New Tricks For an Old Dog: Caring For a Senior Dog

Thinking about adopting a senior dog, or already have an old dog of your own? Remember, Father Time spares no one, not even our canine companions.

If you are considering adopting a senior dog, the month of November is the perfect time to do it, as it’s Adopt a Senior Pet Month. But, when adopting a senior dog, there are special considerations you need to keep in mind.

As a dog ages, he inevitably begins to slow down. His youthful exuberance gradually transitions into elderly wisdom, and his energetic nature converts to much-appreciated mellowness.

Humans are taught to respect their elders, and we must extend this same courtesy to our canine companions. When receiving proper treatment and dignity, an aging dog can enjoy some of his best years as a senior citizen.

Thanks to improved nutrition and veterinary care, dogs are living longer than ever before. But just how can you succeed at teaching your old dog new tricks, or at least achieve conservation of his remaining tricks?

Whether you’re adopting a senior dog, or caring for your old friend, here’s how to make your dog’s golden years truly golden.

Know What to Expect When Adopting a Senior Dog

Every dog ages differently, but there are some common changes that occur as the body gets older. Here are some of the most common issues that develop in elderly pets (see the full list here).

Loss of hearing. As dogs age, the nerve cells and hearing apparatus degenerates, resulting in a slow loss of hearing.

Loss of vision. The lens of the eye becomes cloudy with age. Natural changes result in lenticular sclerosis, which typically does not cause significant vision loss. However, cataracts may develop, which do interfere with vision.

Decreased activity. As dogs age, their metabolic rate slows. This results in a decreased activity level.

Infections. As the body ages, the immune system weakens, making it harder for the dog to ward off infections.

Skin changes. The skin often thickens and darkens with age.

Loss or whitening of hair. The advance of years causes hair to lose its normal pigment, turning white. The ability of the hair cells to regenerate also deteriorates and hair loss is common, often seen as patches of hair loss.

Loss of skin elasticity. Old skin not only thickens but also loses elasticity. The most visible sign of this is in the male dog. The prepuce slowly becomes more pendulous as the dog ages.

Change in feet and nails. Footpads begin to thicken and the nails become brittle, making it harder to trim them properly.

Arthritis. Muscle, bone, and cartilage decrease with age. With less cartilage, the bones begin to scrape against one another, causing the pain of arthritis.

 

Common Disorders

Signs of aging are inevitable in older dogs. The body doesn’t snap back as readily as it used to, and perhaps it may take Rover a little longer to come when called. Aging can also predispose dogs to certain illnesses. By being aware of some concerns regarding older dogs, you can be a more educated and prepared guardian for your aging companion, or make the right choices when adopting a senior dog.

Routine veterinary care is particularly important now. Here are some of the most commonly diagnosed issues known to afflict older dogs (see more here).

Nutritional Concerns. A proper diet is very important in the care of a geriatric dog. Obesity is a very common and serious concern because it directly correlates to a decreased longevity, and may contribute to other problems. Proper nutritional management is a very important part of the care for your geriatric dog, especially since it is something that you can control.

Dental Disease. Dental disease and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) are common findings in the older dog. Untreated dental disease usually leads to tooth loss, and may serve as a reservoir of infection for the rest of the body. In this manner, severe dental disease may pose a risk to other body systems.

Eye Disorders. As dogs age, their vision worsens. Just as in people, cataracts can develop resulting in cloudy vision. Sometimes, tear production lessens and the surface of the eye is not properly lubricated. Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is a common problem affecting older dogs, especially small dogs with bulging eyes such as the shih tzu, pekingese, and pug.

Kidney Disease. Kidney disease is one of the most common metabolic diseases of older dogs. With early diagnosis through blood tests, some dogs can do quite well on a special diet and medications. The biggest key is to diagnose kidney disease early. This is one primary reason veterinarians recommend routine screening blood tests in older dogs.

Vaccinating

As pets age, questions about vaccinations arise. Common questions include which vaccines a senior dog needs and how often should he be vaccinated. Unfortunately, the absolute answers to these questions are not known, but there are several recommendations.

Can Medications And Supplements Help Your Pet Avoid Cognitive Decline?

Old age isn’t a disease, but it can come with some physical and mental challenges for senior pets. Can medication and supplements make the difference for cats and dogs suffering from the condition known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS?

In many cases, yes, said board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg at the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference. First, however, he reviewed the signs of cognitive problems in dogs and cats, some of which may surprise their owners.

The signs of CDS are known by the acronym DISHA, for:

  • Disorientation
  • Altered social interactions
  • Altered sleep-wake cycles
  • House-soiling
  • Altered activity levels

“These signs primarily arise from altered responses to stimuli, an increase in fear, anxiety and irritability, and deficits in learning and memory associated with cognitive decline,” he said. Other signs include clinginess, circling, pacing, wandering, forgetting obedience commands they once knew, lack of interest in walks, staring blankly, nighttime meowing or barking, and difficult finding their food or water. (Many of those may also be signs of physical illness.)

Unsurprisingly, CDS is more common with age, and its symptoms worsen over time. In one study, 50 percent of cats over the age of 15 showed signs of cognitive decline. In a 2010 survey, 41 percent of dogs over 14 showed signs.


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The problem is more common than most pet owners realize, and causes a number of symptoms most won’t associate with cognitive decline. But what can they do about it?

