Common illnesses in older dogs

In the later part of their life, your dog may begin to experience one of these common age-related conditions - learn more about them and their treatment here.
Ageing English Cocker Spaniel lying down outdoors in a field.

As your dog ages, you may find it suffering from some common ailments that occur when a dog’s vital organs and bodily functions begin to slow down. These conditions, while challenging, are treatable, so make sure to speak to your vet at the first sign of illness.

Cataracts and vision loss in senior dogs

One ailment common to all breeds and sizes of dog is the development of cataracts. As with humans, dogs develop cataracts when the cells making up the lens over the eye build up over time, eventually becoming opaque. Their eyes then take on a bluish tint and their vision begins to deteriorate.

Dogs with diabetes develop cataracts more quickly, as it’s linked to an excess of glucose in the blood. Diabetes itself is more common in dogs who are obese, so keeping your dog at their ideal body weight is a good way to prevent associated conditions like cataracts. Regular visits to your vet can help catch this condition early; in 80% of cases, cataract surgery undertaken in the preliminary stages of the disease has been successful.

Hypothyroidism in older dogs

This is the most common hormonal disease in dogs and occurs when the thyroid gland begins to weaken and become underactive. Although the causes of hypothyroidism aren’t completely clear, they are associated with your dog’s immune system ‘attacking’ the thyroid and damaging it, or from treatments for an overactive thyroid.

If your senior dog is suffering with hypothyroidism, they’ll gain weight despite being on the same diet. They may exhibit reluctant behaviour towards exercise, alongside weakness and anxiousness. Their coat is also affected, becoming dull and dry with hair loss, alongside thick, greasy and sometimes itchy skin.

Ageing Golden Retriever sitting in a vets office having an eye examination.

Osteoarthritis in senior dogs

Osteoarthritis is a common cause of limping in older dogs, caused by the gradual deterioration of cartilage which covers their joints. There’s unfortunately no cure for this condition, due to the slow regeneration of cells in ageing dogs, but treatment helps to alleviate pain and slow the progression of the illness.

Aching joints or difficulty moving are sometimes seen as simply a sign of your dog getting older; however, if you notice them finding it particularly difficult to move, you should visit your vet as they may be able to help ease some of your dog’s suffering.

Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer osteoarthritis due to the extra pressure on their joints, so keeping your dog at their ideal weight is a good preventative measure. You can also make sure their food includes specific nutrients which support joint health, such as anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, or customised nutrients complex with clinical efficacy (for example curcumin, collagen and green tea polyphenols), glucosamine and chondroitin.

Senior dogs and cognitive dysfunction

As your dog gets older, you may notice their behaviour changes. Although some of this can be attributed to ageing, it may also be cognitive dysfunction, which manifests itself in dogs in similar ways to Alzheimer’s in humans.

Your dog’s blood vessels deteriorate as they age, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This affects their behaviour, causing disorientation, lack of recognition, forgetfulness, disrupted sleep and even agitation or hostility.

This condition can be very distressing for your dog, but it can be alleviated. Exercise your dog with short, regular walks, and reinstate the commands you taught it when it was a puppy. Reduce stress by maintaining their daily routine and consider giving it a food which is rich in antioxidants, as these can protect cells against damaging free radicals.

Your senior dog doesn’t have to suffer unnecessarily with these common ailments. Make an appointment to see your vet if you spot these symptoms so you can make sure you’re giving them the best care possible.

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