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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Considerations for Caring for Your Senior Dog

We were sent this article recently and wanted to share it with you:
 
Just as people are prone to a variety of health problems as they age, so is man's best friend. Properly caring for a senior dog is much different than a puppy or a canine in its ‘prime.’ Older dogs may develop many conditions similar to older people, from heart disease to joint pain.

Here are just a few helpful tips to optimize health and comfort for as long as possible, and minimize symptoms of any conditions your dog may have already developed.

Pay Closer Attention 

One of the first things you need to do as your pet ages is pay closer attention to his behavior to get on top of any problems as soon as possible. No one knows your pet better than you, and changes in his personality, daily routine and the like can be an early indicator of a health problem. The sooner you get him checked out, the better. Take note of any concerns and bring them with you to your veterinarian.

As your dog ages, it is important you educate yourself on the signs of some of the most common health problems he is likely to develop at this stage of life.

Common signs of arthritis include favouring a limb, trouble standing or sitting, sleeping more than usual, hesitating to jump, climb stairs or run, weight gain, less interest in playing and being less alert.

Common signs of cancer include abnormal swelling that doesn't seem to subside or gets bigger, sores that aren't healing, weight loss, lack of appetite, bleeding or discharge, foul mouth odour, trouble swallowing or eating, reduced stamina, persistent stiffness, and trouble breathing or going to the bathroom.

Common signs of kidney disease include decreased appetite, frequent urination, increased thirst, vomiting, sore mouth, and changes in coat. Common signs of heart disease include trouble breathing, decreased exercise tolerance, coughing, vomiting and decreased appetite.

The Importance of Diet 

While diet is an important part of your dog's health through all stages of life, it is particularly so as he gets older. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is paramount, as overweight dogs are more likely to develop a range of conditions from heart disease to cancer. Consult with your vet on this one—it is important that while trying to keep weight down, he is still getting all the nutrients he needs. On the other hand, some older dogs have problems keeping on weight, and this can further complicate his health, so getting ample calories is important.

Older dogs often suffer loss of mobility to some degree, and a diet rich in fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA (found in fish oil), may help. Supplementing the diet with chondroitin and glucosamine may also help ease joint pain and increase mobility.

If your dog has a specific health condition, such as kidney or heart disease, further changes to the diet may be needed to avoid excess consumption of substances that may prove harmful. Kidney disease, for example, usually calls for reduced amounts of calcium and phosphorus, since the organs cannot process them as efficiently any longer.

Good Dental Health is Paramount 

Poor dental health in senior dogs can lead to increased pain and discomfort, as well as make it more difficult to eat. Gingivitis may increase the risk of other diseases because this harmful bacteria can make its way into the bloodstream and damage the organs. Get regular teeth cleanings; if you can’t brush your dog's teeth, look into products that help clean the teeth.

End of Life Considerations 

The thought of your pet dying is very distressing to say the least, and often times, we must make a decision about whether to euthanise, as dying a natural death may prolong suffering. It is important to consider your dog’s quality of life—are there more good days than bad? Can his pain be adequately controlled? Is he still relatively mobile and can move on his own? These are just a few questions to consider.

There are services, such as a dog hospice, which will provide care near the end of life, and provide home euthanisation if preferred. It can be difficult letting go, but it is important to do what is best for your pet.

These are just a few important considerations for taking care of your dog in his golden years; make sure you see your vet at least once a year for a wellness check, and make an appointment as soon as you notice any problems. Keep him mentally and physically stimulated, and don’t forget to give him plenty of love!

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