Pets are considered “seniors” when they begin to show signs of aging and the time when this happens varies considerably from one dog to another. Genetics and other intrinsic characteristics as well as external conditions, such as lifestyle, are determinants of a dog’s life expectancy, beyond what age can predict.
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Both life expectancy and the surge of signs of aging depends on a dog’s size, meaning their breed, which is determined by their genetic make up.
Although it is not possible to change the genetic factors determining longevity, knowing and understanding the aging process allows us to control the extrinsic agents that can help our dog stay healthy longer.
What does aging mean?
Aging is a process of constant and natural adaptation of the internal functions of an individual to changes in the environment, which take place during their life cycle. These physiological changes as a result of age affect every organ of the body and therefore impact the overall health and lifestyle of the dog. Even though each animal is different, in general, the aging process causes one or more of the following changes, which will have an effect on your dog’s health.
- Decreased level of activity
- Weight gain
- Weakening of the muscles and bones
- Stiffening of the extremities
- Lower hydration of the skin and skin appendages
- Loss of hair and teeth
- Hearing problems
- Loss of vision
- Weakness of the immune system
- Reduction of the activity of the digestive system
- Difficulty to control the sphincter
- Loss of of mental acuity
- Higher risk of suffering from diseases
How do I know if my dog is getting older?
The clearest sign that a dog is aging is a sustained reduction of activity levels. Even when their playful spirit remains unchanged, older dogs tire more easily and are prone to needing more sleep. The decrease in the activity levels can cause your dog to gain weight, which is why obesity is one of the most frequent problems in older dogs and a risk factor for other diseases.
As a result of changes that affect circulation and reduce the blood supply of cells and tissues, muscle tone decreases, the skin loses its elasticity and the fur deteriorates. The lack of irrigation generates dehydration, hardening and thickening of the nails. The loss of teeth and hair as well as the appearance of gray hairs around the mouth, or all over their body for some breeds, are related to this phenomenon.
The reduction of the activity of the immune system as well as the digestive and urinary systems can produce disorders such as overall weakness, infections, constipation and incontinence, respectively. The loss of hearing and vision makes dogs less able to foresee situations of danger, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. Similarly to humans, aging can lead to cataracts, which is a clouding of the lens in the eye that leads to a decrease in vision.
Old age is also an important risk factor for diseases such as cancer, arthritis, senile dementia, diabetes and heart or kidney failure. It is important to recognize some of the signs that could indicate the presence of some of the most common diseases among older dogs:
- Dementia or cognitive dysfunction
For example, excessive thirst and urination, constant hunger and weight loss could be a warning sign of diabetes mellitus, which usually affects older animals, but could appear at any age. The difficulty to sit up, change positions, as well as hardening in the extremities, can be signs of arthritis.
Also, changes of attitude such as rejecting human presence, evidence of confusion, stress or unjustified anxiety can be indicators of cognitive dysfunction or canine dementia. Frequent infections and hair loss in specific areas of the body can be signs of a weakened immune system.
In addition, constant bad breath, swollen or bleeding gums, coupled with lack of appetite and tooth loss may indicate periodontal disease.
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