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Geriatric care for your dog

Published: 
Sunday, January 7, 2018

PART 1
The Christmas season often results in the addition of a new family member! But care for your older pets is just as important as fussing over a puppy. You, your dog and your veterinarian become a team from the moment you take your new pet for his first veterinary check-up. The main goal of this triangular relationship is to ensure that your dog has a healthy, happy and balanced life for as long as possible.

Dogs today are living longer and better quality lives due to advancements in veterinary medicine, improved nutrition and more educated owners. A longer life means that there are more dogs reaching an older age and more owners that will have to understand the special demands and problems associated with the ageing process to be able to provide the best possible care for senior pets. Veterinary clinics and hospitals now offer special preventive care programmes for older animals, often called geriatric wellness programmes. These focus on owner education and the early detection and prevention of disease through regular check-ups and routine diagnostic testing.

Your pet’s wellness starts at conception. Your dog’s health today is partly determined by the health of his father and mother on the day that he was conceived; in combination with the care you have provided through nutrition, vaccinations, worming, parasite control and exercise throughout his life. The healthier start your dog has, the more likely he will continue to be in good health as he grows older.

Not all dogs age at the same rate. Generally, smaller breeds live longer than larger breeds and mixed breeds usually live longer than pure breeds. Small breed (under 20 pounds) dogs are considered geriatric between nine and 13 years old. Medium-sized (21 to 50 pounds) dogs are considered geriatric between nine and 11 years old. Large breed (51 to 90 pounds) dogs are considered geriatric between seven and ten years, and giant breed (over 91 pounds) dogs are considered geriatric between six and nine years old.

Ageing itself is not a disease; it is simply a stage of life. Many changes occur in dogs as they age, and older dogs should receive regular physical examinations. Two or more veterinary check-ups per year are recommended. A physical exam should include an examination of the mouth, gums, tongue, teeth and throat. Your older dog may suffer from dental disease which needs to be treated as bacteria from an infected mouth is likely to enter his bloodstream causing irreparable damage to his heart, liver and kidneys. Consider a soft diet if your geriatric pet has lost most of his teeth or can no longer comfortably chew hard, solid foods. Every veterinary visit should include a measurement of your dog’s weight. Unexplained weight gain or weight loss may be first signs of disease. Obesity is one of the most common preventable diseases in older dogs as they become less active and changes in metabolism occur so they require less food as they age. A rectal exam is also important. As dogs age they may be more prone to constipation and incontinence. If your male dog has not been neutered he is at greater risk of prostate cancer, and if your female dog has not been spayed she is at greater risk of breast cancer.

Look out for Part 2 of taking care of your elderly pet on January 21.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath

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