“When cognition is impaired, diet, drugs, or supplements might be useful in improving signs and slowing the progress of CDS,” Dr. Landsberg noted. “Canine studies have demonstrated that mental stimulation in the form of training, play, exercise, and manipulation toys can help to maintain quality of life as well as cognitive function.”

Prescription medications that might help with CDS and its effect on the brain include:

  • Selegiline. This monoamine oxidase B inhibitor has shown efficacy in improving cognitive signs in the dog. It is not licensed for use in cats, but some reports indicate it helps them as well.
  • Memantine. This drug is a NMDA receptor antagonist used to treat Alzheimer’s in humans.
  • Propentofylline. This medication xanthine-derivative is not licensed for dogs in North America but is used in Europe and Australia. It may be useful for cats, too.

These medications need to be prescribed by a veterinarian, and may require a consultation with a behavioral specialist, as they’re not in common use in veterinary practice.

What about supplements?  “A primary therapeutic strategy for cognitive dysfunction in dogs, cats, and humans is to reduce the risk factors that contribute to cognitive decline,” said Dr. Landsberg. “It is likely that an integrative approach is required such as with a Mediterranean diet or a diet fortified with antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

Supplements he reviewed included:

  • Senilife. This supplement contains phosphatidylserine, Gingko biloba, vitamins E and B6, and resveratrol.
  • Activait. Phosphatidylserine is also included in this supplement, along with, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E and C, l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q, and selenium.
  • S-adenosyl-l-methionine. Commonly known as SAM-E, this supplement has shown effectiveness in a placebo-controlled trial for both dogs and cats.
  • Apoaequorin. Derived from jellyfish, this protein may provide neuroprotection against aging and an improvement in attention and learning in dogs.

Medications may also help with the symptoms of CDS, such as anxiety. However, they can cause interactions with other drugs used for CDS or for other age-related conditions. A careful exploration of drug interactions and side effects is essential if multiple medications are used to treat symptoms of CDS.


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Aging with Grace: Caring for Your Senior Dog

Father Time spares no one, not even your dog.

As a dog ages, he inevitably begins to slow down. His youthful exuberance gradually transitions into elderly wisdom, and his energetic nature converts to much-appreciated mellowness.

Humans are taught to respect their elders, and we must extend this same courtesy to our canine companions. When receiving proper treatment and dignity, an aging dog can enjoy some of his best years as a senior citizen.

Thanks to improved nutrition and veterinary care, dogs are living longer than ever before. But just how can you succeed at teaching your old dog news tricks, or at least achieve conservation of his remaining tricks? Here’s our guide to enhancing your dog’s golden years by providing proper care.

What to Expect as Your Dog Ages

Like the advent of a new season, change is in store as your dog transitions from puppy to adolescent to adult to senior. Unless the science community suddenly discovers the secret to age reversal, it’s best to embrace your dog’s aging and prepare yourself for the accompanying challenges.

While you may appreciate the reduced activity level and subdued personality associated with the arrival of senior citizenship within your dog, many of the changes your aging canine endures require your attention and monitoring, including:

  • Loss of hearing and vision: Your dog’s senses may diminish with age, necessitating a reduced level of independence and greater care level.
  • Weight gain: Because they are less active, older dogs are often susceptible to obesity unless their caloric intake is reduced.
  • Loss or whitening of hair: The advance of years causes hair to lose its normal pigment, turning white, and hair loss also proves common.
  • Housetraining changes: As a dog becomes senile, his housetraining capability may weaken, requiring the owner to devote extra effort to reinforcing this skill and being more tolerant of occasional accidents.

When is a Dog Considered Senior?

In a perfect world, your dog would awaken one day wearing a sign reading, “I am now a senior citizen – treat me as such.” Unfortunately, it’s never so clearly outlined for concerned dog owners. In fact, the anticipated lifespan and age of senior citizenship for a dog varies based on breed and size.

Depending on these two factors, the life expectancy for a dog typically can range anywhere from 8 to 16 years. Generally-speaking, a dog is considered senior when he enters the last quarter of his anticipated lifespan. Our alphabetized list will help you assess a ballpark timeframe for when your particular pooch will reach his golden years.

Feeding Your Senior Dog

As dogs accumulate years, their health, metabolism, and stamina slowly decline. Consequently, a senior dog’s diet must be reevaluated and revamped to ensure he receives the right mix of nutrients to optimize the remainder of his life.

Many varieties of dog foods are available that cater specifically to the dietary needs of senior dogs. Offering old-age nutritional benefits ranging from increased vitamins to reduced protein and sodium, these products strive to provide nutrition that will aid an aging dog’s organ functions.

It’s best to consult your veterinarian in order to determine the specific dietary needs of your senior dog. At the very least, a reduced-calorie diet is likely necessary to accommodate your dog’s adjusted activity level and lowered metabolism. Your vet may also recommend a particular dog food or nutritional supplement to combat arthritis or slow the onset of age-related diseases.

The Importance of Exercise for Senior Dogs

Although regular exercise affords numerous health benefits to any dog, it proves especially important for aging pooches. In addition to helping a senior dog maintain a healthy body weight, a proper exercise routine can delay the gradual degeneration of joints associated with old age.

