When calculating dog years to human years, remember dogs age much faster and require senior care sooner.
We’ve all heard that one year for a dog equals seven human years. While larger dogs age faster than small ones, this equation is roughly true.
When you begin to look at your 7-year-old faithful friend as a 50-year-old, it may help you be more proactive about her health needs. Adult dogs less than 7 years old should go to the veterinarian annually. Once your dog reaches 7 (or 50 in human years), take her to the veterinarian every six months to catch age-related problems before they become serious.
These visits should involve a thorough physical exam, including blood tests, as well as a discussion of your dog’s lifestyle, diet and any changes in behavior you may have noticed.
Dogs can’t tell us where it hurts
Animals can’t talk to tell us how they are feeling as they age. Unlike their human family members, they don’t compare ailments with those of other dogs and realize they are less healthy than their peers. Dogs are adept at hiding symptoms of weakness. It is very common during a physical exam for a veterinarian to find medical problems of which even the most conscientious owner was unaware.
For older pets, screening blood work and other diagnostic tests become important in addition to a good exam. Studies indicate almost 25-percent of senior dogs that appear healthy upon physical examination have an underlying disease. Visits to the veterinarian every six months can markedly increase the chances of early diagnosis and, ultimately, successful treatment.
Sometimes your elderly dog does act sick
As dogs age, they may begin to develop decreased kidney, liver or heart function. Endocrine diseases like diabetes, hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease can arise, causing decreased resistance to infections. Dogs are also susceptible to a variety of cancers, including bone cancer and internal liver and splenic cancer.
Signs of disease can include obvious illness like vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sneezing, but changes may also be subtle, like drinking more water, occasional accidents in the house, increased pickiness about food or a reluctance to go on walks. Some sick dogs may become increasingly needy and anxious.
For your older pet, any change in normal behavior is a reason to contact your veterinarian. An exam with bloodwork, urinalysis and fecal check for parasites — considered the minimum database for dogs — may reveal the problem. Based on that initial workup, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests like blood pressure, X-rays or an ultrasound to screen for cancer.
Healthy weight and teeth extend your dog’s life
Like humans, dogs often experience slow but steady weight gain as they age. Obesity-linked disorders — such as ligament tears and ruptures, arthritis, decreased mobility and respiratory compromise — affect older dogs’ quality of life.
In general, thinner is better. Studies indicate thinner dogs live an average of two years longer than their overweight peers. You can best accomplish an ideal weight by controlling the amount fed and exercising routinely, habits preferably begun while your dog is still young.
Many adult dogs also suffer from significant dental disease. Pets are not healthy unless their teeth are healthy. Periodontal disease undermines overall health, and the average dog receiving good dental care lives 10- to 20-percent longer.
Get in the habit of brushing your young dog’s teeth. Dental cleaning with sedation as recommended by your veterinarian is also important. Remember: Bad breath is not normal for a dog. It is a symptom of disease. Preventative tooth care is paramount to improving your older dog’s health.
Simple steps to prevent old dog problems
For pups and people, aging and the changes that accompany it are inevitable. Help your senior dog live longer by scheduling veterinarian checkups every six months, keeping him thin and active and keeping his teeth clean. These are things you can do to help your dog live the longest, healthiest life possible.
Do you have special home and veterinary care regimens worked out for your senior dog? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!