Everybody knows that we are responsible for those we tamed. Aged dogs are not an exception; they need proper care and you being attentive to details. In this case, there are several common actions to do when your dog loses their appetite, gains weight, suffers from arthritis or cognitive dysfunction syndrome or diabetes, or even has problems with their teeth.
Older dogs often begin to eat less. Their teeth might hurt or their sense of smell—which is linked to the ability to taste—might be reduced. Tartar buildup on teeth can cause pain, so consider taking your dog in for a veterinary cleaning if you notice lots of brown buildup on his teeth. You may be amazed when he starts acting like a puppy again because he’s feeling so much better. If tartar buildup isn’t the problem, try warming his food in the microwave before serving it. The heat increases the scent, making it easier for him to realize that there’s a yummy meal sitting in front of him (this works for dry food as well as canned) . Don’t forget to test the food for hot spots with your finger before serving.
Be concerned if you try these tricks and your dog still doesn’t have much of an appetite. He may have a hidden health problem, especially if he’s rapidly losing weight. Take him to the veterinarian for a checkup.
Weight Gain or Loss
It’s important to pay attention any time your dog suddenly starts gaining or losing weight. These can both be signs of an underlying health problem. Don’t forget that what seems like a minor weight loss to you—say, a pound or two—is pretty significant for a small breed. That could be as much as 10 percent of his body weight.
Medications for Arthritis
Your veterinarian can prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve pain and inflammation. These drugs are similar to the ibuprofen or acetaminophen you might take for yourself, but they’re formulated specifically for dogs. In fact, your ibuprofen or other NSAID can be toxic to your dog, so never give him anything like that without your veterinarian’s okay. Canine NSAIDs are generally safe, but they can have side effects—vomiting, diarrhea, and liver or kidney damage—and some dogs (Labs in particular) are highly sensitive to them. Your veterinarian may need to adjust the dose or try a different drug if your dog develops these problems, and she will probably require periodic blood work to check liver and kidney values before renewing a prescription. Nutraceuticals can also help.
Other Ways to Relieve Arthritis Pain
If you have a small dog, lift him on and off furniture throughout his life, but especially as he gets older. This helps prevent cumulative damage to the joint. Keep your dog’s weight at a healthy level to reduce stress on the joints. And consider providing your dog with a heated bed. Warmth is one of the best ways to relieve joint pain.
More formally known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), senility can be described as an age-related mental decline that’s not caused by hearing or vision loss, organ failure, or cancer. Dogs that are senile generally show it by wandering aimlessly, acting confused or disoriented, staring into space, changing their activity or sleep habits, or withdrawing from family members. Dogs can show signs of CDS as early as eight years of age.
If you think your dog has CDS, don’t assume nothing can be done. Take him to the veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis, first, to rule out health problems that can mimic CDS. These include kidney, thyroid, or adrenal gland disease. Then ask your veterinarian about medication that can help. You may also want to give your dog choline supplements, which are believed to help increase mental alertness. You can find choline supplements for dogs at holistic veterinary clinics, pet supply stores, online pet supply stores, and health food stores.
Most older dogs develop some level of dental disease, especially if they are toy breeds with a mouth full of crowded teeth. It is, however, one of the easiest problems of old age to prevent—simply by brushing your dog’s teeth daily. If you need more of an incentive, good dental health is related to overall health. When dental disease goes untreated, the mouth becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which then enter the bloodstream and go throughout the body.
That said, some dogs just plain have bad teeth and will develop plaque and tartar no matter how much you brush. Take them in for veterinary cleanings annually to keep their mouth in good shape.
Diabetes is a common problem in older dogs, especially if they’re overweight or have a genetic predisposition to the disease, as some breeds do. It’s a disorder of the pancreas gland and develops when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin—the substance the body uses to drive glucose, or blood sugar, into the cells—or stops producing insulin altogether. When this happens, glucose levels build up in the blood stream instead of being used for energy. The term diabetes mellitus comes from the Greek and means “sugar sickness.”
Kidney disease is one of the most common problems in old dogs, second only to cancer. As the kidneys age, they become less efficient at removing waste products from the body, causing waste to build up instead of being eliminated with urine. Clearly, it’s not good to have toxins remaining in the body, but until recently it wasn’t possible to identify the problem until 75 percent of the kidney’s function was destroyed. Today, however, a new screening test allows veterinarians to identify kidney disease in the early stages, when it’s still possible to manage it with a special low-protein diet that won’t overwork the kidneys. Your dog can live significantly longer if kidney disease is caught and managed early — another good reason for regular screening exams.
Keeping Your Old Dog Comfortable
When you notice that your older dog is becoming a little stiff and creaky— or even before he reaches that stage—take steps to help him stay comfortable. Here are some ways to do that:
- Put soft bedding in his favorite places so he always has a comfy place to rest.
- Get him a heated bed; the warmth will soothe old bones and painful joints.
- Lift him on and off furniture to protect his joints.
- Install a dog door so he can go potty outside as often as necessary, or take him out more often.