Common Health Issues in Geriatric Dogs
As your dog enters their golden years, routine preventive veterinary care and early diagnosis become critical to their health and well-being. Senior dogs typically experience many of the same conditions their human counterparts do, such as arthritis, dementia, cognitive dysfunction, cancer, blindness and more.
Geriatric dog care including regularly scheduled wellness exams can allow your vet to detect these issues early and develop a treatment plan to manage the condition.
Common health issues in senior dogs include:
Similar to their human parents, many dogs experience arthritis as they age. Osteoarthritis (also known as Degenerative Joint Disease) is the most common form of arthritis in aging dogs. The condition mainly impacts weight-bearing joints such as elbows, shoulders, knees and hips, leading to cartilage erosion, abnormal bone growth and loss of lubricating fluids.
These changes in the joints cause pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. The condition is progressive, meaning it will worsen over time. While there is no cure, it can be treated to slow progression and ease the pain.
Dementia & Cognitive Dysfunction
As a dog gets older, many developmental changes and symptoms of dementia may appear, such as confusion, wandering or pacing, standing in corners as if lost, urinary/fecal accidents, shifts in sleeping patterns, withdrawal or lack of interaction with family, and more.
Because many of these can indicate other diseases, it's best to see your vet for a definitive diagnosis. While there is no cure for dementia or cognitive dysfunction, medications and supplements may help in some circumstances.
Kidney disease is a common health issue in older dogs as aging takes its toll internally. Chronic (renal) kidney disease is typically a gradual process that appears as renal insufficiency and progresses gradually into full kidney failure. While there is no cure for the disease, there are many ways to manage and treat its symptoms to lengthen your pet's life and offer a better quality of life.
The sooner your vet detects the disease, the more measures they can take to slow its progression. A urinalysis may catch early changes in the kidneys. Symptoms of kidney disease include lethargy, increased thirst and urination, nausea and loss of appetite. A prescription kidney diet may prove very effective in helping to manage symptoms.
A faulty glucose-insulin connection causes diabetes in dogs, which can take one of two forms—insulin-deficient diabetes (when the dog's body doesn't produce enough insulin due to a damaged or non-functioning pancreas) or insulin-resistant diabetes. With this type, the pancreas produces some insulin; however, the dog's body doesn't use the insulin as it should. This form of diabetes is especially common in older, obese dogs.
Insulin-deficient diabetes is the most common form of the disease overall in dogs. While diabetes can become an issue for dogs of any age, it mainly occurs in middle-aged or senior dogs and results in abnormal blood chemistry that causes damage to multiple organs, including the heart, nerves, blood vessels, eyes and/or kidneys.
Symptoms include increased appetite, excessive thirst, increased urination and weight loss. Blood and urine tests can help your vet diagnose the disease. The vet may recommend a combination of injections, diet, exercise and measures to monitor and manage the disease in your dog.
Cancer is a common and frequent health concern in older pets. Since different cancers cause different symptoms, it's imperative to bring your pet in for wellness exams as they age, to allow your vet the opportunity to detect signs of the disease early and potentially save your dog's life.
A routine wellness exam, lab work panel or diagnostic imaging can pick up subtle signs that may not be visible to the naked eye. Depending on the type of cancer your pet is diagnosed with and its stage, treatment will vary.
What might easily be interpreted as simple changes due to old age could actually be early symptoms of cancer, so ensure you stay up to date with wellness visits as your pet enters their golden years.
Due to degenerative changes in the eye or an eye disease such as cataracts, many dogs experience a gradual loss of vision as they age. If aging has brought on blindness, there are no measures to take to reverse it. That said, dogs' senses can help them adapt to the loss of eyesight — you'll just need to be cognizant of their lack of sight and take your time walking them around, keep them on a leash at all times if outdoors and try to avoid moving furniture around in your house. Note that sudden blindness can constitute a veterinary emergency.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.