10 Alarming Symptoms in Older Dogs (Why You Should Never Ignore Them )
Struggling to decipher whether the changes in your senior dog are part of normal aging or indications of serious health problems? Many parents to older dogs fail to recognize the early warning signs of many easily-treatable diseases. Mainly because these symptoms in elderly dogs are often subtle changes which are misconstrued as normal signs of aging.
Normal Signs of Aging vs Serious Symptoms in Elderly Dogs
Common symptoms like lethargy, persistent vomiting, diarrhea, cloudy pupils, frequent urination, weight change, disorientation, slow-healing rate, and bad breath are often-ignored clues of serious disease. Read on to learn about the symptoms of the most concerning diseases that can affect your older dog and potentially shorten its lifespan. In the end, you will easily be able to tell apart the symptoms that are part of normal aging and what spells a trip to the vet.
10. If your dog no longer wants to exercise and seems generally lethargic
While this can be a common symptom of aging, it can also be a symptom of serious diseases. Many pet owners overlook this symptom in their senior dog because they write it off as a simple side effect of getting older. Did you know that if your dog has osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia, they are trying to hide their pain from you? Dogs evolved to hide pain as a defense mechanism, so you may not notice that they are in pain, even if they have been suffering from hip dysplasia their whole life. Look for bunny hopping, or stiffness, and you may want to ask your vet to inspect your dog, even if the symptoms are fleeting.
Dogs suffering from congestive heart failure will also be uncharacteristically tired and unwilling to exercise. When dogs age, their hearts weaken. Sometimes, their hearts weaken so much that blood backs up in the liver and lungs. If untreated, dogs will cough up a foamy red substance in an effort to clean out their lungs since the heart is too weak to circulate blood on its own.
Lethargy can be a symptom of very serious diseases, including Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, or cancer, but it is nonetheless very easy to confuse with decreased energy normal for aging dogs. It’s a serious, if subtle, symptom, so make sure to ask your vet if you think your dog is missing their normal pep.
9. If your dog suffers from persistent vomiting or diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea are unpleasant for you and your dog, and sometimes it’s a not-so-serious sign that your best friend has simply been raiding the trash. If your dog consistently deals with vomiting and diarrhea, Addison’s disease may actually be to blame. Dogs suffer from Addison’s disease when their endocrine system doesn’t produce enough hormones for the body to function properly. If your dog does have Addison’s disease, they’ll also show symptoms of lethargy, muscle weakness, low body temperature, and reduced heart rate.
Vomiting and diarrhea can also be symptoms of parasites like intestinal worms, kidney disease, an upper urinary tract infection, or hypothyroidism. If it’s hypothyroidism, your dog will exhibit weight gain, fur loss, lethargy, frequent ear infections, dull coat, thickened skin (especially noticeable around the folds of the eyes), and other symptoms that can be easily mistaken for the natural aging process.
8. If your dog’s pupils begin to cloud
Cloudy pupils are a classic sign of cataracts. While cataracts are not a life threatening condition, if left untreated, they can cause serious vision loss and glaucoma in your dog. The early symptoms of cataracts are very subtle; pacing, poor navigation based on poor eyesight, and irritability are the most recognizable. Only in moderately advanced cataracts will the pupils begin to cloud. Because it is very difficult to reverse the effects of cataracts, you may find that you want to keep an eye on your senior’s eyes to protect their vision through the end of their life.
7. If your dog makes frequent, painful attempts at urniation
Frequent attempts at urination can be a sign of many diseases that affect senior dogs. Frequent painful urination can be a sign of a bladder infection. You will also be able to recognize cystitis by the unusual color of your dog's urine. If it’s not cystitis, the problem may be a lower urinary tract infection. Your dog’s urine will appear cloudy, have an unusual odor, and may even contain blood. Like cystitis, dogs suffering from UTIs will need to eliminate frequently, and they may even cry, as elimination can become so painful. Medications like Proin can help manage urinary incontinence in dogs.
Last but not least, this can be a sign of bladder stones. Bladder stones frequently occur in aging dogs, especially in older male dogs. Look out for painful, frequent urination, weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite, and blood in your dog’s urine.
6. If your dog can no longer control urination
Urinary incontinence can be frustrating for you and your dog, but remember that it’s a common problem for aging dogs. Your dog may not even be aware that they have eliminated on themselves. Urine may simply escape against their will. Urinary incontinence, however, is also a symptom of kidney disease. Your dog might also show significantly increased thirst, decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and fever. Catching kidney disease early is important in preventing kidney failure, which can be extremely damaging, even life threatening, to your dog.
Remember, if your dog is having a bladder problem, they probably will have an accident in the house, no matter how well they’ve been potty trained. You may not realize it, but punishing these mistakes can compound stress your dog is already feeling around eliminating in the wrong spot.
5. If your dog loses weight
Generally seniors will lose or gain a little bit of weight as they age, but weight loss is a significant symptom for many serious diseases that affect older dogs. If your dog exhibits increased thirst, increased appetite, and they lose weight, they could be suffering from diabetes. Because diabetic dogs cannot properly absorb sugar, your dog may be suffering from malnutrition, even if they’re eating heartily. If diabetes (and malnutrition alongside it) progresses untreated, the effects of malnutrition may actually suppress their appetite.
