By Richard Cross, Editor of The Dog Clinic
Every dog ages differently – larger breeds tend to age quicker – but all dogs are eventually affected by age-related issues. These can affect the dog’s behavior, mobility and temperament. It’s important to be familiar with these signs of aging. Your dog will need different care as he gets older, and providing the best quality of life requires an understanding of what’s happening to him.
With this in mind, here are seven of the most common signs of aging in dogs.
1. Age-Related Diseases Begin to Develop
Just like humans, there are a host of degenerative diseases that are more likely to affect older dogs. Two of the most frequent are joint disorders and cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which can be managed but not cured. Unfortunately, cancer and liver failure are also common in older dogs.
Not all changes are related to disease though. You may notice fatty lumps underneath your dog’s skin, for example. These are called lipomas, and are caused by the metabolic system using less energy. Lipomas are harmless, but you should still get lumps checked by a vet, as they could also be caused by cancer.
2. Behavioral Changes
There are a variety of ways that aging can affect a dog’s behavior. Your pet may be less enthusiastic about greeting you, or more cautious about exploring when on walks. A dog suffering from cognitive dysfunction may also appear confused or unstable at times.
While cognitive dysfunction and symptoms of senility aren’t curable, there are treatments and healthy aging supplements that can help reduce the effects. If you notice strange behaviors, such as staring at a wall, slow response times or an unwillingness to go outside, contact your vet.
As you would expect, older dogs also tend to sleep more and have less energy. They need longer periods of uninterrupted rest, so try to avoid disturbing your dog when he’s sleeping during the day.
3. Infected Gums and Teeth Issues
Tooth decay and infected gums are common problems for older dogs. Common signs include bad breath, plaque, swollen gums and a loss of appetite. Aside from being uncomfortable, decaying teeth can allow serious infections to enter the blood stream.
Unlike age-related diseases, most teeth and gum issues can be diagnosed by your veterinarian. Fixing dental issues can increase your dog’s happiness, allow him to eat more comfortably and prevent infection, so it’s certainly worth considering.
Along with teeth and gums, you’ll also notice that your dog’s skin becomes less elastic as the amount of available collagen declines.
4. Joint Pain and Stiffness
Joint degradation is another common sign of a dog aging. Dogs instinctively hide aches and pains, so symptoms may not be immediately obvious. But as joint deterioration gets worse, you may notice they are less mobile – especially in the morning or after a long walk.
It’s important to adjust your dog’s exercise schedule to accommodate these changes. Long and vigorous walks are almost guaranteed to make him sore and may speed up joint degradation, so it’s best to go on multiple short walks instead. An orthopedic bed that evenly distribute your dog’s weight when sleeping is also essential, as these can help reduce stiffness and soreness.
Aside from less vigorous exercise, there are joint health supplements that can help improve your dog’s joint health and quality of life. Supplements featuring glucosamine and chondroitin can provide advanced joint support for senior dogs.
5. Loss of Senses
A dog’s sense of smell, eyesight and hearing all begin to degrade as he gets older. Some dogs may eventually become blind or deaf – especially if the underlying cause isn’t treated.
The first signs of hearing or sight loss are often subtle. Your dog may be more easily startled (or even become aggressive) when someone approaches him, as he might not be aware of the person. He may also become less responsive to commands. Both of these signs are often mistaken for “bad behavior,” which can lead to punishment and even greater stress for the dog.
For this reason, it’s important to make small changes to make daily life easier for your dog. Make sure that water bowls, food and his bed are always in the same place, so they are easy to find. You should also avoid making sudden movements, even if it’s just to stroke your dog, as these can be frightening.
It’s worth noting that a cloudy eye lens doesn’t necessarily mean a dog is blind. This is often a condition called nuclear sclerosis, which rarely affects vision. Cloudy lenses can also be caused by cataracts, however, which is a more serious condition.
6. Weight Loss (Or Gain)
Both weight gain and loss can be caused by aging. Reduced exercise can mean more of your pet’s calorie intake is stored as fat, but issues with digestion or lack of appetite can have the opposite effect.
Senior dog foods often have fewer calories, which makes it easier to manage your dog’s weight gain. Whichever food you use, always weigh each portion so you know exactly how much your pet is eating.
The only way to properly manage your dog’s weight is to weigh him regularly and adjust his diet. This is easy for smaller breeds, but for larger dogs you may need to visit your vet for a weight check.
Dogs often find it more difficult to control their bladder as they get older. While most don’t lose complete control, the occasional indoor accident is a common side effect of aging. Accidents can be distressing for the dog, so they should never be punished. Instead, try to give your dog more opportunity to do their business throughout the day.
All dogs age differently, so it’s important to care for your pet in a way that meets his unique requirements. The first step is to understand and identify the issues caused by aging. You should also visit your dog’s vet if you notice behavioral changes, lumps, incontinence or any other symptoms, as these could be caused by a treatable (or at least manageable) disease.