Of course, your senior dog is no longer a spring chicken. Since his exercise tolerance and needs have altered with age, it’s worthwhile to consult your veterinarian when establishing an activity routine. Your elderly dog may not realize his age-related physical limitations, so it’s necessary for you, as the dog owner, to moderate his exercise and ensure he does not play outside for extended periods in hot and humid conditions.

Common Disorders of Senior Dogs

Similar to a vehicle with extended mileage, your elderly dog is at risk of “breaking down” over time without proper care. During the last quarter of a dog’s life, routine veterinary care becomes particularly essential.

How to Care for Blind and Deaf Senior Dogs

 

Caring for Dogs that are Blind and Deaf

A difficult phase in a dog’s life is the last 20-25%. As dogs age, changes occur in their bodies that lead to loss of vision and hearing. Many dogs of this age also have arthritis, mobility issues, and other physical limitations related to the natural (but still sometimes distressing or painful) effects of time. Most dogs will experience some kind of vision impairment, and some develop cataracts. A degradation of hearing ability is common, and arthritis and mobility issues are a frequent concern, especially in dogs that are overweight.

This process is not dissimilar to that in aging humans in that as people approach their senior years, we don’t see or hear quite as well, can develop arthritis, and generally “slow down.” We may take a little longer to get up, turn the TV a little louder, and need glasses to read the daily paper. We may feel more easily confused or tired and can experience weight gain or appetite loss as an effect of our changing needs.

It is typical for a veterinarian to have an appointment with a “healthy” senior dog and find out that the animal has a history of not hearing when the owner gets home, not seeing that well, and experiencing difficulty moving up and down stairs or with general mobility. These things are a common part of that aging process, although they might seem upsetting for the owners.

If you are one such owner, you no doubt want to make your beloved pet as comfortable and happy as possible. What can you do? Below are some tips for living with dogs who are blind, deaf, or experiencing arthritis. Your dog might have some or all of these symptoms, so I hope you find this advice very helpful.

Tips for Living with Blind and Deaf Dogs

Blindness is defined as the loss of vision in both eyes. There are many reasons why dogs go blind, including glaucoma, corneal problems, cancer, trauma, retinal diseases, and cataracts. For a more complete list and explanation, go to our article on Blindness in Dogs.

Blind dogs require extra care, but they can continue to live a long and happy life. Many dogs adjust to blindness or a loss of vision rather quickly and do well by relying on their other senses. A dog’s sense of smell is very good, as is their hearing. In the case of many older dogs who lose both their sense of hearing and vision, they rely on their sense of smell. Dr. Rhea Morgan wrote a very nice article on tips for living with a blind dog that I think is really great.

Living with a blind dog is one thing, but caring for a dog that is blind and deaf is much more difficult. Depending on the degree of hearing loss, some dogs don’t hear at all, and others can hear certain frequencies. Some may hear a murmur of something and understand it is from a familiar person but don’t understand what is being said.

Dogs with no hearing will rely on smell and touch to help them determine when someone is near, so they may stick much closer to their human companions than before.

In my opinion, blind dogs with some hearing really appreciate you talking to them. The loss of senses can be confusing and scary, and a soothing voice can help orient and guide them.

Below are some tips to help you help your dog with vision and hearing loss to have a happy and healthy life.

1. Be Patient. When dealing with a blind or blind and deaf dog, it is important to be patient. They often navigate slower, especially if some of their other senses are limited. Most dogs adjust very well in the end, but it can take a little while.

2. Be Consistent With Your Dog. When dealing with a dog that is blind and deaf, consistency is important. They rely a great deal on their memory and enjoy predictable routines for stability and comfort.

a. Feed your dog and keep the water in the same location. Some dogs like fountains because they can sense the vibration of the pump as a way to orient them to their food and water area. Some owners of blind and deaf dogs believe their dogs began drinking more healthy water after they installed a pet water fountain.

b. Keep their bed in the same location.

c. Minimize redecorating or furniture changes if possible. Some dogs compensate so well for their loss of sight that many pet owners only realize their pet is blind when they move furniture around and realize that suddenly, the dog is bumping into things. A number of dogs are also discovered to be blind when they are taken to the vet clinic, where they bump into walls and cabinets in the unfamiliar rooms.

How Age Affects Your Dog

Time gets the better of even the healthiest dogs. From cancer and deteriorating thought processes to arthritis and diabetes, geriatric dogs develop diseases similar to those that befall humans. Below is a brief summary of the physical conditions you and your veterinarian may encounter as you help your dog navigate old age.

Note: Older dogs should see a vet every 6 months. Between visits, report any changes in your dog’s health or appearance.

The Senses

With age, your dog’s nervous system will dull. The pathways that transmit messages to the brain from nerve endings slow down, and his senses, which receive messages from the outside world, won’t be as receptive as they once were.

