to ensure the nails are not made to bleed which happens more readily the longer the nails become.
Older animals often suffer from a loss of bladder tone. Dogs generally urinate more frequently with age and it is important that you are sensitive to these needs allowing them free access to the backyard. Females in particular may suffer from excoriation as a result of urinary incontinence and this may require routine attention and on-going treatment to address the cause.
The general decline in health experienced with age is something we all have to deal with and regular examinations of your best friend by your local vet are an essential part of supporting the older animal as indeed it is with ourselves.
Routine checks at least every 6 months are recommended to ensure your pet enjoys a comfortable life into his/her older years.