7 Common Health Issues in Older Dogs

Thanks to improved veterinary care and better food, our dogs are living longer than ever.

Dogs reach their golden years when they turn 7, generally speaking. Larger breeds, which tend to have shorter life spans, are considered seniors when they turn 6 years old.

As our pups age, they mellow out, but they also face a new set of challenges and health issues. Here are 7 of the most common health issues in older dogs.

1. Gum Disease

Like humans, dogs experience dental issues as they age. Many develop gingivitis, which usually precedes periodontitis, or gum disease.

When bacteria in the mouth turns into plaque on your pup’s teeth, it can cause her gums to become inflamed. Saliva then hardens the plaque to create tartar. That tartar can spread underneath the gum line and cause inflammation, or swelling.

Gingivitis can progress to periodontitis if left untreated. When this happens, the gums start pulling away from the teeth and creates pockets. Pockets can become infected and lead to bone loss. Gum disease can cause an infection to spread into the bloodstream and damage the organs.

Symptoms to Look For

  • Bleeding or red gums
  • Difficulty picking up food
  • Bad breath
  • Blood on chew toys or in water
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Nasal discharge or sneezing
  • Not wanting the head to be touched
  • Lumps or bumps in the mouth
  • Making noises when eating or yawning
  • Loose teeth

Complications of Gum Disease

  • Greater risk of heart, kidney and liver disease
  • Tooth pain
  • Jaw fracture

How can you help prevent gum disease in your dog? Brush her teeth twice a day.

2. Arthritis

Arthritis is extremely common in older dogs, just as it is in older humans. Cartilage acts as a buffer for your pup’s joints, preventing damage and pain.

Over time, that cartilage can break down and cause the joint to become inflamed. Arthritis occurs when one or more of the joints become inflamed. Dogs may experience stiffness and swelling. They may limp or have a change in their gait. Some dogs may be reluctant to move or have trouble walking or standing.

While large and giant breeds are at greater risk of developing arthritis, small and medium-sized dogs can also develop it.

Symptoms to Look For

  • Sleeping more often
  • Weight gain
  • Less interest in playing
  • Less alert
  • Change in attitude
  • Overly cautious when climbing stairs
  • Limping

Complications of Arthritis

The good news is that arthritis is manageable and tolerable for most dogs. Some may develop chronic pain and less interest in activity. In large dogs, severe cases of arthritis can cause the dog to be unable to climb stairs or even walk.

When mobility is restricted by arthritis, some dogs may urinate or defecate in the house because it’s too painful to walk outside.

Arthritis can often be managed or even alleviated through diet changes, maintaining a healthy weight, medication and exercise.

3. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Sometimes referred to as “senility,” cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) affects many older dogs and can cause them to feel: forgetful, anxious and confused. CDS is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in many ways.

Some dogs with CDS start having accidents in the house, sleep more or wander around aimlessly. Some senior pups spend long periods of time staring blankly into space.

Veterinarians are still unsure of what causes CDS. Just like with Alzheimer’s, dogs with CDS develop a build-up of nerve-damaging protein that creates plaque.

Symptoms to Look For

  • Forgetting familiar toys
  • Forgetting owners
  • Forgetting tricks
  • Urinating and defecating in the house
  • Pacing
  • Compulsive, repetitive behaviors, like walking in circles
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Loss of appetite

Treating and Managing CDS

Dogs with CDS will require life-long therapy and support from their humans. Some dog owners find that dietary intervention and behavioral changes can help keep the condition under control.

Maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment is one way to improve CDS or better manage the condition. Exercise, play and training can make a world of difference.

Medication, behavioral therapy and diet changes will likely be a part of the dog’s management plan.

4. Vision Problems

Many older dogs develop vision problems or total blindness. While distressing for us humans, this condition doesn’t necessarily change your pup’s day-to-day living.

Blindness generally develops over time, and if you can catch it early on, you can start teaching your dog how to rely on his other senses (hearing, smell and touch) to navigate the world.

Deteriorating vision is a normal part of the aging process for dogs – just as it is for humans.

Symptoms to Look For

  • Cataracts (the eye will appear to have a white coating)
  • Bumping into things
  • Red or irritated eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Falling
  • Bluish haze on the pupil (sign of nuclear sclerosis)
  • Frequent eye infections

Treating and Managing Vision Loss

If your dog is exhibiting signs of vision loss, your vet may recommend medication or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

The treatment will largely depend on the cause of the vision loss. Dogs with diabetes, for example, may develop vision problems. In this case, the vet might recommend dietary changes and more exercise to restore vision.

But if the vision loss is just associated with aging, simply teaching your dog how to cope in a world with compromised eyesight may be the best thing you can do. Your vet can help you find the best treatment option for your dog.

5. Hearing Loss

Like with vision, older dogs may also lose their hearing. Some dogs become completely deaf, while others are simply hard of hearing.

Nerve degeneration is a common cause of hearing loss, and the process happens gradually.

Some dog owners mistake hearing loss for dementia, as the symptoms can be very similar.

Symptoms to Look For

  • No response to sounds, such as squeaking toys, clapping, loud noises, dogs barking, etc.
  • Startled when woken
  • Difficult to wake
  • Excessive barking

Treating and Managing Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a natural part of the aging process and usually cannot be stopped, but dog owners can help their pups adjust to a life without sound.

You may not be able to get a hearing aid for your dog, but you can change the way you communicate with your pup. Teaching your dog hand signals is one way to ensure that your pup still complies with commands – and knows when it’s dinnertime.

6. Kidney Disease

Many senior dogs develop kidney disease, but regular geriatric exams can help catch the disease early on.

The kidneys are responsible for removing waste and maintaining balance in your dog’s body. When the kidneys stop working properly, toxins start building up in the body which can lead to kidney failure.

Many things can cause the kidneys to stop working properly, including:

  • Kidney stones
  • Normal aging
  • Rupture of the bladder

Symptoms to Look For

  • Urinating more
  • Drinking more water
  • Accidents in the house
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Brown discoloration on the tongue
  • Ammonia smell on the breath

Treating and Managing Kidney Disease

While kidney disease is not reversible, it can be managed with the right treatment plan, which may include:

  • Fluid therapy
  • Diet changes
  • Medication
  • Vitamins and supplements

Some dogs can live years with chronic kidney disease and still enjoy a good quality of life. Others may not have such luck. Your vet can help you determine the best course of action to take for your dog.

7. Cancer

Cancer is the leading cause of death in older dogs. It’s often difficult to catch the disease early on, as blood tests rarely detect cancer in the early stages of the disease.

Checking for lumps and bumps on the body is important.

The most common forms of cancer in dogs include lymphoma, soft tissue cancer, bone cancer, breast cancer and oral melanoma.

Symptoms to Look For

  • Difficulty eating
  • Drooling
  • Excessive panting
  • Coughing
  • Changes in body weight
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Bleeding in the mouth, ears and nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Blood and mucus in the stool

Treating and Managing Cancer

Cancer in dogs can be treated using chemotherapy, radiation and surgery either alone or in a combination.

The treatment will depend on the type of cancer and the recommendation of your vet.

Most dogs suffer few serious side effects from chemotherapy, although some breeds (e.g. Old English Sheepdogs and Poodles) may experience thinning of hair.

Treating cancer can be a costly endeavor, which can leave pet owners with a difficult decision. But great strides have been made in cancer treatment for dogs, so the outlook is better now than in the past.

About The Author:

David Rowe is the lead writer at World Of Puppies. He has a keen interest in dog health, training and nutrition. He also owns a French Bulldog named Max.

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