  • Hearing. Hearing loss occurs naturally in elderly dogs, as nerve cells and hearing apparatus degenerate. Inner-ear problems are also common and may cause dizziness or loss of balance. In some breeds, matted hair growing inside the ear can muffle sounds, as can wax build-up in dogs with narrow ear canals. Drop-eared breeds are prone to infections from yeast, fungus and bacteria.
  • Sight. Although your dog’s eyes may look cloudy, this condition – called “nuclear sclerosis” – won’t necessarily affect his vision. However, he may lose his ability to focus on nearby objects. Other age-related eye problems include reduced ability to see in the dark (or even in bright light), cataracts, glaucoma and degeneration of the retina.
  • Smell. The dog’s nose is a highly developed sensory organ, and a large area of the canine brain is devoted to the sense of smell. Tumors and polyps in the nose can weaken the sense of smell, which degenerates considerably in dogs over 15.
  • Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. At times, degeneration of the nervous system is extreme enough to affect a dog’s quality of life and the way the animal relates to his family. Canine cognitive dysfunction – a syndrome akin to Alzheimer’s disease in humans – can manifest itself in many ways. These include decreased interaction with family; disorientation, confusion and staring into space; abnormal sleep and activity patterns, such as pacing; decreased attention; reduced ability to navigate stairs; apparent hearing impairment; or lapses in housetraining.

    Other Systemic Problems

  • Respiration. Lung capacity decreases with age, and allergies may become more pronounced. Dogs not only use their lungs to draw in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, they also use their lungs and panting for evaporative cooling. Pugs and other short-nosed dogs of all ages are particularly prone to respiratory distress in hot and polluted environments.
  • Heart and circulation. Dogs do develop heart disease, but heart attacks are rare. Heart murmurs, indicating progressive heart valve disease, can occur in some elderly dogs.
  • Skeleton, joints and muscles. Arthritis affects one out of every five dogs, caused by wear and tear on the cartilage that connects bones and joints. Selective breeding has altered the bone structure in some dogs, and they tend toward bone disease. What’s more, the vertebrae – the bones that protect the spinal cord – can deteriorate and impinge on its sheath of nerves, causing complications that range from pain and limping to paralysis. Short-legged, long-backed breeds, such as dachshunds and basset hounds, frequently experience slipped discs.
  • Digestive system. Digestive problems – from stomachs that don’t tolerate certain foods, to intestines that fail to absorb nutrients – are common in elderly dogs. Signs of problems include diarrhea, vomiting and gas. Constipation is another common gastrointestinal malady. Anal sacs also become more susceptible to blockage or infection. Obesity must be controlled with a high-fiber low-calorie senior diet. Overweight dogs are also likely candidates for diabetes.
  • Kidneys and bladder. The kidneys are one of the first organ systems to wear out in dogs. As the bladder loses elasticity, the animal can become incontinent. Unregulated diabetes can result in frequent urination in middle-aged to older dogs. Straining, pain with urination, increased or decreased urination may signal kidney failure, spinal injury or various infections. If the dog shows any of these signs, take him to the vet promptly.
  • Hormones and glands. The endocrine system’s glands produce hormones that regulate and coordinate metabolism, immune response and other vital functions. If aging throws hormone production out of balance, multiple body systems are affected, and conditions such as lethargy, weak muscles, arthritis, dry skin, hypertension and heart problems can result. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough of the hormone insulin or when insulin receptors do not work. In this case, the pancreas still secretes insulin, but it is not effective.
  • Reproductive system. Between 60 and 80 percent of unneutered male dogs over age 8 develop enlarged prostate glands. They are also prone to testicular cancer. Older, unspayed dogs are prone to uterine infections, uterine or ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts. Older females that become pregnant have significant health problems associated with pregnancy. Female dogs have one-seventh the risk of developing breast cancer if they are spayed before reaching sexual maturity.
  • Cancer. Cancer is a rampant, abnormal growth of cells. It may first become apparent as a tissue mass called a tumor. Older dogs are more likely to develop cancer, which is often treatable. If it cannot be cured, modern veterinary care, proper nutrition and love can make your pet more comfortable.
  • When is a Dog Considered Senior?

    Pets age much faster than we do. The life span of a dog depends on its size or breed. In general, the larger the breed or size of the dog, the shorter the life span. For example, in a study of lifespans, only 13% of giant breed dogs lived to be over 10 years old. Conversely, 38% of small breed dogs live to be over 10 years of age.

    Dogs are considered senior in the last 25% of their lives. Below is a list of the most common breeds with their life expectancies and age at which they are considered “senior”.

    When your dog is senior, make sure they have a senior check-up with your veterinarian.

    BreedLifespanSenior Years
    Affenpinscher12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Afghan Hound10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Airdale Terrier10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Akita10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Alaskan Malamute8 – 10 years6 – 7.5 years
    American Eskimo13 years9.5 – 10 years
    American Foxhound10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    American Staffordshire Terrier10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    American Water Spaniel12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Anatolian Sheepdog12 – 13 years9 – 10 years
    Australian Cattle Dog12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Australian Shepherd12 – 13 years9 – 10 years
    Australian Terrier15 years11 years
    Basenji13 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Basset Hound10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Beagle14 – 15 years10.5 – 11 years
    Bearded Collie10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Beauceron10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Bedlington Terrier13 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Belgian Malinois12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Belgian Sheepdog12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Belgian Tervuren12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Bernese Mountain Dog8 – 10 years6 – 7.5 years
    Bichon Frise12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Black and Tan Coonhound10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Black Russian Terrier10 – 11 years7.5 – 8 years
    Bloodhound9 – 11 years6.5 – 8 years
    Border collie11 – 14 years8 – 10.5 years
    Border Terrier13 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Borzoi10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Boston Terrier14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Bouvier Des Flandres8 – 10 years6.5 – 7.5 years
    Boxer9 – 11 years6.5 – 8 years
    Briard10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Brittany12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Brussels Griffon12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Bull Dog8 – 10 years6 – 7.5 years
    Bull Terrier14 – 15 years10.5 – 11 years
    Bullmastiff8 – 10 years6 – 7.5 years
    Cairn Terrier14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Canaan Dog12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Cardigan Welsh Corgi14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel12 years9 years
    Chesapeake Bay Retriever12 – 13 years9 – 10 years
    Chihuahua15 – 18 years11 – 13 years
    Chinese Crested12 – 16 years9 – 12 years
    Chinese Shar Pei10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Chow Chow9 – 11 years6.5 – 8 years
    Clumber Spaniel12 – 13 years9 – 10 years
    Cocker Spaniel-American14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Cocker Spaniel-English14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Collie12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Curly Coated Retriever8 – 12 years6 – 9 years

