If you're wondering what geriatric dog care is then let me explain. Basically it means providing specialized (and usually preventative care) to extend the quality of your older dog's life. After all, you've been through thick and thin with your best pal and I'm sure you just want to keep them fit and active for as long as you can.
Knowing the warning signs helps detect illnesses early, many of which can be cured, reversed or at least slowed down. So, do you know what to look out for with older dogs? Or at what age they are considered "geriatric" anyway?
Just like us, dogs experience certain common illnesses once they get older. They age quicker than we do but suffer many of the same age-related conditions. Unfortunately they can't tell us about their aches and pains but may do so subtly, if you just know what to look for.
Many illnesses common in older dogs can be reversed or at least slowed down if we can get to them early enough. Some can be minimized or prevented entirely.
But before we get to that, you need to know at what age your dog is considered a geriatric or even a senior for that matter. And yes, there is a difference! Basically your dog is a senior once his relative age is in his mid-40s and is considered geriatric in his 70s onwards.
Relative age simply means a canine's age relative to human years. The general rule of thumb is that dogs age seven years to our one but that is pretty inaccurate most of the time as not all dogs age equally.
Research has shown that the age of a
dog (relative to humans) depends on breed, health, genetics, activity
level, but most of all, it depends on their size.
Here is a great chart that shows the age at which dogs are seniors and geriatrics dependent on their size.
As you can see from this chart, small dogs, on average, mature faster and have a longer lifespan than larger dogs. The average lifespan of dogs in general is 13 years. But don't be too despondent if you have a large breed dog, (like I do) these numbers are only guidelines and there is plenty we can do to extend the lifespan of our dogs.
Giving them the best possible care throughout their lives is the number one factor in achieving good health. Being vigilant during their senior years will catch any potential health problems in the early stages. In the case of the geriatric dog, prevention and early diagnosis is key.
Although dogs don't reach geriatric status until they are in their 70s (relative age) we need to start monitoring their health and taking preventative steps when they reach senior status.
Quality care throughout your dog's life is paramount, but keeping an eye
out for potential warning signs in your older dog, once he hits these
age brackets, is probably the biggest factor to extend his life.
Once your dog is considered a senior (see above chart), you should begin a geriatric dog care routine which is aimed at:
You should also start by changing your annual vet visits to twice a year. To get you started, below is a list of tests that you can discuss with your vet. These are all typical for senior and geriatric dogs:
My dog, (Hudson, a German Shepherd) has been having all these tests since the
age of six. My vets now have a clear baseline of tests to know what is
"normal" for him. And yes, he has twice yearly vet visits.
Kidney disease is a slow progressive disease that affects many older dogs. Unfortunately symptoms of kidney disease aren't usually noticed until the kidneys have already been impacted by more than 70%. At that point you might notice increase in thirst or urine volume but the kidneys will have already suffered a lot of damage.
Good news though, you're going to catch this early on if you speak to your vet about the tests (mentioned above). ERD (Early Renal Disease) is a simple urine test to pick up on kidney failure in the very early stages. Early detection means they can slow the disease down and extend the life of your dog. Speak to your vet about having this test (and others) done once your dog hits his senior years.
OK. So now to the warning signs in senior dogs. In addition to the
twice a year full exam, you should take your elderly dog to the vet immediately if you notice any of the following signs
These signs and symptoms could be an indication of common health problems in older dogs such as kidney failure, liver problems, cancer, diabetes mellitus, or Cushing's syndrome.
Don't be too panicked though, it could equally be something less serious, so it is imperative that you get your senior dogs checked out by the vet as soon as you notice any of these symptoms.
Finally, geriatric dog care tends to be specific to each dog. As your dog ages, you'll find that you get a deeper understanding of your own dog and know them better than anyone else, including your vet. Many vets know this and will acknowledge it, so will frequently rely on your knowledge of what is and isn't usual for your own dogs.
This is a
huge advantage for our dogs. Trust your instincts, and give your vet as
much information as possible if you suspect your senior dog's health is
impacted in any way. After all, no-one knows your dog like you do!
Max was my best friend's 12 year old German Shepherd. Sadly Max passed away December 2011. Max was a sweet boy who was loved by all that knew him.
RIP Max, you're in our hearts forever.
Do you have a special senior dog in your life? Tell us about your senior dog or post a memorial to that wonderful senior dog you've lost.
It can be as much or as little information that you want to share. Either way we'd love to hear about the special senior guy or gal in your heart.