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Senior Dog Care and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)

The good news is due to veterinary medical progress and better care, more pet dogs live into their geriatric years. With extra attention senior dogs can live a long healthy life. A method for figuring a dog's age is the first 2 years equal 10.5 human years, then 4 dog years per human year for each year thereafter. The dog years calculator below is accepted as adequate by many people.

Small dogs can live over 15 years, while medium and large size dogs live about 10 to 13 years, and some giant dog breeds, only live for 7 to 8 years. Maybe you're beginning to notice a graying muzzle and your beloved companion taking longer naps. Of course, the care your aging dog receives plays an important role in how he ages. Since dogs age more quickly than humans, a checkup every 6 months is advised for the older dog.

Similar to aging humans, an older dog may experience many health problems including: hearing loss, vision loss (cataracts or glaucoma), dental disease, arthritis, liver or kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, benign or malignant lumps or masses, incontinence, and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Because some diseases can go unnoticed in early stages, regular visits to the veterinarian can detect these while they are most treatable. Report changes to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Some of these changes include:

  • weight loss or weight gain
  • lumps or bumps
  • changes in skin or coat
  • bad breath or inflamed gums
  • bleeding
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination
  • difficulty climbing steps
  • stiffness
  • lameness or abnormal gait
  • tremors
  • confusion or disorientation
  • changes in housetraining habits, eating habits, or any unusual behavior

Aging can be a challenge for everyone, but there are things you can provide for your older dog to make his senior years comfortable and happy.

  • A warm, soft bed for achy joints, so your dog can relax in comfort.
  • Provide a cool area on hot days -- warm area on cool days.
  • Provide a quiet area if the household is hectic (comfortable crate).
  • Use a stroller for the ultimate comfort when going on walkies.
  • Dog ramps or pet stairs help older and arthritic dogs get up or down from a sofa, chair, or your bed.
  • Comfort lift carriers placed under your dog's chest or abdomen help arthritic, lame, or recovering pets up and down stairs, in and out of vehicles, or up on their feet. Make a homemade sling -- slip a long, wide strap made of leather, canvas, or a towel under your dog's chest and hold an end in each hand.
  • Provide a pet carrier that is soft, comfortable, and lightweight for pets that like to curl up.
  • Age appropriate exercise is good for a senior dog (ask your veterinarian for advice).
  • If your home has stairs, intall stair gates to prevent falls.
  • Pet stairs and ramps for beds, couches, and vehicles can be very helpful for a senior dog.
  • Be sure to give twice daily feedings of a quality diet formulated for senior dogs.
  • Always provide plenty of fresh water in a convenient place.
  • Checkups with the veterianian should be at least yearly, or more often if necessary.
  • Provide extra love and patience (gentle hugs).

Many senior dog health problems are a result of canine obesity. Being overweight can increase the likelihood and severity of canine arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. Older dogs need about 25 calories a day per pound of body weight compared to 100 calories a day per pound for puppies, and 60 calories per pound for adult dogs. Fortunately dog food manufacturers have formulated special food for overweight and senior dogs.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)
If you have an older dog, you might notice absent mindedness as he gets older. In a senior dog, it's a biochemical change that occurs in his brain as he ages. Similar to aging people, geriatric dogs can suffer from a memory disorder called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).

CDS has been compared with Alzheimer's disease in humans because the changes that occur in the brain are similar and the signs such as forgetfulness, disorientation, dementia, and not recognizing family members are comparable.

In dogs with CDS, owners notice that their older animal seems more disoriented and confused. Your dog's behavior may seem strange and he may seem like a stranger in his surroundings. In addition to getting lost in their own yards, dogs with CDS may cower in the corners of familiar rooms unable to remember how to get past the sofa and chair. They forget the distinction between indoors and outdoors, and soil the carpets, and floors.

Other signs include:

  • forgets how to navigate the stairs
  • stops greeting their owner
  • spends much time sleeping during the day
  • doesn't remember eating and wants to eat again and again
  • pacing at night
  • presses head into corners of walls or stares blankly at the wall
  • becomes aggressive or develops separation anxiety
  • fails to recognize owners and friends

The older a dog gets, the more likely Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome becomes. Because dogs, like people are living longer, owners have to watch for age-related medical and behavioral disorders. Many owners assume signs of forgetfulness and disorientation in pets are just old age and nothing can be done, but there is treatment available that may help dogs with CDS.

If your veterinarian suspects your senior canine is experiencing the effects of CDS, he will perform a thorough examination to look for an underlying medical problem that could be causing the behavior change. As dogs age, their bodies undergo several different changes. They're prone to problems with their hearing, smell, sight and joints, along with being at a higher risk for heart problems, and metabolic conditions.

Any of these problems can sometimes also cause signs similar to those in CDS, so a veterinarian will want to make sure a disoriented dog is not suffering from another systemic illness, hearing loss, or sight loss before trying medication for CDS.

Annual exams, or bi-annual exams are a very important part of keeping your best friend as healthy as possible so he can really enjoy his golden years. Be vigilant and let your veterinarian know of any behavior changes, especially if your dog is entering the golden years. Don't just dismiss senile behavior as "old age". Your veterinarian may suggest medication that may solve the problem and have your old dog learning new tricks in no time. Your Dog's Golden Years is very informative about options available to help keep your dog healthy and comfortable as it ages.