     

     

    BreedLifespanSenior Years
    Dachshund15 – 18 years11 – 13 years
    Dalmatian10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Dandie Dinmont Terrier13 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Doberman Pinscher12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    English Foxhound10 years7.5 – 10.5 years
    English Setter10 – 14 years7.5 – 10.5 years
    English Springer Spaniel12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    English Toy Spaniel10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Field Spaniel10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Finnish Spitz12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Flat Coated Retriever10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Fox Terrier – Smooth13 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Fox Terrier – Wirehair13 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    French Bulldog9 – 11 years6.5 – 8 years
    German Pinscher12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    German Shepherd Dog10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    German Shorthaired Pointer12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    German Wirehaired Pointer12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Giant Schnauzer10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Glen Imaal Terrier12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Golden Retriever10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Gordon Setter12 – 13 years9 – 10 years
    Great Dane9 – 10 years6.5 – 7.5 years
    Great Pyrenees8 – 10 years6 – 7.5 years
    Great Swiss Mountain Dog10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Greyhound10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Harrier10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Havanese13 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Ibizan Hound12 years9 years
    Irish Setter14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Irish Terrier12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Irish Water spaniel10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Irish Wolfhound6 – 8 years4.5 – 6 years
    Italian Greyhound12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Japanese Chin12 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Keeshond12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Kerry Blue Terrier14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Komondor12 years9 – 11 years
    Kuvasz11 – 14 years8 – 10.5 years
    Labrador Retriever10 – 13 years7.5 – 10 years
    Lakeland Terrier12 – 15 years9 – 11 years
    Lhasa Apso15 years11 years
    Lowchen10 – 15 years7.5 – 11 years
    Maltese14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Manchester Terrier – Standard & Toy13 – 14 years9 – 10.5 years
    Mastiff8 – 10 years6 – 7.5 years
    Miniature Bull Terrier10 – 12 years7.5 – 9 years
    Miniature Pinscher15 years11 years
    Miniature Schnauzer14 – 16 years10.5 – 12 years
    Mix Breed – 1-15 pounds15 – 18 years11 – 13 years
    Mix Breed – 16-40 pounds11 – 14 years8 – 10.5 years
    Mix Breed – 41-75 pounds8 – 13 years6 – 9 years
    Mix Breed >75 pounds7 – 11 years5 – 8 years

    Questions About Senior Dogs

    During your dog’s senior years, you’ll probably observe gradual or sudden changes in health and behavior. Your veterinarian will help determine whether these changes are due to illness, a reaction to medications, or the natural aging process.

    Here are some questions that owners commonly ask about the health, habits and behavior of their older dogs.

    Question: How will medication affect my dog?

    Answer: Medications can cause weight loss or gain, vomiting, depression, lethargy, loss of balance, increased thirst, drooling, shivering or other symptoms that mimic minor or major illness. Ask your veterinarian about common side effects of any medication prescribed for your dog. Be sure to tell him if your dog is already taking another drug, since a combination of drugs can cause side effects. If you think medication is having a negative effect on your dog, call your veterinarian for advice.

    Q: Why is my dog gaining weight?

    A: The aches and pains of old age may prevent your dog from moving as freely as she once did. She may have developed a touch of arthritis or stiffness in the joints. Hormonal changes may also slow down the metabolism. Medications may add extra girth.

    Walk your dog and play with her daily. You’ll have to engage her in gentler activities than when she was young, but she still needs her exercise.

    Discuss changing her diet with your vet. Seniors need nutritious diets that are higher in fiber, but lower in fat and calories. It’s your job to help her keep her weight down, since obesity can make her more susceptible to diabetes, arthritis and heart problems.

    Q: Why is my dog losing weight?

    A: Is she eating? Are her teeth strong and mouth and gums healthy? Is her neck arthritic? She won’t eat if it’s a painful process. Age or medications can reduce her senses of smell and taste, which, of course, decreases her appetite. Metabolic disorders and heart or liver trouble can cause weight loss, regardless of how much she eats.

    Try feeding the dog a veterinary-prescribed diet in frequent, smaller meals. If her memory or eyesight is failing, be sure to put her food and water bowls in the same place every day. To prevent strain on her aging spine, elevate the bowls to the level of her head.

    Q: What if my dog has more than doggy breath?

