Looking After My Geriatric Dog

Nobody likes to see their pets getting old. Last week our Labrador cross “Bella” turned 7 – officially geriatric! Despite what I know, I am desperately hoping she will live forever. In my more realistic moments I realise that won’t happen and that the most important thing is to make sure she stays happy and healthy for as long as possible. So what will I be doing to make sure Bella stays fit and well over the next few (many!) years?

Signs of good general health

There are a number of everyday things which can be monitored to provide an early sign that the health of an older animal may be declining. This includes:

  • Appetite – a reduction in appetite is a common early sign that our pets aren’t feeling their best and further investigation may be needed. It can be caused by nausea, oral pain (like a rotten tooth), more generalised pain (like arthritis), cancer and many organ diseases common in older animals
  • Drinking – Excessive drinking occurs in numerous conditions including kidney disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. As a rough guide, a fox terrier drinking more than 1L, a Border Collie drinking more than 2L, or a Labrador drinking more than 3L would give us cause for concern and should be investigated
  • Weight – sudden changes in weight are an important indicator that things are not as they should be and should always be investigated
  • Toileting – changes to “bathroom” habits, whether it be due to diarrhoea, constipation or an increasing need to pee can all point to ill health
  • General activity levels – one very common thing we hear from owners is that their cat or dog is slowing down or sleeping all the time because it is getting old. While it is true that we don’t expect older dogs to be as active as puppies, “slowing down” is a very common sign of many illnesses – arthritis is an especially common cause. Being slow to get going in the morning (particularly in this colder weather!), reduced enthusiasm or tolerance of exercise and reluctance to jump into the car or onto higher objects such as the couch can also indicate pain associated with arthritis.

Annual check up

While I am more aware than most of the signs of ill health in animals, it is still very important that Bella is properly examined at least once a year to check for early signs of illness. An annual check-up would include:

  • Checking all over for lumps and bumps which may be cancerous
  • Listening to the heart and lungs - both heart and lung disease is very common in older dogs and can be managed for a long time if treatment is started early
  • Palpating the abdomen to check all the organs feel normal and there are no unusual lumps present
  • Checking the teeth – dental disease is common in older animals and can cause significant pain if left untreated

Annual blood test

Unfortunately, an examination does not pick up everything and an annual blood test to ensure that all of Bella’s organs are functioning normally is helpful – the sooner a disease is picked up the quicker it can be treated and the less long term complications will occur as a result of it.

Overall, quality of life is the most important aspect with our aged pets. Check your pet out today for any of the red flags mentioned above – Bella will be getting her annual check-up and blood test this month too. Early intervention can markedly improve the life of our senior pets, and ensure they are around to wag their tails for a little longer.