Unintentional weight loss in your dog can also be a symptom of bladder stones, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, an upper urinary tract infection, or Cushing’s disease.
4. If your dog gains weight
Many dogs gain weight as a part of the normal aging process, but it's also a symptom of hypothyroidism. Nonetheless, obesity itself can put a very large strain on your dog’s body. Obesity contributes to bone and joint problems like osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, it weakens cardiovascular health, and makes it more difficult for pets do exercise. Checking your senior’s figure to prevent excessive weight gain can prevent quite a few other diseases.
3. If your dog seems unusually disoriented
Cognitive dysfunction, similar to Alzheimer’s for dogs, can occur if your dog’s mental faculties begin to decline. Fifty percent of all dogs over ten years of age exhibit at least one symptom of cognitive dysfunction, which means that the older your dog gets, the more likely they will suffer from this condition. Look for behavioral changes, increased hours of sleeping within a 24 hour period, decreased sleep at night, tremors, pacing, and poor potty training habits, as these are all symptoms of cognitive dysfunction.
2. If your dog has a wound that just won’t heal
Dogs, like humans, are much more likely to develop cancer as they get older. Similar to cognitive dysfunction, fifty percent of dogs over ten years old will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. It’s a disease that’s most easily treated when caught early, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for lumps, tumors, lameness and enlarged lymph nodes. Since these can be difficult symptoms to recognize, especially in older dogs, keeping a close eye on your dog’s wounds is a good way to gague for cancer, since the decreased immune function associated with cancer will keep your dog’s wounds from healing in a normal amount of time.
1. If your senior’s dog breath is just too smelly
Most dogs, especially the dumpster-divers, have bad breath, but excessively smelly breath is a symptom of the most common ailment in older dogs: periodontal disease. Luckily, this disease is easier to spot than many other age-related diseases, so be on the lookout for pain while chewing, loss of appetite, tooth loss, bleeding gums, difficulty chewing, or chewing only on one side of the mouth, as these are common symptoms of periodontal disease.
How PetPlus Can Help
No matter what the condition, if your senior dog is in any kind of pain, PetPlus can help. Whether it be Rimadyl for their joint pain, Soloxine for their tyroid, or Norvasc for their heart condition, PetPlus has everything your dog could need. And because it is a membership program, PetPlus can give you these same medications at a substantial discount -- some as high as 89% off!
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are four common problems of older dogs?
As dogs age, they are more likely to develop certain health problems. Older dogs are more prone to joint problems such as arthritis and hip dysplasia. This can cause pain and stiffness, and may limit their mobility. Dental disease is common in older dogs, and can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss. Regular dental care can help prevent these problems. As dogs age, they may experience cognitive decline, which can lead to confusion, disorientation, and changes in behavior. Older dogs may experience a decline in their sensory function, such as hearing or vision loss. This can affect their ability to interact with their environment, making them more vulnerable to accidents or injury.
What are the signs that your dog is getting old?
As dogs age, they undergo various physical and behavioral changes.Older dogs may develop a dull coat or dry, flaky skin. They may also experience hair loss or a thinning coat. Joint problems or muscle weakness can cause older dogs to have difficulty getting up, climbing stairs, or jumping. Older dogs may have dental problems such as tooth decay or gum disease, which can lead to bad breath, difficulty eating, and tooth loss. Older dogs may also become less active or playful and prefer to sleep more. They may also become more irritable or anxious or experience cognitive decline. Older dogs may experience hearing or vision loss, which can affect their interactions with their environment. They may also have a weaker immune system, making them more prone to infections or illnesses.
What is the most common cause of death in senior dogs?
The most common cause of death in senior dogs is typically related to chronic diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, liver disease, heart disease, and diabetes. As dogs age, their immune system weakens, making them more susceptible to chronic diseases. These diseases often have a gradual onset, and symptoms may not be noticeable until they have progressed to a severe stage. Regular veterinary check-ups and early detection can help to manage or treat these conditions, potentially extending your senior dog's life and improving their quality of life.
Do dogs suffer when they are old?
Dogs can experience some level of discomfort or pain as they age, just as humans can. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that all older dogs suffer. Many older dogs continue to live happy and fulfilling lives, even with age-related health issues. It's important to be aware of the changes that come with aging, such as mobility issues, sensory decline, and chronic health conditions, and to take steps to manage or treat these issues as needed. This may include regular veterinary check-ups, medication, changes to diet and exercise routines, and modifications to the living environment. By providing your senior dog with appropriate care and attention, you can help to minimize any discomfort or suffering they may experience and ensure that they continue to enjoy a good quality of life in their golden years.
At what age are dogs the most difficult?
It's difficult to say at what age dogs are the most difficult, as each dog is different and may have unique challenges at different stages of their life. However, there are some developmental stages that are commonly associated with more challenging behaviors. For example, puppies are often considered difficult due to their high energy levels, teething, and lack of training. Adolescent dogs, typically around 6-18 months old, may exhibit more challenging behaviors such as increased independence, boundary-testing, and a tendency to be more easily distracted. Older dogs may also have their own challenges, such as age-related health issues, changes in behavior or mobility, and potential cognitive decline. It's important to recognize that all dogs require appropriate care, training, and attention throughout their life, and each stage of their development may present unique opportunities and challenges. With patience, consistency, and a willingness to adapt to your dog's changing needs, you can help them thrive and enjoy a happy, healthy life.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.