Common Health Conditions in Senior Dogs
As with people, certain diseases become more likely as dogs age. Kidney disease, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are among the ones that are of greatest concern.
Cancer is a major disease of senior dogs. Warning signs depend on the cancer, but can include a new lump, sores, weight loss, lethargy, limping, vomiting or collapse. Treatment also depends on the type of cancer, but may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
Heart disease is also a major disease of older dogs. Signs include breathing difficulty, coughing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and abdominal distension. A veterinarian can diagnose the condition by listening to the heart and with more extensive tests such as EKG, radiographs or ultrasound. Treatment may include a special diet and medications.
Arthritis is very common in older dogs. Signs are limping, difficulty getting up, whining, and reluctance to exercise. It can be especially evident after a day of excess exercise. Your veterinarian can prescribe drugs that can help ease the pain.
Dental problems are also very common in older dogs. Bad breath, bleeding gums, loose teeth, recessed gums, and reluctance to chew are all signs. Your veterinarian can examine and/or radiograph your dog's mouth, and may extract infected or painful teeth. He may also prescribe medication for pain or infection.
Kidney disease is very common in older dogs. The condition may take months to years to develop, and usually doesn't show any outward signs until the disease is fairly progressed. Signs include excessive thirst and urination, weight loss, appetite loss, and vomiting. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with urine and blood tests, and can prescribe treatment that may include a special diet, medication, and subcutaneous fluids.
Cushing’s syndrome, or hyperadrenocorticism, occurs when the body produces too much of the hormone cortisol. This produces signs such as increased hunger, thirst, and urination, as well as lethargy, muscle wasting, hair loss, and especially, a pot-bellied appearance. Your veterinarian can run urine and blood tests to diagnose it, and can then place your dog on drugs that will help him feel much better.
Cognitive dysfunction, somewhat similar to human Alzheimer's disease, is seen in some older dogs. Signs include aimless wandering, confusion and disorientation. Your veterinarian may be able to treat the condition with drugs.
Visual loss can result from cataracts, retinal problems, brain problems or other diseases. See your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Cataracts can be removed and the lens replaced with an artificial lens.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid glands do not produce enough thyroid hormone. Symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, but the most common are weight gain or obesity, hair loss or poor haircoat, rough or scaly skin, and exercise intolerance. It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, and is usually easily managed with oral medication.
In general, any ailment that an older dog has is magnified in severity compared to the same symptoms in a younger dog.
Some of the more common symptoms and their possible cause in older dogs include:
- diarrhea: kidney or liver disease, pancreatitis
- coughing: heart disease, tracheal collapse, lung cancer
- difficulty eating: periodontal disease, oral tumors
- decreased appetite: kidney, liver, or heart disease, pancreatitis, cancer
- increased appetite: diabetes, Cushing's Syndrome
- weight loss: heart, liver or kidney disease, diabetes, cancer
- abdominal distention: heart or kidney disease, Cushing's Syndrome, tumors
- increased urination: diabetes, kidney or liver disease, bladder infection, Cushing's Syndrome
- limping: arthritis, patellar luxation, back pain
- nasal discharge: tumor, periodontal disease
Don't just ignore a change iodors. They could indicate specific problems, such as periodontal disease, impacted anal sacs, seborrhea, ear infections, or even kidney disease. Any strong odor should be checked by your veterinarian. Like people, dogs loose skin moisture as they age, and though dogs don't have to worry about wrinkles, their skin can become dry and itchy. Regular brushing can help by stimulating oil production.
Vomiting and diarrhea in an old dog can signal many different problems; keep in mind that a small older dog cannot tolerate the dehydration that results from continued vomiting or diarrhea and you should not let it continue unchecked. The older dog should see its veterinarian at least twice a year, or more often if signs occur. Blood tests can detect early stages of many diseases that can benefit from treatment.