While every dog is an individual, a few age-related maladies seem to strike many of them. You should of course discuss how they affect your dog – and the best approach to treating them – with your veterinarian, but knowing a little bit about what you’re dealing with before you go in is helpful.
Here are a few old-dog problems, along with some things you can do to help:
1. Stiffness: Your veterinarian can help you determine if the stiffness is because of temporary muscle soreness – say from overdoing it – or the onset of arthritis. Many dogs are worse in cold weather and first thing in the morning. Arthritis is common in older dogs, and while no cure exists, treatments are available that can make your pet’s life comfortable. Your veterinarian may prescribe buffered aspirin, food supplements, or anti-inflammatory medications, all of which your pet may need to take for the rest of her life. For your part, you need to be sure that your pet is not overweight and is kept consistently, but not strenuously, active.
2. Decline of the senses: Deaf and blind dogs do just fine, as long as you do your part to keep them out of any danger their disabilities may cause. Blindness, in particular, is a problem dogs adjust to with an ease that stuns their owners. But consider the following: Dogs don’t have to read the newspaper, they don’t care about TV, and they count on you to read the ingredients label on a bag of kibble. Sight isn’t their primary sense anyway; they put much greater stock in their sense of smell. After they learn the layout of the land, they rarely bump into things (as long as you don’t keep moving the furniture). Handicapped pets should never be allowed off-leash on walks, because they can’t see danger and cannot hear your warnings.
Even if your older dog is blind, there may be something that you can do. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a specialist like a veterinary ophthalmologist. Problems such as cataracts may be treatable with medications and surgery.
3. Incontinence: There are many inquiries all of the time from frustrated owners wondering why their older dogs are no longer house-trained – and how they can get them back on track. The first rule of any sudden-onset behavior problem is to make sure that it’s not a health problem, and we can think of no case where this rule is more true than with an older dog who’s suddenly urinating in the house. Your pet could have an infection or, if she’s an older spayed female, she may be suffering from the loss of muscle tone related to a decrease in her hormone levels. Both are treatable; see your veterinarian. At a certain age, a little dribbling of urine is practically inevitable, especially while your older dog is sleeping.
4. Lumps and bumps: Benign fatty tumors are common in older dogs, and the vast majority are nothing to worry about. Benign tumors are round and soft, with well-defined edges. You can usually get your fingers nearly around them, and they don’t seem well-anchored. Showing them to your veterinarian for a more complete evaluation is important, and you should inform her of any changes in size or shape, especially if they happen rapidly. Your veterinarian may be concerned enough about the size, appearance, or location of a mass to suggest its removal and a biopsy; most bumps, however, are left alone. The best time to check for lumps and bumps? During regular grooming, weekly, at least. Run your hand over every inch of your dog, and don’t forget to talk sweetly – she’ll think it’s petting.