Maybe he doesn’t chase every squirrel in the yard these days. And he’s a little slower to get up to greet you when you come home. Then there’s that gray creeping into his muzzle. Your dog is getting old. But dogs are living much longer, fuller lives these days with the help of loving owners and caring veterinarians. For some tips on caring for aging dogs, we turned to Marty Becker, the nationally known veterinarian, author, and television regular, including regular spots on “Good Morning America.”
Dogs are born to work for a living. They’ve worked alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a particular purpose, like hunting, herding livestock or providing protection. Dogs’ wild relatives spend most of their waking hours scavenging and hunting for food, caring for offspring, defending territory and playing with each other. They lead busy, complex lives, interacting socially and solving simple problems necessary for their survival.
The most common job for our companion...
A: That’s highly variable. In general, the giant breed dogs age much faster than the large breed dogs, which age much faster than the small breed dogs. A Great Dane or a mastiff can enter into the older phase of life at five or six. The medium-sized dogs, like cocker spaniels or corgis, the ones that are in the 30- to 50-pound range, we start considering them older at about age eight. Then for the smaller dogs, your Shih Tzus, the toy poodles, it’s about eight to 10 years.
Q: What are some of the physical signs that my dog is getting older?
A: Often it progresses so slowly that a lot of times people just don’t notice it. Graying around the muzzle, on the chest, on top of the head. There are more lumps and bumps and eyelid tumors, and those are just signs the immune system is starting to slip a little bit. They’re not as playful and active. They can have jutting hip bones, muscle wasting. They just don’t have a spring in their step. The stairs become forbidden, they don’t want to jump up in the back of a pickup truck any more. Their senses start getting dull -- their eyesight isn’t as good. Their hearing isn’t as good.
Q: As my dog ages, are there mental changes I should look for, too?
A: They can become less social or even more aggressive as they age. There can be house soiling accidents. They’re not as interested in their food or play.
Q: Do dogs get Alzheimer’s disease?
A: Some people call it that. Its called cognitive disorder syndrome, canine brain aging. Sleeping patterns change; they’ll sleep more during the day and be awake at night. They’ll stand by the wrong side of the door to be let out. They’ll wander into a room they typically don’t go into and act like they don’t know why they’re in there. Again, their senses are dulled. It’s like they’ve gone from a world of 3-D back to a one-dimensional world. But I’m so excited about some of the new drugs for the cognitive disorder syndrome. They’re amazing. With some dogs, it’s like throwing a light switch and they’re back to 3-D in Technicolor.