The ageing process is not obvious in the dog that you see constantly. Only if you are away for a considerable time does the sudden realization occur that the dog you acquired when the children were young is now showing its age.
Grayness around the muzzle, eyes less bright, slowness when getting up and wasting of the muscles of the limbs are all signs of the ageing process. The old dog tends to sleep much of the day but still looks forward to going for a walk, and regular exercise is important in keeping joints mobile and in maintaining muscle lone.
In summer, delay the walk until the cool of the evening, but in winter try and walk in the daylight hours, as in dim light the eyesight is usually impaired and the outing will not be so enjoyable.
Take care with traffic as the ability to judge distances from moving cars will probably also be diminished. Hearing is also impaired in the old dog, so that your commands or words of warning may go unheeded.
One of the most likely sources of discomfort for your old dog or cat are its teeth. Frequently scaly deposits collect on the teeth and as these build up the gum recedes and exposes the tooth roots.
Infection soon occurs and the tooth becomes loose and painful. Bad teeth can effect the animal’s general health, and it is important to have your veterinarian cheek the teeth regularly and if necessary remove the scaly deposits.
As with humans, heart disease is common in old dogs. Obesity and lack of exercise play a role in making the dog more susceptible to pathological changes in the heart muscle and blood vessels.
Certain breeds such as Pekingese, bulldogs and Pomeranians seem to have an inherited predisposition to cardiac defects. Decreased tolerance to exercise and excessive panting in hot weather are early warning signs. It is a good idea to seek veterinary advice if you observe these signs.
Dieting changes such as lowering of the salt content and reduction of weight can prolong the pet’s life, and if necessary, drugs are prescribed which prevent excessive fluid accumulation and aid the action of the heart.
In cats heart disease is not so common, in this species the organ that tends to show signs of degeneration as the animal ages is the kidney. It is thought that infections early in life may reduce the number of functioning kidney cells.
Another factor may be the concentrated protein diet of the cat places great demands on the kidney as compared with other species that exist on a less protein-rich diet.
Early signs of kidney disease are an increased thirst, loss of weight and a foul-smelling breath often associated with a brown discoloration of the teeth. Kidney tissue does not regenerate, but alterations in the diet to reduce the protein concentration, Vitamin B supplements and possibly antibiotics to treat any associated kidney infection can all aid the kidneys to maintain adequate function.
The diet of old dogs may have to be modified. The muscles of the intestinal tract and the cellular lining becomes less efficient and cannot cope with large amounts of food. It is preferable to feed an aged animal twice daily.
Avoid large numbers of bones, particularly cooked bones, as they may lead to constipation. An extra vitamin supplement of some of the B group is helpful. This may be supplied in the form of yeast tablets, if your animal is not a milk-drinker a fat soluble vitamin supplement such as cod-liver oil may be added.
Old dogs become very attached to the routine of the family and its surroundings. As their sight diminishes they are still very capable of living a normal life provided they are not suddenly placed in a strange environment.