    A: Tooth or gum disease, accompanied by bumps on the gums or tartar on the teeth, are the most common reasons for extreme doggy breath. If you don’t brush her teeth regularly, ask your vet to show you how. You’ll probably need to do it daily. Chewing on synthetic bones, biscuits or hard rubber toys will help her prevent tartar build-up.

    An unusually foul smell, accompanied by lack of appetite and frequent vomiting, could indicate liver disease. Kidney disease adds a hint of urine to the breath. Very sweet or fruity breath could indicate diabetes, especially if she ‘s been drinking and urinating more than usual.

    Q: Why does my dog seems unusually thirsty?

    A: Is her water bowl convenient? Always keep fresh, cool water available, not only beside her food bowl, but in the yard and on each floor of your home. Diabetes, a fairly common ailment of old age that also increases appetite, could be the culprit.

    Q: Why does my dog toss and turn at night?

    A: She may need an orthopedic dog bed to give her support to counter arthritis. Also, older dogs tend to develop painful elbow calluses that are more comfortable on soft bedding. The urge to urinate or defecate more often can also keep her awake. A syndrome called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), akin to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, also affects sleep patterns.

    Q: Why does my dog nap more than ever?

    A: She may just be bored. Decreased stimulation because of poor hearing or sight and less activity because of arthritis can make your dog depressed. The urge to urinate or defecate more can disturb nighttime sleep. Medication and hormonal or heart problems can also make a dog drowsy. Or, CCD could be throwing off your dog’s sleep cycle, so that she roams restlessly at night and naps during the day.

    Q: Why has my dog has started bumping into things?

    A: Failing eyesight is a bane of old age, but dogs learn to compensate. Make your home a safe environment with clear walkways. If you need to rearrange furniture, lead the dog around until she gets a feeling for her surroundings. Always greet her with a gentle voice before touching or petting her. Block entrance to stairs so she doesn’t fall. Don’t let her leave home without a human companion and keep her leashed when she goes out.

    Questions About Senior Dogs

    During your dog's senior years, you'll probably observe gradual or sudden changes in health and behavior. Your veterinarian will help determine whether these changes are due to illness, a reaction to medications, or the natural aging process.

    Here are some questions that owners commonly ask about the health, habits and behavior of their older dogs.

    Question: How will medication affect my dog?

    Answer: Medications can cause weight loss or gain, vomiting, depression, lethargy, loss of balance, increased thirst, drooling, shivering or other symptoms that mimic minor or major illness. Ask your veterinarian about common side effects of any medication prescribed for your dog. Be sure to tell him if your dog is already taking another drug, since a combination of drugs can cause side effects. If you think medication is having a negative effect on your dog, call your veterinarian for advice.

    Q: Why is my dog gaining weight?

    A: The aches and pains of old age may prevent your dog from moving as freely as she once did. She may have developed a touch of arthritis or stiffness in the joints. Hormonal changes may also slow down the metabolism. Medications may add extra girth.

    Walk your dog and play with her daily. You'll have to engage her in gentler activities than when she was young, but she still needs her exercise.

    Discuss changing her diet with your vet. Seniors need nutritious diets that are higher in fiber, but lower in fat and calories. It's your job to help her keep her weight down, since obesity can make her more susceptible to diabetes, arthritis and heart problems.

    Q: Why is my dog losing weight?

    A: Is she eating? Are her teeth strong and mouth and gums healthy? Is her neck arthritic? She won't eat if it's a painful process. Age or medications can reduce her senses of smell and taste, which, of course, decreases her appetite. Metabolic disorders and heart or liver trouble can cause weight loss, regardless of how much she eats.

    Try feeding the dog a veterinary-prescribed diet in frequent, smaller meals. If her memory or eyesight is failing, be sure to put her food and water bowls in the same place every day. To prevent strain on her aging spine, elevate the bowls to the level of her head.

    Q: What if my dog has more than doggy breath?

    A: Tooth or gum disease, accompanied by bumps on the gums or tartar on the teeth, are the most common reasons for extreme doggy breath. If you don't brush her teeth regularly, ask your vet to show you how. You'll probably need to do it daily. Chewing on synthetic bones, biscuits or hard rubber toys will help her prevent tartar build-up.

    An unusually foul smell, accompanied by lack of appetite and frequent vomiting, could indicate liver disease. Kidney disease adds a hint of urine to the breath. Very sweet or fruity breath could indicate diabetes, especially if she 's been drinking and urinating more than usual.

    Q: Why does my dog seems unusually thirsty?

    A: Is her water bowl convenient? Always keep fresh, cool water available, not only beside her food bowl, but in the yard and on each floor of your home. Diabetes, a fairly common ailment of old age that also increases appetite, could be the culprit.

    Q: Why does my dog toss and turn at night?

    A: She may need an orthopedic dog bed to give her support to counter arthritis. Also, older dogs tend to develop painful elbow calluses that are more comfortable on soft bedding. The urge to urinate or defecate more often can also keep her awake. A syndrome called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), akin to Alzheimer's disease in humans, also affects sleep patterns.

    Q: Why does my dog nap more than ever?

    A: She may just be bored. Decreased stimulation because of poor hearing or sight and less activity because of arthritis can make your dog depressed. The urge to urinate or defecate more can disturb nighttime sleep. Medication and hormonal or heart problems can also make a dog drowsy. Or, CCD could be throwing off your dog's sleep cycle, so that she roams restlessly at night and naps during the day.

