It has been said that if dogs would live forever, they would be perfect. Yet dogs suffer from health problems just as we do, sadly. Though many things can be done to enrich and preserve health and wellness in our favorite canine pals, we cannot turn back time, and eventually, even the most well-cared for pet will succumb to illness of some sort. Certain breeds can be more predisposed to certain conditions, and others have abbreviated life expectancies due to their size or breed tendencies. But in truth; when it comes to the end of a pet’s life, there are several conditions that most commonly creep up in old age.
The Seven Most Common Ailments
Regardless of age, gender, breed, or size, there are typically seven health conditions that afflict many dogs throughout their lifetimes. Though most pets will not succumb to all of these issues, most are likely to be affected by at least one of them to some degree.
Here is a list of the most common dog health problems:
Most commonly evidenced by avoided activities and a limited range of motion, arthritis can be extremely difficult to detect in our pets simply because they hide their pain exceptionally well. Dogs who have experienced broken bones or who have had surgeries to repair joint or bone function are more susceptible to suffering from arthritis, but in truth, most old dogs will experience it to some degree. Thankfully, arthritis pain can be managed with a variety of different medications which help to reduce inflammation and decrease pain.
Though many dog owners fail to consider tooth decay and gum disease as serious issues; if left untreated, they can cause loss of teeth and even lead to infection. The good news regarding gingivitis and other dental-related illnesses is that they are entirely preventable. Simply by practicing good oral hygiene with your dog, which, includes regular tooth brushing, you can help your dog keep a full set of pearly whites well into old age.
The kidneys perform an important job in a dog’s body. Tasked with the important responsibility of maintaining proper balance and removing waste materials via urine secretions, the kidneys do a job that no other organ can do. However, when kidney function becomes compromised through poisoning, dental disease, advanced age, or other problems, your dog can become quite ill very quickly. Kidney disease typically advances in stages. In Stage One, the disease can usually be managed by switching your dog to a diet which is low in phosphorous. However, as the disease advances, medications to regulate normal blood and electrolyte balances become necessary, and IV fluids are also encouraged. Once a dog has been diagnosed with kidney disease, the damage already incurred is irreversible. However, it is possible to maintain the dog’s current kidney function, and often with proper treatment, the dog can still enjoy a few more years of excellent quality of life before the disease progresses into its final stages.
Sadly, it has been reported that cancer is the number one cause of death in dogs. Though many types of cancers can be treated, there are others that act far too aggressively for there to be any hope of recovery.
Unfortunately, with cancer, we do not know what causes it, and thus, it is very difficult for us to know what to avoid in order for our pets to not succumb to this dreaded disease.
Though chemotherapy and radiation are both viable options for certain types of cancers, they most often need to be coupled with excision of the tumor in order to achieve any efficacy. Sadly, this is not always possible. Also, dogs undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation must be restricted to certain portions of your yard and prohibited from contact with other pets in your home as they could contaminate other pets with the toxic chemotherapy drugs that they are receiving to combat the cancer. For this reason; in addition to the fact that these treatments are rarely successful, most pet owners opt to forego chemotherapy or radiation.
Blindness, Cataracts, or Glaucoma
Like their human counterparts, the eyesight of dogs begins to dim as they age. Certain breeds are more predisposed to eye problems than others, and cataracts and glaucoma are typically hereditary diseases. In selecting a breed for your home, it is always wise to ask your breeder if the parents of the puppy you are considering were tested for any eye-related genetic disease, and if so, what the results of the testing were. Additionally, it is a good idea to inquire about any eye issues within the bloodlines of that particular breed.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is more commonly known to us as dementia. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can be evidenced by a seeming confusion that overtakes the dog. Your dog may wander into a corner and suddenly be unable to figure out how to get out of it. When Canine Cognitive Dysfunction progresses, dogs often lose the ability to recognize their own family members, and panic begins to set for the dog. This is a particularly sad disease as the body often remains strong while the mind deteriorates. There are supplements that can be taken to increase and support cognitive function, but once impairment begins, it is very difficult to regain any lost ground.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc Disease often occurs because of minor injuries which accumulate over time and lead to a disc rupture. They can occur as a result of a fall or even jumping off something and landing inappropriately. Degenerative Disc Disease also progresses in stages. It is treatable with pain meds and in some cases surgery, but in its final stages, euthanization is typically the kindest option for the dog.
What You Can Do
Though we cannot stop disease from attacking our dogs as they age, there are some things that we can do to prevent our dogs from succumbing to ailments before their time.
Here is a list of a few things that take little time and effort but make maximum impact on our dogs’ quality of life and long-term wellness:
- Feed a high quality, nutritionally balanced food.
- Keep your dog at a correct and healthy weight.
- Make sure to take your dog for regular exercise.
- Visit your veterinarian at least once yearly for a wellness exam.
- Consider supplements to support cognitive and joint function.
- Be aware of any specific genetic illness that may affect your breed and keep your eyes open for any sign of it in your dog.
- Take note of any changes in your dog and seek veterinary advice at the first sign of odd behavior.
We love our dogs and want them to live forever. While we can’t stop the inevitable advancement of age and all of the things that come with it, we can be proactive to keep our pets healthy and strong for as long as possible.