Health & Wellness

Recognizing Disease Symptoms to Maintain Senior Dog Health

If you are the owner of an older dog that has been healthy up to, say 6 years of age, you will be interested in the article mentioned below. The author, Dr. Joanne Orth is a dedicated dog owner.  In the article, she describes and discusses briefly several disease conditions that older dogs commonly experience. Because her dog is an older dog, she has a keen interest in Recognizing Disease Symptoms to Maintain Senior Dog Health.

The article excerpt is taken from the Philadelphia Examiner, which you can read in its full entirety by clicking here.

Recognizing Disease Symptoms to Maintain Senior Dog Health

As you may know, the popular old theory that one year in a dog’s life equals seven human years is no longer generally accepted. Today, a sliding scale describes dog years in terms of human aging, so a medium-sized dog who is eight years old is more or less equivalent to someone in his early 50’s. By age 10, your dog is comparable to a 60-year old human and, at age 13, he is similar to a human in his mid- to upper-70’s. In our house, we consider an 8 year old to be a “young senior” and we become extra vigilant about health issues. Usually, we ask our vet to run a geriatric blood test to screen for common problems and, if anything looks suspicious, we follow up with more testing. In addition, we watch for notable changes in habits or behaviors. … Recognizing these symptoms can prompt you to take action, hopefully giving your senior dog as many healthy, happy years as possible.

Osteoarthritis:  Although a general slowing of activity can accompany aging, never assume that changes in behavior are simply due to old age. Just as in people, arthritis is common in senior dogs, with many of the same causes. Years of wear and tear on joints can cause thinning of cartilage, a tissue that helps joints move smoothly. As cartilage thins, bones in joints contact each other, causing pain and inflammation. If your senior dog is moving more slowly, especially when first getting up from sleeping, or if there’s unevenness in his gait or he favors a limb, this may signal arthritis.  Watch for an unwillingness to climb stairs, to jump for a toy or to get up on the couch. Your vet can confirm the diagnosis and will doubtless recommend lifestyle changes such as moderate exercise, perhaps weight loss, as well as a drug treatment plan.  Adding a canine-formulated glucosamine supplement can be very helpful, especially if the condition isn’t too advanced and some cartilage is still present in his joints. Pain meds may also help and today there are several non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications available, although these have potential side-effects your vet will discuss with you. Never give a human arthritis medication to your dog. Some of these, such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), are toxic and can cause serious problems for you senior scot. Good treatment can alleviate discomfort and make your dog’s senior years more happy and pain-free.

Diabetes: As in humans, dogs can develop one of several types of diabetes, including the juvenile form that develops early in life, although this is quite rare. More often, canine diabetes develops between ages 7 and 9 and is more common in females than males.  Diabetes mellitus, usually just called diabetes, is caused by a failure of the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin helps move glucose from the blood into cells, where it is needed for energy. Insulin also causes the liver to store glucose in the form of glycogen, helping to lower blood sugar when appropriate. Without insulin, cells are starved for energy and blood glucose becomes very high, “leaking” into the dog’s urine and carrying along extra water. Diabetes is a life-threatening condition that, if untreated, can eventually lead to organ damage and potentially death. The symptoms include excess thirst, frequent urination with accidents in the house, constant hunger accompanied by weight loss despite a normal diet, lack of energy and formation of cataracts leading to blindness. But these symptoms don’t always appear together. In my experience with two diabetic dogs, changes in drinking or urinating are not always present or obvious, and vision problems may occur slowly with the dog may compensating well. However, weight loss even with increased feeding is a definite clue. In a multiple dog household like mine, other dogs might change behavior toward the ill pet, even smelling or sampling sugar-rich urine. Any of these signs should prompt a visit to the vet, who can easily confirm the diagnosis and help you develop a treatment regimen to reverse symptoms and bring your dog back to a healthy state. As for humans, this will include giving insulin several times daily, modifying diet and possibly monitoring your dog’s urine and blood sugar levels. With good care, a diabetic senior can have years of health ahead.

Cushing’s disease: Also called hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing’s is an endocrine disease in dogs aged 6 or older, although it can develop at a younger age. It involves overproduction of cortisol, a hormone made by the adrenal gland.  Cortisol is commonly called a “stress hormone” because it normally helps the body adapt in situations of stress. It causes release of sugar into the blood and it affects metabolism of fat and proteins, providing quick energy. It also suppresses the immune system through its effect on certain white blood cells.  Cortisol can also decrease thyroid gland function, lower bone density and affect blood pressure. While a short burst of cortisol is helpful to the body under certain situations, in Cushing’s disease cortisol is released constantly and at high levels. This causes problems in many organs and decreases your dog’s ability to fight off infection and maintain homeostasis, which is a balance in overall body function. There are two possible causes of Cushing’s disease: an over-production of adrenocorticotrophic hormone, or ACTH, the pituitary hormone that stimulates release of cortisol by the adrenal, or more rarely, a cortisol-producing tumor in the adrenal itself.  Like many endocrine diseases, Cushing’s is complex and can cause symptoms that vary. However, the more common include increased drinking and urinating, increased appetite, hair loss and a thinning of the skin. Cushing’s also causes a characteristic pot-bellied appearance and may sometimes lead to weakness or panting, or frequent urinary tract infections.  If your dog shows elevated levels of alkaline phosphatase in a blood test, especially in the absence of changes in more liver-specific enzymes such as alanine transaminase (ALT), this may also signify Cushing’s disease. Your vet will investigate with one or more tests, ranging from an initial check of blood and urine to more complicated but specific tests to diagnose the presence of Cushing’s and its exact type. In some cases, the diagnosis will be clear but in others a series of tests may be needed for a definitive answer. Treatment of Cushing’s can vary and may include surgery for an adrenal tumor or use of one of several drugs. One of these drugs, trilostane, blocks the effect of cortisol on the body without lowering its production and must be given regularly. However, it may cause fewer negative side effects than other treatments and is often recommended by vets today. When managed successfully, the symptoms of Cushing’s disease can be controlled well with a good long-term prognosis.

Read  the article in its full entirety by clicking here.

Dogs just like people, can develop different diseases as they age. Because we love the dog, or dogs, that depend on us for love and care, it is worthwhile and humane to become familiar with the common diseases or health problems they may develop as they age. Recognizing disease symptoms to maintain senior dog health will help your canine companion live longer and more comfortably.

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