Aging Dogs

Dear OgDog:

Our seven year old lab appears sluggish and less excitable these days. I’m wondering if she is physically reaching old age. If so, what are the things I should be looking for?

Concerned

Dear Concerned:

Because of their short life span relative to ours, many of the changes that a dog undergoes throughout its life as well as in old age, appear to happen quite suddenly. Regular observation of your dog will enable you to spot the changes of old age developing such as:

The graying of the muzzle is an early sign of aging. This may happen at quite a young age,long before the dog is really a geriatric. Nevertheless it is a sign that those hair follicles are showing the effects of old age. The coat will generally become less glossy, and get thinner. The skin may become thickened, darkened and greasy. Calluses may develop over bony prominences such as the elbows.

Many dogs develop cloudy lenses in their eyes, which may first become apparent when the light catches the eye in a certain way. True cataracts, which are very dense and white, may also appear. Other aging processes affect the light?sensitive layers at the back of the eyes and these changes may cause the dog to show deteriorating eyesight. This is more noticeable in poor light, when a dog might bump into things or look confused when trying to find you in an unfamiliar area.

Loss of hearing is common in elderly dogs. This can sometimes appear highly selective as the sound a dog will fail to hear first is your voice, and the last thing will be the rattle of the dinner bowl. There may be a good reason for this since it is likely that the ability to hear different frequencies is lost at different times.

Your dog’s muscles and joints are likely to begin to fail. The first sign is usually stiffness on rising in the morning or after a long rest, especially after vigorous exercise. As age advances, walking may be slow and stiff, and your dog may limp on one or more limbs.

Your dog may be slower at finishing off her food, or her appetite may decrease. Her digestive system may also become more sensitive and bouts of diarrhea, constipation or vomiting may become more common. Many older dogs drink more and may be less able to hold their urine through the night.

Mentally, older dogs will be more sluggish and less excitable. Aging dogs are more easily confused by changes in routine and them may become more irritable if disturbed. In summary, whatever the causes of aging and whenever they start to develop in your dog, these are some basic signs you can look for so that the ‘special care’ required by the older dog can start.

OgDog

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.