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Old Dog Health Q&A: Health and Dietary Concerns in Aging Dogs

WebMD veterinary expert answers common questions pet owners have about their aging dogs.
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Q: What are the most common medical problems with older dogs?

A: Fifty percent of dogs over the age of 10 are going to die of cancer. That’s from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). Other common problems are renal and kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes. Look for increased or decreased thirst. Changes in their bathroom habits. A lot of time you’ll see pain of movement, or lack of movement.

 

Q: Do I need to change my dog’s diet as she ages?

A: We used to think that we wanted to reduce the protein for older dogs, and now we’re finding out some of them need a higher-quality protein or more protein as they age. I tell my clients we’re probably going to change what’s in your dog’s bowl five times in his lifetime, and certainly one of those changes is when they’re seniors. We certainly need to put them on something that’s reduced calories, reduced fat, so they don’t get obese. Sometimes we put them on a diet for a specific disorder; if their kidneys are starting to slip, we put them on a specific diet.

 

Q: What are some things I can do to make it easier for my dog as he gets older?

A: Ramps and steps are a big help to get up on the couch or on the bed. Carpet runners are good if you have hardwood floors, stairs, or tile, so they don’t slip.

Have real soft bedding. A lot of people use heated orthopedic beds.

Use drinking fountains. Every creature in nature loves the sound of running water. A lot of older pets get chronically dehydrated. Fountains keep water aerated and cooler.

And heat their food up. Their sense of smell and sense of taste don’t work as well as they used to. If you’re still using dry food, you can put a little water on it or mix a little canned on it and put it in the microwave for seven to 10 seconds to release that aroma.

I also recommend a pet buddy. Dogs in multiple-pet households are sick less often, live longer, and generally are happier. Social interaction is so important. Exercise also is important. Not only do the excess pounds melt away, so do a lot of the behavior problems.

 

Q: Do elderly pets still require yearly vaccinations?

A: That’s a hot topic. At one time we did a one size fits all -- everybody gets the exact same thing. But we over vaccinated because we gave everybody the same thing regardless of their life stage, lifestyle, or risk in the community. If your dog is boarded or goes to dog parks, you’d better vaccinate him. But we’ve shifted from one size fits all to individualized personal pet health protocols, in which we look at medical history, current health status, life stage, lifestyle, and any emerging risks in the community to determine what, if any, vaccines are needed.

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