Signs of Ageing
SLOWING DOWN - You may notice that your pet’s energy slows with ageing. This isn't always the case however, keep an eye for subtle changes in how they move around, get up, lie down, use stairs or exercising. You might notice a slight reduction in enthusiasm and sometimes hesitation or stiffness when doing some activities. Changes in mobility might be more noticeable during cold and wet weather. Mobility issues are most commonly due to arthritis, particularly large dog breeds, and associated loss of muscle mass (especially noticed in the hind legs). Also, bones can lose calcium which leads to weakening as part of the ageing process.
We can talk you through the various options to aid mobility issues like diet supplements and medications that could work best for your particular pet. Extra layers of soft blankets or pet cushions for indoor and outdoor beds will help with comfort levels. Try not to expect too much from your pet if they are slowing down, but we can often get some good improvement with a multimodal approach (using a number of different tactics). Gentler exercise over a longer period of time is the ticket rather than the explosive, fast action games of their youth. For example, cruciate ligament injuries are common in overweight unfit dogs over 6 years chasing the ball. A better form of exercise is a longer (eg 30min) leash walk. Keep in mind it might take them a little longer to come when called and eating their meals.
CHANGES IN HEARING AND EYESIGHT - In very old pets, hearing loss can become evident. You may notice it takes your older dog longer to awake from sleep, or they startle easily if you approach from behind. Cats might hiss or meow when startled, especially if they have been snoozing. Any hearing loss is worth checking the ears for an infection, growth, or foreign body. But in most cases of hearing loss in aged pets, its simply a degenerative problem, for which there is no treatment.
As they age, dog's eyes often show a blueish transparent "haze" in the lens. This is a common sign of ageing and occurs from 7-8 years onwards in dogs (it is less common in cats). Due to the gradual onset of the condition and the slow deterioration of vision, our clever pets can adapt providing they are left in familiar surrounds. Increased vocalisation, disorientation and bumping into objects can indicate vision loss.
Older pets enjoy a comfy spot in which to snooze and this ‘quiet place’ will keep them out of harm’s way. Be considerate of their needs by avoiding raucous activities and always closely supervise toddlers and young children. Never allow older working dogs on properties sleep under cars, because one day they will not hear the vehicle start and they will be run over. Confining them indoors is a good way to protect them from dangers they may have been able to identify in the past.
Hearing and sight deterioration is not an end to happiness. Pets have shown they can adapt to these changes quite well and can carry on happily in familiar surrounds.
TEETH & APPETITE - Good dental health from infancy is critical to a long healthy life. All old dogs ageing gracefully have a good set of teeth and gums. We see this consistently in our practice. Healthy teeth are so important to a pet's wellbeing; an unhealthy mouth can be a source of chronic pain and ongoing infection. There are a number of ways to keep dog's teeth clean, including tooth brushing, dental diets, bones and dental chews, food and water additives etc. Older dogs are sometimes past this and may require a professional dental scale and polish, and in severe cases, dental surgery. It takes a lot of dental pain to stop an animal eating - its much better to address a problem well before this. Please give us a call if you notice any changes to your pet's mouth and teeth, particularly if your dog or cat has smelly breath!
All older pet’s metabolic rate (the rate in which food is processed by the body) slows down, often making it more difficult to keep off excess weight. Again, good senior diets or low calorie diets are readily available to address this. We need to avoid the vicious cycle of weight gain, leading to joint damage, leading to less activity, leading to weight gain......... So, monitor their weight regularly and change their food intake accordingly call us if you find your pet changes eating, drinking or toileting habits.
LUMPS, BUMPS & SKIN CONDITIONS - Any tissue lumps or changes, can be serious tumors or harmless fatty growths. Tumors and skin issues are common in older pets. A regular comb through with your fingers will pick up any such lumps, and if you are worried about anything you might come across, get in touch with us. Many lumps aren't dangerous, BUT a small number can be malignant and life threateningly, it is worthwhile getting all lumps checked by a vet and monitored for change. Irritations and wounds are slower to heal in older pets so keep these areas clean and dry. Like any skin lesions on ourselves, any colour changes, growth, irritation or bleeding noticed should be checked in a consultation.
GREYING AROUND THE FACE & MUZZLE - We all discover grey hairs appearing as we get around middle age and most dogs commonly show a bit of grey starting at around 9-10 years - some earlier as a result of their genetics. The greying around the muzzle and feet is cosmetic only and not necessarily a sign of ill health.