Let’s face it, all living things get old. People get old and so do our dogs. Unfortunately for humans, our dogs get old much faster than we do. The truth is, life passes quickly, especially when you’re a dog. Fortunately for dogs and the humans who love them, veterinary medicine has improved, and so has our ability to identify and manage some of the most common health conditions associated with aging in dogs.
We all have heard how a dog ages approximately seven times quicker than a human, so seven human years are equal to one canine year. This may oversimplify things a bit. To determine what the life span of an animal might be, we really have to look at their size, breed and other factors like lifestyle. A small breed dog, like a Maltese, barring any foreseen accident or illness, can realistically expect to live over 15 years (sometimes into their late teens) but a larger breed, such as a St. Bernard, is expected to live less than 10 years.
If you take that same Maltese and never take it to the veterinarian, don’t get it spayed, and breed it every time it can become pregnant, it probably won’t live as long as the St Bernard.
There are charts that give you a good idea of how long you can expect your dog to live or you can just ask your veterinarian.
Whatever the life expectancy is for your dog, he will eventually get old and you will have to deal with the ailments that commonly affect an older dog. As pet owners, we can make this time of our pets’ lives as pain free as possible. By recognizing symptoms and being able to detect changes in behavior, appetite and his day-to-day habits, you can work with your veterinarian to help your dog live a very long, healthy life. Here are some of the more common ailments that you should look out for:
- Sadly, dogs are susceptible to many of the same cancers seen in humans. Bone cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma are just a few of the neoplasms commonly diagnosed in dogs. Although there is a strong genetic component in some dog breeds, like Golden Retrievers and Boxers, cancer can develop spontaneously in any breed. Early detection and diagnosis is the key to surviving dog cancer, so don’t skip those annual veterinary exams.
- One of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in dogs, dental disease, occurs in all breeds and sizes of canines. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is especially susceptible to dental disease. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to pain, tooth loss, and bacteria in the bloodstream that can damage internal organs. Home care such as tooth brushing and dental treats can help reduce tartar on the teeth, as can specific foods meant to promote dental health. Once dental disease has developed, however, a fully anesthetized dental cleaning at the veterinary clinic is needed. Prevention is the best medicine when dealing with dental disease so start early, before severe periodontal disease develops.
- Like many humans, half the dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese, and many owners don’t even realize it. Even worse, overweight dogs are susceptible to a ton (pardon the pun) of secondary problems such as joint disease, diabetes, and respiratory illness.
- Exercise and calorie control are the keys to managing a pet’s weight. Senior dogs are often less active than their younger counterparts and have different caloric needs. Diets designed for seniors can help provide nutrients in the proper balance, often with different ratios of fat and protein than you would find in a standard adult dog food. Regular gentle exercise is beneficial even for dogs with health issues. Talk to your veterinarian about a diet and exercise plan that is right for your pet.
- Joint disease goes hand in hand with aging, as the cartilage that protects joint surfaces wears down with time. Although this process cannot be reversed, owners have plenty of tools at their disposal to reduce the impact of aging on joints and arthritis in dogs. First, make sure your pet is at a healthy weight. Overweight dogs carry significantly heavier loads on their joints. This has an effect on dogs of all breeds, but is most pronounced in large breed dogs that may already have a genetic disposition to conditions such as hip dysplasia. Then make sure your dog receives regular examinations to catch the early signs of joint disease. Familiarize yourself with the signs of joint disease, too — reluctance to climb stairs, stiffness especially in the morning, and limping to name a few.
- Last but not least, ask your veterinarian about therapeutic dog food. Some diets are formulated specifically to improve mobility and joint health.
The key to a long healthy life is proper care for your pet have them spayed and neutered and to get them to the veterinarian for a wellness visit at least once a year.