Spry Seniors: Health Considerations for Geriatric Dogs

Some changes with aging are inevitable, but as our dogs grow older, we can take several steps to help maintain their quality of life. Prevention, monitoring, and maintenance are keys to keeping senior dogs healthy and active, in conditions from periodontal disease to diabetes.

Y2K9s Member Samra Elser gave a presentation on this topic at the April 19 Membership Meeting, and recommended several methods for monitoring and protecting our dogs:

  • Annual or semi-annual veterinary exam
  • Complete blood count, chemistry panel (add thyroid if not already included), urinalysis
  • Regular dental exams with professional cleaning (every six to twelve months) and extraction of diseased teeth if needed
  • Maintain lean body condition (proven to increase longevity)
  • Teach hand signals to maintain communication (hearing and/or other senses often become impaired as dogs age)

There are also things we can do to make our homes more amenable to an aging dog’s needs:

  • Provide non-slip surfaces and ramps or stairs
  • Keep toenails and hair on paws short to increase traction
  • Allow access to soft bedding
  • Climate control (warm and cold)

And perhaps most important, by continuing our interactions with our dogs, we can maintain certain routines and adjust others as needed:

  • Maintain routines (important as a dog’s senses grow compromised)
  • May need more frequent bathroom breaks
  • Monitor bodyweight and increase or decrease caloric intake
  • Exercise at ability-appropriate level
  • Continue sports if desired
  • Endurance (trotting or swimming)
  • Strength (target hind limbs and core)
  • Treat discomfort if needed (NSAIDS such as Rimadyl (generic name Carprofen), Deramaxx (generic name Deracoxib), and others

We all know how frightening a diagnosis of cancer can be. For many types of cancer, early detection is critical. You can check your dog for possible early indications using the following practices:

  • Perform monthly mammary exams on female dogs
  • Palpate testicles on intact male dogs
  • Arrange for your veterinarian to perform rectal exam annually
  • Examine your dog frequently (including mouth, eyes, and ears) to identify superficial masses
  • Abdominal ultrasound may identify tumors, but is impractical for routine screening

Samra’s talk was a farewell to the club, at least for the short term. Her veterinary training now requires her to take a leave from teaching at Y2K9s (she is working toward a combinedVMD/PhD). We wish her well and look forward to her return.

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