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  • Writer's pictureDr. Allie

Give your Senior Pet Companion a Long Healthy Life

With new advances in medicine, both humans and dogs are living longer

than ever, but this leads to some special considerations for a growing

population of senior dogs. Read on to learn more about some challenges

that senior dogs may face, and how we can help them.

As dogs (and humans) get older, their senses diminish. The first sense

that dogs begin to lose is often hearing. This is usually a gradual

change, and most owners don’t even realize their dog has begun to lose

some hearing until the hearing loss is quite significant. Don’t worry

though, dogs are remarkably adaptable and compensate in other ways. It

can be helpful for owners to communicate with their dogs by clapping,

or using hand movements along with common commands such as “sit”,

“stay”, or “come”. Once the dog begins to associate the command with

the hand movement, the verbal command may no longer be necessary,

which is helpful for a dog with hearing loss. Eyesight in dogs can

also gradually diminish, however it is important to distinguish

between normal age related changes, and more significant blindness.

Lenticular sclerosis is a normal age related change that occurs as the

lens ages. This results in a bluish or cloudy haze of the lens, which

is visible through the pupil. However, this age related change does

not cause significant vision loss. While lenticular sclerosis can

appear as a cloudy lens, it is important to distinguish it from

another lens disease called cataracts. Cataracts are not a normal age

related change, and when left untreated can cause damage and

inflammation to the eye, leading to blindness. If you think your dog

may have a more serious eye condition, please follow up with your

veterinarian immediately as eye disease can be quite painful.

As dogs are living longer, we are seeing an increase in cases of

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), or “doggy dementia.” CCD is

believed to be similar to Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. CCD in dogs

presents as a decline in mental function that leads to disorientation,

pacing, accidents in the house, vocalizing, changes in social

behavior, and changes in sleep patterns. We are still learning about

CCD in dogs, and while we do not have a cure for this disease, there

are some medications that can help your dog to feel better and relax,

and get a good night’s sleep.

Older dogs may have a higher rate of joint disease like arthritis that

can affect their mobility. As joint disease progresses, pain

medications may be helpful for your dog’s comfort. Alternative

therapies such as laser therapy and acupuncture can also be helpful in

alleviating pain and increasing function and mobility. Laser therapy

reduces inflammation and brings blood flow to the area, and some

studies have actually shown that laser therapy can increase ATP

production in the cell, the key to the cell’s energy. Acupuncture can

reduce pain, increase neurotransmitter release, reduce inflammation,

and reduce muscle tension. No matter what age your dog is, one way to

help prevent joint disease is to give them a quality joint supplement.

Joint supplements are intended to prevent joint disease, but are

helpful at any stage. Look for a product that contains glucosamine,

chondroitin, MSM, as well as green lipped mussel and curcumin. While

supplements are not proven to treat disease, these ingredients are

thought to reduce inflammation and reduce incidence and severity of

joint disease.

Keeping your dog active is a huge part of keeping your dog healthy.

You may have heard the phrase, “a body in motion, stays in motion.”

This saying applies to both humans and dogs. Exercise is so important

in keeping your senior dog’s weight at an optimal level, as well as

for promoting joint health. If your dog does have arthritis or seems

stiff or painful, there are ways to accommodate these conditions while

still providing exercise. Low impact exercise is a great way for our

senior friends to remain active. Low impact exercise can include

walking and swimming, as opposed to high impact exercises that include

running or jumping. Other modifications that may help senior dogs

include decreasing the length or speed of their walks, or breaking

their walks into shorter but more frequent walks. The key is to

provide adequate low impact exercise, but also be mindful of not

allowing your dog to over exert him or herself.

Your veterinarian can help you evaluate the special needs and

limitations of your senior friend, and help you to make the correct

accommodations in their life. Annual senior examinations and bloodwork

are crucial to helping diagnose potential issues early on, which

allows for better treatment options. Not only can we give our dogs

longer lives, but we can give them better quality lives as well.

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