By Amy D. Shojai
Do you love a senior citizen canine?
Join the crowd! Fifty percent of owners share their hearts with pets age 7 or older. Modern veterinary care helps many dogs stay healthy a decade or more, and small dogs sometimes double that and age gracefully well into their twenties.
A longer life increases the odds dogs develop “old fogy” problems, though. Medical help is important, but you can keep your old-timer happy and healthy with simple and/or inexpensive tips for dealing with these eight common aging dog issues.
Arthritis: This can affect all dogs, but large breeds are most prone. Extra weight puts greater stress on the joints. Achy joints cause limping, difficulty climbing stairs or getting up after naps. A heating pad placed under the dog’s bed soothes creaky joints. Gentle massage as well as OTC supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine-type products also help. Low-impact exercise — walks or swimming — and slimming down pudgy pooches delays problems. Provide steps — even a cardboard box — to help old dogs navigate stairs or hop onto the sofa.
Cataracts: Dogs suffer from cataracts more than any other species, but blindness rarely slows them down. They compensate by relying more on sense of smell and hearing. Owners may not notice vision loss unless the dog visits unfamiliar surroundings. Avoid rearranging furniture so blind dogs can rely on their memory of familiar landmarks. Baby gates placed near stairs protect blind dogs from falling. Avoid startling blind dogs by announcing your presence before walking near or petting. Blind dogs enjoy games with noisy toys they can hear or hide-and-seek with strong-scented objects.
Constipation: When dogs stop moving around as much, inside movement slows down, too. A treat of 1/2 cup of milk or 1 to 3 teaspoons of nonflavored Metamucil twice a day (depending on the size of the dog) or high-fiber foods like raw carrot or canned pumpkin help keep things moving. Most dogs like the taste of pumpkin or squash.
Deafness: Hearing naturally fades with age, but you can compensate by using vibration and hand signals instead of verbal commands. Try stomping your foot to get your dog’s attention. Switch a flashlight on and off to call him inside or use the porch light to signal dinner is served. Vibrating collars also work well to communicate with deaf dogs.
Dental Issues: Eighty percent of dogs have dental problems by age 3, and the risk increases 20 percent for each year of a dog’s life. Enzymes in special “dental diets” and meat-flavored pet tooth paste helps break down plaque. Offer dental chews, rawhides, a chew-rope covered with dog toothpaste or even apples and carrots for healthy tooth-cleaning chews.
Incontinence: Does your dog leave a wet spot where she sleeps? Incontinence refers to loss of bladder tone, and it mostly affects old lady spayed dogs. Prescription drugs may help, but management is equally important. Increase her potty breaks and pick up water bowls two hours before bedtime. Toddler “pull-up” pants work for some dogs or choose doggy diapers to help contain the urine.
Obesity: Forty to 50 percent of dogs ages 5 to 12 are overweight. Obesity often affects aging dogs because they exercise less but eat the same amount. Extra weight makes arthritis worse. Feed smaller meals inside puzzle toys so that the dog takes longer to eat and feels more satisfied as she works to earn her kibble.
Senility: Thirty percent of dogs ages 11 to 12 show one or more signs of senility — canine Alzheimer’s. Affected dogs act confused, forget to ask to go outside, cry and may not recognize you. This heartbreaking condition often causes owners to put dogs to sleep when symptoms develop. A prescription of Anipryl from the vet temporarily reverses signs in 30-60 percent of dogs, but the supplement Cholodin also works pretty well. Two commercial foods (Hill’s Prescription b/d and Purina Pro Plan Senior 7+ Original) also reverse signs for a while in some dogs. The saying “use it or lose it” also applies to dogs, so delay the onset of senility by exercising doggie brains with obedience drills, interactive play and puzzles.
Amy D. Shojai appears on Animal Planet’s “Cats-101” and “Dogs-101,” and lives in North Texas with a senior citizen Siamese and smart-aleck German shepherd. Read Amy’s blog on Red Room.