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By Dr. Chris Pitts, RVT, of Broadway Animal Hospital
Everyone wants to grow old gracefully, including your dog. Your dog ages in much the same way as a human does, only at a faster rate. All of the issues an aging human runs into are the same as a dog with one interesting omission; clogged arteries.
The top five issues we see in our geriatric patients are obesity, osteoarthritis, heart enlargement, cataracts, and hearing loss.
Obesity and osteoarthritis tend to go hand in hand. The heavier your dog is, the more stress the joints experience, and therefore, a faster rate of degradation. The easiest thing to do is to slowly take the weight off of your dog to decrease these forces. Keeping your dog slim throughout his life is the best way to go, because once damage is done to the joints, there is not a good non-surgical way to correct the damage. We can manage the inflammation in the joints with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and we can increase the amount of lubricants the joints produce with injectable medications, such as Legend and Adequan.
Heart enlargement is most prevalent in smaller breeds, like Chihuahuas and King Charles Cavalier Spaniels. When the heart becomes enlarged it is typically due to fluid being retained in the heart muscle, which impedes the heart's ability to pump efficiently. Obviously a slender dog will require less cardiac effort than a chubby dog, therefore weight loss is often prescribed in these cases. There are also medications, such as Lasix, that are a diuretic and help the pull the fluid off the heart so it can pump more efficiently. In addition, there are other medications that help to improve the contractility, or squeeze of the heart. Dogs with heart enlargement need a lower stress lifestyle; think walks, not runs.
Again, just like humans, dogs are more prone to cataracts as they age. Cataracts cloud or even entirely occlude vision. Cataracts can appear as a white opacity in the eye. And just like humans, dogs can have their cataracts removed and their vision restored through surgery.
As for hearing loss, unless there is a blockage in the ear canal, I am sorry to say that here is not an easy fix for hearing loss in dogs. Teaching your dog voice commands, as well as hand signals when they are young can make life easier on both dog and human in the later years as hearing fades.
Most of these issues are genetic. Even obesity can be a possible genetic issue if it is caused by an under-productive thyroid gland. A blood test can determine if this is the case for your dog. And if it is not, then just cutting back on food a little, or even breaking a treat in half instead of using two treats in a day can work wonders on your pet's waistline.
Overall, the easiest way to keep your dog chugging along nicely into their old age is to keep their waist line slim, and their exercise calm and consistent. An annual exam to the veterinarian to fine tune any issues is a great idea to help keep your old friend faithfully following you through life.
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