    Q: Why has my dog has started bumping into things?

    A: Failing eyesight is a bane of old age, but dogs learn to compensate. Make your home a safe environment with clear walkways. If you need to rearrange furniture, lead the dog around until she gets a feeling for her surroundings. Always greet her with a gentle voice before touching or petting her. Block entrance to stairs so she doesn't fall. Don't let her leave home without a human companion and keep her leashed when she goes out.

    Cognitive Dysfunction in Elderly Dogs

    As veterinary medicine has become more sophisticated, and careful nurturing of pets has become the rule rather than the exception, the population of geriatric small animal pets has grown steadily, mirroring the increase in the human elderly population. As an animal progresses into its twilight years, inevitable aging changes take place in all organ systems, including the brain.

    Most small to medium-sized dogs are considered geriatric when they reach 10 years of age, or when 75 percent of their anticipated life span has elapsed. But this does not mean that when they have exceeded this arbitrary limit they will necessarily show signs of senile dementia. Some dogs appear normal mentally long after the empirical cutoff, and some remain bright to the end of their natural life span. These lucky dogs are referred to as “successful agers,” same as their human counterparts. Dogs that do not weather aging so well, and who show obvious signs of mental deterioration, constitute unsuccessful agers.

    The Signs

    Though variable in degree and expression, the classical signs of cognitive dysfunction (CD) in elderly dogs include:

  • Reduced activity
  • Increased sleeping
  • Reduced responsiveness to commands/apparent deafness
  • Lack of interest in surroundings/events
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Inability to recognize familiar people
  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive panting
  • Difficulty eating and/or reduced interest in food
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Difficulty navigating the environment (e.g. stairs)

    Not all dogs show all of these signs and some will show paradoxical behaviors, such as agitation and/or barking, for no particular reason. However, the signs of CD are progressive and eventually will completely incapacitate the dog. It is interesting to note that the percentage of dogs affected with CD at 10 years old, 12 years old, 14 years old, mirrors the age-related demographic for cognitive dysfunction in humans.

  • Central Nervous System

    Though not identical to the changes in human Alzheimer patients, pathological changes in the brains of dogs with CD are similar to those in human Alzheimer’s patients and are proportionate to the severity of the clinical syndrome. Many different changes have been reported but the most significant are deposits of beta-amyloid and its formation of plaques in the brain. It is these pathologic changes, and their functional sequelae, that are thought to be responsible for the cognitive/behavioral deterioration associated with CD.

    The Cause

    Pathological changes in the brains of affected animals are directly responsible for signs of CD but why should such changes occur in one animal and not another? Although we don’t know the precise reason for individual susceptibility, inheritance probably plays a role. But some interaction between genetics and the environment cannot be dismissed as also contributing.

    Treatment

    There was no treatment for this degenerative condition until the advent of deprenyl. (Anipryl®) This drug helps turn back the aging clock and buy affected dogs more quality time. Deprenyl is not a primary treatment for the disease process but will symptomatically reverse the clinical signs of aging in most dogs with CD by increasing brain concentrations of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine “connects thought with action” and also increases cognitive awareness. In the Oliver Sack’s movie, Awakenings, patients were unable to move because of the lack of dopamine. Dopamine is low in human Parkinson’s patients, who have difficulty moving around. In contrast, excessive dopamine levels produce racing thoughts, paranoia, increased anxiety, and repetitive behaviors. If the canine aging theory is correct, CD patients have low dopamine, hence low activity and reduced cognitive performance. Increasing dopamine by means of deprenyl should, and does, reverse the clinical signs of CD in the majority of patients – for a time at least.

    One third of canine CD patients respond extremely well to treatment with deprenyl by regaining their youthful vigor; another one third respond reasonably well; and one third do not respond at all (perhaps there is a variant of CD with different neuropathology). The bottom line is that for any dog that is slowing down to the point that problems become apparent, treatment with deprenyl is the logical choice once other organic causes for reduced mental function have been ruled out.

    Many people think that it is “normal” for their elderly dogs to gradually lose energy and interest in life. They therefore tolerate the cognitive aging syndrome for longer than is necessary. These folks sometimes don’t seek help or wait until bladder or bowel control is lost before trying to find out if something can be done. The latter is the main cause for concern for owners of geriatric dogs, who seem to be able to put up with almost any amount of senile change in their pets before the indignity of incontinence finally causes them to seek help. Incidentally, it’s often the same for human Alzheimer patients.

    Deprenyl is marketed with the specific label instruction for the treatment of age-related cognitive dysfunction and age-related inappropriate urination. Early treatment with the drug will buy impaired dogs extra quality time increasing their “health span.” As a side effect, deprenyl also increases the life span of dogs over 10 years – and that’s nothing to sniff at.

    The Effects of Aging on Dogs

    Like us, dogs don’t stay young forever – they age. While some aspects of getting old may not be much fun, getting old is not all bad. Each stage of life has its joys, pleasures and drawbacks. Middle age for a dog, which is between 5 and 9 years of age, is a kind of gray zone during which the dog is busily engaged in the process of life without any particular physical or mental deterioration to hamper him. But somewhere towards the end of middle age, dogs start acting and feeling their age.

