Published on April 11, 2016
You’ve heard the equation 1 human year = 7 dog years. While larger dogs age faster than small ones, this equation is roughly true. This is why, once your dog reaches 7 or 8 years of age, we recommend bringing him to the veterinarian every six months. These visits should involve a thorough physical exam as well as discussion of your dog’s lifestyle, diet, and any changes in behavior that you may have noticed.
Dogs can’t tell us where it hurts
Animals can’t talk to tell us how they are feeling as they age. They don’t compare ailments with those of other dogs and realize they are less healthy than their peers. They are adept at hiding symptoms of weakness. It is very common on a physical exam for the doctor to find medical problems of which even the most conscientious owner was unaware. For older pets, in addition to a good exam, screening blood work and other diagnostic tests become important. Studies indicate that around 20% of senior dogs that appear healthy upon physical examination have an underlying disease. Early diagnosis aids in successful treatment.
Sometimes your dog does act sick
As dogs age, they may begin to develop decreased kidney, liver or heart function. Endocrine diseases like diabetes, hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease can arise, causing decreased resistance to infections. Dogs are also susceptible to a variety of cancers, including bone cancer and internal liver and splenic cancer. Signs of disease can include obvious illness like vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sneezing, but changes may also be subtle, like drinking more water, occasional accidents in the house, increased pickiness about food, or a reluctance to go on walks. Some sick dogs may become increasingly needy and anxious. For your older pet, any change in his normal behavior is a reason to contact your veterinarian. An exam with bloodwork, urinalysis and fecal check for parasites — considered the minimum data base for dogs — may reveal the problem. Based on that initial work-up, additional tests like blood pressure, X-rays or an ultrasound to screen for cancer may be recommended.
Two common problems
As people do, many dogs experience slow but steady weight gain as they age. Obesity linked disorders like ligament tears and ruptures, arthritis, decreased mobility, and respiratory compromise can all affect the quality of life of our older pets. In general for your dog, thinner is better. Studies indicate that thinner dogs live an average of 2 years longer than their overweight peers. An ideal weight is best accomplished by controlling the amount fed and exercising routinely, habits preferably begun while your dog is still young.
Many adult dogs also suffer from significant dental disease. Pets are not healthy unless their teeth are healthy. Periodontal disease undermines overall health and the average dog receiving good dental care lives 10–20% longer. Get in the habit of brushing your young dog’s teeth. Dental cleaning with sedation as recommended by your veterinarian is also important. Remember: Bad breath is not normal for a dog. It is a symptom of disease. Preventative tooth care is one of the most important things you can do to improve your older dog’s health.
3 simple steps
Aging and the changes that accompany it are inevitable. You can be an advocate for your dog, however, by having routine veterinarian checkups, keeping your pet’s teeth clean, and having him or her stay thin and active. These 3 steps are what you can do to help your dog live the longest, healthiest life possible.