As your dog gets older, on the outside, he can appear as healthy and active as any younger dog, but inside his organs are not functioning as efficiently as when he was younger. As he ages, you need to ensure his complete health by adjusting his diet, exercise, and by keeping a close watch on his behaviour. In fact, you’ll notice many problems first through behavioural changes before his body shows the outward signs.
Changes in appetite, a lack of desire to move about, or overall grouchiness are usually symptoms of a deeper problem. Your dog’s muscles will remain strong, provided he exercises. The more he does as a youngster, the more he can do as an older dog. You must keep in mind, however, that he cannot tell you he doesn’t want to go those extra miles with you. All he wants is to be with you and please you, regardless of how he feels. His muscles may still be strong at this point, but his internal workings are no longer operating in prime condition.
Exercising an older dog
Your dog can still remain physically healthy with a little less exercise – maybe one or two miles instead of five or maybe you can walk or run on softer ground instead of hard concrete. The musculoskeletal system will usually exhibit arthritic changes as he turns into a senior dog.
Arthritis is formed through changes in the joint bones, a reduction of cartilage, and a thickening of the synovial fluid between the joints. Often, inflammation can cause more irritation and lameness. Not only will the arthritic changes cause pain in the joints, but they will also cause atrophy in the muscles because your dog will not want to move around. The muscles begin to get loose and hang off the bones. This is most obvious along the spine, chest, hind legs and neck. Modifying exercise will help all, but consider investing in stainless steel raised dog bowls this will elevate your dog’s eating and drinking position putting less pressure on their neck as they do so.
Non-infectious osteoarthritis is the commonest form of joint disease in the ageing dog, a situation not too different from that in humans. The disease is progressive and causes few, if any, noticeable symptoms in the early stages. It is not uncommon for a veterinarian to discover the existence of degenerative joint disease or its predisposing causes during a routine check-up.
Primary arthritis develops from the normal wear and tear of a joint with time and age. While seen occasionally in very old dogs, it is not the commonly observed arthritis that it is in people. The bulk of ageing dog arthritis cases is secondary to disorders which happened or started earlier in life.
The following are just a few of the many such disorders:
• Obesity in any breed but especially in the large and giant breeds.
• Mechanical trauma such as falls and jumping mishaps.
• Torn ligaments in any joint but especially the stifle joint in toy or miniature poodles.
• Chronic dislocating patella (slipped knee cap), most common in toy breeds.
• Osteochondritis dissecans, a disease of young dogs.
• Hip dysplasia.
As the muscles atrophy, the skin will appear looser or baggy. Overall, your dog becomes a different dog as his senior years take over. He moves more slowly, picks at his meals, and may bump into things that he can’t see. However, the biggest change will be in his behaviour. As he ages, he may not only slow down, he will also become less excitable in general. He will still greet you with a wagging tail, but not jump on you or perform aerial leaps when you come home. When going out, he’ll walk to the door and wait patiently as you search for his leash – no more racing in circles, barking excitedly, and jumping about.