    The effects of the aging process are both physical and mental. Physically, structural and functional changes occur in virtually all organ systems throughout the body, affecting vision, hearing, stamina, susceptibility to drugs and locomotor activity. Mental changes are secondary to decreasing brain size and a reduced number of brain cells. In some cases, canine Alzheimer-like changes hasten deterioration. Aging does not affect all dogs in precisely the same way. Some dog breeds, and some individuals, are more successful agers than others. Some dogs, at the age of 10 years, may have no noticeable physical or mental incapacitation. Others of the same age, however, are already handicapped by age-related internal organ failure, failing senses or orthopedic problems.

    Age-Related Physical Changes

  • The Kidneys. Kidney function in dogs is often impaired in old age. With advancing age, blood flow to the kidneys decreases, there is a loss of filtering cells (nephrons), and impairment in resorptive processes in the nephrons. The result of all this is a failure of the kidneys to concentrate urine, so that older dogs with this type of deterioration will necessarily have to drink more and, consequently, produce larger amounts of more dilute urine. It is extremely important to make sure that such dogs have constant access to water so that they do not go into kidney failure. Some special kidney diets that contain low quantities of high quality protein can help sustain dogs in the borderline kidney failure.
  • The Liver. Although some tests of liver function show progressive deterioration with age, most dogs survive to a ripe old age without this loss affecting them in any noticeable way. However, in some dogs, fat accumulates in the liver, sometimes secondary to other diseases such as diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) and hyperadrenocorticism. This can result in an increased size of the liver with higher levels of liver enzymes in the blood. Liver cirrhosis is also a disease of the older dog because of its chronic and progressive nature.
  • Thyroid Glands. Hypothyroidism has been reported to be the most common endocrine disease in the dog. Most cases are breed-related, with an early onset (2 to 5 years), but in other instances, hypothyroidism does not cause problems until the dog is aged. Hypothyroidism will cause increased shedding, bilateral hair loss, a dry lusterless coat, increased susceptibility to infections, weight gain, and heat-seeking behavior, to name a few of the clinical signs.
  • Adrenal Glands. The adrenal glands are affected in various ways by aging. The glands produce hormones involved in the regulation of blood sugar, electrolytes and stress, and serve other functions. Elderly patients under continued stress can suffer adrenal exhaustion. The opposite, hyperadrenicorticism, is a relatively common endocrine disorder of middle aged and older dogs. The latter causes signs such as muscle weakness, potbelly, hair loss, increased thirst, and increased urine production. If hyperadrenocorticism is diagnosed, it can be treated.
  • Pancreas. Diabetes mellitus is usually a disease of the older dog. Complications associated with this disease include increased thirst and urine output, wasting away of muscle, and liver disease. This type of diabetes can be controlled using dietary control and insulin, if necessary.
  • Pituitary Gland. Reduced production of growth hormone is supposed to be one of the main reasons for the overall aging process. In people, but not yet in dogs, injections of a growth hormone are given to delay the aging process.
  • Musculoskeletal System. While young dogs appear strong, well-muscled and can run like the wind, older dogs usually show muscle wasting and are often handicapped by arthritis or intervertebral disc disease. Analgesics and, if indicated, various surgical procedures can bring many dogs relief.
  • Cardio-respiratory System. As you might expect, both components of the heart and lung system are affected adversely with increasing age. A particularly common cardiac disease of older dogs is one in which the margins of the heart valves thicken (endocardiosis). This condition leads to cardiac murmurs and, functionally, to cardiac insufficiency. Meanwhile, aging affects the lungs, such as thickening of the walls of the small airways, leading to reduced efficiency of gaseous exchange.
  • Special Senses. Dogs’ eyesight becomes poorer as they get older, due to age-related changes in the eye itself and in the processing of visual images centrally. The most common ocular aging change of all, lenticular sclerosis, in which the pupil of the eye appears grayish, does not significantly affect vision at all. Cataracts, however, which are also more common in elderly dogs, do impair vision, particularly when the dog is in bright light and his pupils are constricted.

    Dogs’ hearing deteriorates progressively with age so that many older dogs appear not to hear you when you issue commands, and they do not respond to outside sounds that formerly would have aroused them. Loss of hearing can be either peripheral, due to changes in the ear itself or, as with failure of vision, related to changes in central processing.

  • Central Nervous System. Dogs’ brain weight decreases with age primarily because of neuronal death in the cerebral hemispheres. Functionally, there is decreased production and increased destruction of central neurotransmitters. If canine cognitive dysfunction is involved, there are plaque-like accumulations of beta-amyloid in the brain.
  • Behavioral Changes. Because of general central nervous system changes mentioned above, dogs progressively slow down mentally as they age. They become less interested in things around them, less reactive to things going on, spend more time sleeping, and tend to walk whereas before they might have run. “Normal” aging changes in dogs are not usually incapacitating but merely produce a gradual decline in mental function, which can seem quite appropriate. Dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction, however, may become disoriented, have reduced interactions with people and other animals, suffer sleep disturbances, and eventually become incontinent. Affected dogs can be significantly helped by treatment with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor called seligiline [Anipryl ®]. Seligiline can produce a quick turnaround in the majority of dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction and stands to provide affected dogs with a better quality life and longer life expectancy.