Have you ever wondered what to expect as your dog grows older. What is “normal” for an older dog? Being aware of the normal aging changes for your senior pet will help you identify when there is a medical problem that should be addressed.
What is “old age” for dogs?
That depends on the breed of dog. As a general rule of thumb, small to medium sized dogs are considered to be senior at 8 years of age, whereas giant breeds, such as Great Danes, are senior at 6 years. It is best to consult with your veterinarian in order to determine the best health care maintenance program for your dog as they age.
What to expect as your dog ages?
Following are some general things to watch for as a pet ages.
- Slowing down – You may notice that your dog slows down some with aging. This isn’t always the case, but look for subtle changes in how they get up, lay down, and use the stairs. Is there any hesitation or stiffness? Does a change in the weather (rainy, cold) make it worse?
Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, particularly large breeds. Arthritis can occur in any joint, most commonly the legs, neck and back (spine). There are many different medications available to help ease the discomfort of arthritis — see your vet if you notice any signs of slowing down in your dog.
- Loss of muscle mass – Mild loss of muscle mass, especially the hind legs, may be seen with old age. Some muscle atrophy, notably on the head and the belly muscles, can signify diseases such as masticatory myositis and Cushing’s Disease. Be sure to have your vet check this out if any muscle loss is noted.
- Hearing loss – Indications that your dog may be suffering from hearing loss can include being easily startled when approached from behind or not waking up when called. There isn’t a lot that can be done for age-related hearing loss, but a vet exam should be done first to rule out other medical problems, such as an infection, growth, or foreign body in the ear.
If your dog does experience hearing loss, take care to protect him/her from hazards, such as cars and kids that they may not hear (or see).
- Changes with the eyes – As they age, dog’s eyes often show a bluish transparent “haze” in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of aging, and the medical term for this is lenticular sclerosis. Vision does not appear to be affected. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque. Vision can be affected by cataracts, and your vet needs to be consulted.
- Graying around the face, muzzle – Some dogs can go prematurely gray, but most dogs commonly show a bit of gray starting at middle age, around 5 to 6 years old.
Some of these changes are to be expected as your dog ages and others are not. Learn to watch for and differentiate between what is normal and what may be an indication of medical problems. It is better to err on the side of caution and have new or unusual conditions checked out. As always, the doctors at Horizon Animal Hospital are here if you need them.
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