Ageing dogs – how to spot the signs and help your dog preemptively. Read on for expert advice from our own specialist vet here at Amity Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Sam Westhead talking from his own experience Oscar 07/01/2001 – 07/12/17 When do you know your dog is ‘old’? It’s impossible to answer that question for so many reasons! Dogs come in such a huge range of sizes and breeds that we can’t make sweeping statements about what marks adulthood or the geriatric phase of a dog’s life. Generally, large breeds live shorter lives, smaller ones longer. However, a 7-year-old Yorkie with bad teeth might be considered a mature adult but have the appearance and clinical attributes of a geriatric individual. Similarly, I’ve encountered plenty of fit and healthy 13 year- old Labradors. I can’t really remember when my dog, Oscar, became old. A mixed-breed terrier, I gave him a home at just 8 weeks of age, and he remained very energetic throughout most of his life. Toilet training wasn’t an issue and he had barely any accidents (though I do remember leaving him on his own for just a bit too long one day and he jumped into the bath to pee– I felt bad about that!) A few injuries along the way caused me concern and I thought I might lose him at the age of 10 when he went off his legs due to an a neck injury but the correct medical therapy plus physio resolved the condition. A couple of age-related signs crept in as he hit his teens- all common things I see on a regular basis in my professional life. Cloudy lenses (‘nuclear sclerosis’), general stiffness, some skin issues (mainly dermatitis), and bad breath are associated with the build-up of dental scale.
I took care of the conditions I could treat and correct (dental care, shampoos, x-rays to check for arthritis, and appropriate anti-inflammatory pain management) and monitored those that I couldn’t affect (his eyes) with regular checks and blood testing to see that his internal organs and the immune system were functioning normally. So physically Oscar was sound as a pound and I attribute this to a number of factors: good nutrition and exercise, both as a puppy and as an adult. Routine vaccinations with early, prompt, and appropriate treatment of conditions when they arose and routine blood monitoring.
The fact that he was a mixed-breed dog with no genetic or breed-related issues helped of course. What deteriorated were his cognitive functions. I suppose in human terms he developed senile dementia, though this isn’t a recognized diagnosis in the field of veterinary medicine because animals can’t speak or complete questionnaires. Initially, I noticed a decline in his ability to climb the stairs – he’d trip and end up slipping backward so I took to carrying him. Looking back we both found this upsetting because he wanted to climb (and descend) and knew he should be able but couldn’t.
Then his eyesight and hearing began to fade. Combined with ‘senility’ this meant that he’d get stuck in corners or behind furniture and get frustrated and scared. But with patience I persisted, in the knowledge that he wasn’t in pain, was eating well and above all had a reasonable quality of life. Sadly, over the last 6 months of his life, he began to lose bladder and bowel control. It wasn’t incontinence, more that he just forgot where it was appropriate for him to eliminate. On good days I got the timing right and managed to carry him outside in time. Mostly though he’d pee and/or poop overnight. One morning he just circled in the sand, not knowing where he was and I took the decision that no pet owner wants to make. So what can we actively do to delay the onset of age-related conditions and manage them when they inevitably occur? You can be sure that anything we stock at Amity Veterinary Clinic is carefully chosen – top quality is at the fore of our minds and if it’s good enough for our own pets then it’s certainly good enough for our patients.
A good diet is a key to good health. Royal Canin, Hills, and Farmina all manufacture life-stage diets which we consider to be the best on the market. Complete, well-balanced, and available in both tinned and kibble form, you’re bound to find one which your dog will enjoy. Some diets, may not be appropriate and can actually result in the onset of preventable disease – a member of our team will be happy to discuss this with you. Food supplements can help in many ways, whether that’s assisting skin or joint health or for more specific clinical issues such as liver disease. We stock a variety of these in powder, tablet, or paste form and will be happy to guide your decision.
When it comes to health monitoring, it’s an accepted feature of human healthcare that regular, routine screens are performed at intervals and we believe that the same is true for our patients. 6-month blood checks will pick up all sorts of issues before they become clinical entities, as will routine chest and hip x-rays.
Where to exercise dogs is a moot subject here in Dubai but there are places where your dog can both play and interact with other dogs – look into the many excellent air-conditioned daycare centers. Swimming facilities do exist, though most of the beaches are off-limits to dogs. As always, avoid exercise during the heat of the day, and don’t let your dog stand on hot surfaces. Sadly, a time will inevitably come when you have to say “goodbye” and we will try to make that as peaceful and stress-free as possible. My advice is don’t think about it too much – enjoy their company for as long as you possibly can and practice a healthy lifestyle with regular checkups.