The geriatric stage (12+ years) of your dog’s life marks that stage when they, similar to humans, have geriatric, age-related challenges, in addition to possible disease challenges that may have started earlier in their life. Your geriatric dog has been a part of your family for a long time. Our commitment to keeping them as healthy and as comfortable as possible is as heartfelt as yours. With all the improvements in veterinary care, families are seeing more and more of their companions living well into this geriatric stage. As your dog slows down, they may need less food and more sleep. They may also be more prone to illness and need more care.
The geriatric stage marks a time of increased fragility in your dog. You may notice and we, as veterinarians, will be checking for signs of:
- Structural weakness and impaired balance
- Level of fatigue or exhaustion
- Weight loss
- Decreased physical activity
- Slowed motor performance
- Diminishing vision
- Lessening of bodily function control
- Signs of dementia
- Markers of cancer or signs of organ failure
The Need for More Frequent Veterinary Visits
As noted above, geriatric dogs are more likely to suffer from a number of health problems. The earlier you can catch health problems, the easier they will be to treat or reduce suffering. For this reason, it is important that you bring your geriatric dog in for regular visits. A blood test at least twice a year can help identify underlying problems early so your dog can be treated immediately.
Some of the health issues listed above are treatable, while others cannot be cured, but they can be managed to the best of our abilities. If your visits to your Harmony vet did not increase much during your dog’s senior years, they are most likely to increase during these geriatric years. Our goal at Harmony Animal Hospital is to work closely with you to maintain the highest quality of life for your dog as possible.
Catching Signs of Cancer Early
Because the risk of cancer increases with age, it is important that you know what to look out for. Some forms of cancer, like those affecting internal organs, might cause changes in the way your dog eats or behaves, but some cancers offer no visual clue.
Lumps, however, should always be considered a warning sign and require a visit to the vet. Some lumps can turn out to be just benign growths, while others may be an indication that cancer is present in the body. Appropriate checkups and testing are the only way to confirm the cause of the lump.
Planning for the Future
As the best vets in Raleigh, we know that excellent geriatric dog care means addressing issues as soon as possible. Though every dog’s health will change at different rates and a dog’s ability to cope with illness varies, we use a series of guidelines to help you and your geriatric dog navigate potential challenges as they age and to prevent or slow the progression of serious health problems as much as we can. Standard guidelines are as follows:
Dental Care, Bonded Sealants, and Composite Tooth Restorations
Excellent dental care during your dog’s geriatric stage continues to be critical to their health. Be sure to continue to bring your geriatric dog in for their teeth cleanings on the schedule determined by your vet. Decisions about how often your dog needs cleanings will be based on your particular dog. Should you suddenly notice a broken tooth, bad breath, or any other oral concerns, set up an appointment right away. Harmony Animal Hospital’s extensive dental services are here to address any dental issues. Dental care is perhaps the most important service we can provide your dog throughout their life to ensure the health of your dog for years to come. Your dog’s mouth is the gateway to their health. Your investment in preventative care will not only keep your dog healthy, but it will also be a whole lot less expensive than treatments needed for neglected mouths.
At your dog’s next visit, our vets will review everything from brushing your dog’s teeth, broken teeth, nutrition, your dog’s cleaning schedule, and more.
Check out our dental videos for more on the importance of excellent dental care. Home care, as well as regular professional oral health and treatment under anesthesia, should always be part of your dog’s ongoing health care. This not only keeps their teeth and gums in the best health possible, but it can also alert your vet of diseased teeth, oral tumors, and other serious problems developing in your dog’s mouth.
Sometimes, during a routine examination, we may notice a fractured (broken) tooth or a cavity. Left untreated, fractured or decaying teeth will lead to oral pain and tooth root infections, so they will always require treatment dependent on the severity of the fracture or cavity. Typically a broken or diseased tooth should be treated one of three ways: a bonded sealant +/- crown restoration, a root canal, or an extraction.
Due to the very high risk of fracturing your dog’s teeth, particularly during this geriatric stage, we do not recommend allowing your dog to chew on hard plastic Nylon bones, rocks, antlers, bull horns, hard sticks, and knuckle bones. The general rule for a safe chew toy or treat is that you should be able to make an impression on the object with your thumbnail. You should always think about how your own teeth might be damaged by anything you are about to give your dog. We typically are smart enough not to chew on hard objects or bite down with great force on things because we know what could happen; this is not true for our dogs.
Cavities should be addressed during your dog’s annual dental cleaning with a full oral exam, as untreated cavities can lead to infection or loss of the tooth later on. Most cavities are filled using a composite resin, which we are capable of treating here at Harmony Animal Hospital.
Nutrition and Weight Management
Your geriatric dog is likely eating less and needing to go outdoors more, and may not always make it there in time. Your Harmony vet can talk with you about adjusting your senior dog’s diet to keep them comfortable and more firm, but how to be prepared for accidents.
As dogs get older, they are likely to move less and not burn as many calories as they used to. Your geriatric dog may need specially formulated food to help them digest more easily and optimize their overall health based on their individual medical needs. Your Harmony vet will help you choose food designed especially for geriatric dogs. These foods are usually lower in calories and fat and often have glucosamine and other nutrients that older dogs need. We will advise you on the right quantity to keep your geriatric dog from gaining excess weight, which can increase the risk of developing diabetes and can worsen joint pain or mobility problems.
Both rapid weight gain and weight loss are concerning changes for any dog as they can be both a sign and a cause of potential health concerns. You should keep a close watch on your dog’s weight, and if you notice a sudden change, be sure to make an appointment for an evaluation with your vet.
It is helpful to get expert advice from your vet for this stage of your dog’s life to keep them on the healthiest possible path for optimal nutrients, energy, weight management, and longevity. Harmony Animal Hospital vets can work with you to ensure that your senior dog is getting all their nutritional needs while maintaining a healthy weight.
We have a variety of diets available to meet the individual needs of our patients. We can recommend a general diet for your healthy dog or provide a diet that will help improve your dog’s medical condition. We proudly offer both Purina and Royal Canin prescription veterinary diets.
In addition to traditional nutritional counseling, we also offer Food Therapy. Using food as therapy can be very powerful. We can create a complete and balanced (and delicious!) diet recipe specific for your geriatric dog’s individual needs that you can cook at home (including calculations for caloric need–this includes any adjustments we may need to make in the future). Recommendations can also be made for foods that you can add to the diet your dog is already eating if you are not quite ready to make a full transition. Treat recipes can also be individualized based on the needs of your dog.
Structural House Changes
As with senior dogs, geriatric dogs might require household changes. You might need more matting throughout the house to help their dog keep his footing. Night lights might be used for walking at night. You might need mattress covers in case your dog has an accident at night. You might need to let them outside more frequently.
Your Harmony Vet is Always Here for You
As expected, more frequent visits to your Harmony Animal Hospital vets will become necessary during your dog’s geriatric years. As much as you want to do everything you can to make your geriatric dog’s life comfortable, we at Harmony understand the new and sometimes demanding challenges you might face in this stage of your dog’s life. We are here to guide you and support your dog in every way. We are here to do everything we can to help with the physical and emotional feelings around caring for your beloved geriatric dog.