Senior Health



There has never been a better time to be a "mature" pet. The advances in veterinary medicine since your pet was a puppy or kitten are truly remarkable, and help veterinarians to identify and combat the common problems associated with aging. Our pets are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Here is a checklist to assist in early recognition of problems and a suggested Senior Pet Care Package for an annual examination.

Easing Your Dog Into Old Age
by Eve Adamson, from Dog Fancy Magazine

Old age is difficult for dog and owner, but you can make your aging dog's existence easier and happier. Dogs are creatures of habit, and the older a dog becomes, the more it depends on its schedule. If your dog is losing its sight or hearing, don't rearrange the furniture in your house. An older dog is intimately familiar with its house and doesn't necessarily need to see or hear to get around -- unless you pull a fast one and move the couch and the end table.

Don't change your dog's eating or sleeping habits, and try not to alter your dog's daily routine. Any household disruption will be stressful to your dog so try to minimize the effects by keeping it out of the way of chaos.

Older dogs need to be groomed and periodically examined for abnormal lumps but also touched and cuddled to reassure them the dog-owner bond is still intact. Touch is an extremely important factor of life for
older dogs, especially those who can't hear or see well.

Let your dog know you are still there. Thank your senior dog for a lifetime of love, loyalty and companionship. Your dog has devoted its life to loving you. The least you can do is everything possible to keep your aging dog healthy, fit and confident in your affection.

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How Old is Old?

The rule of thumb that one human year equals seven dog years is not exactly true. A toy poodle is full-sized, physically mature in less than one year. An English Mastiff can reach old age in six years. The onset of age related disorders in cats is very variable. To keep things simple, we suggest geriatric testing at eight years old for all pets except the true giant breeds - St. Bernards, Mastiffs, etc., who should be tested at age six.

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Senior Pet Checklist - What to Watch For

It is normal for pets to slow down with age, just as humans do. However, many problems, such as the onset of arthritis, are treatable and are not a  "normal" stiffening of the joints. Also, dog owners can't be expected to catch every sign that their dogs may be suffering from a serious condition. Owners can, however, watch for a few general indicators of disease. Call your veterinarian if you notice any of the following behaviors in your pet:

  • Coughing, panting, shortness of breath
    They could mean your dog is becoming overweight. However, they also could signal a heart condition. Fainting is another serious sign of heart disease.

  • Weight loss or any change in weight
    Most weight gain is caused by overfeeding and leads to obesity, which can predispose your dog to diabetes. Weight loss for no apparent reason can indicate a number of serious problems.

  • Increased water consumption
    Most of us don't know how much our dog drinks, but if you notice that you are filling the water bowl more than usual or that your dog seems constantly thirsty, your dog could have diabetes.

  • Increased frequency of urination
    This can accompany increased water consumption and be another sign of diabetes, or it could signal urinary or even neurological problems. If your dog suddenly can't last through the night without going out or starts having accidents in the house, call your veterinarian.

  • Changes in appetite
    Diabetic dogs have an increased appetite but also lose weight, because they can't burn sugar for energy. They burn fat instead. A declining appetite can signal liver or kidney disease.

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
    These are obvious symptoms of illness. Periodically examine your dog's stool. Firm, brown stools are healthy; soft stools or those with blood or mucus can indicate many problems, including digestive disorders.

  • Sudden behavioral changes
    Becoming more or less interactive with the family, acting disoriented or lethargic, displaying disturbed sleeping or waking cycles, aimless wandering, inappropriate vocalizing, withdrawing increasingly and losing house training may all signal cognitive disorder, a condition similar to Alzheimer's Disease. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a documented condition in older dogs for which medication is available.

  • Decreased vision or hearing
    Examine your dog's eyes for cloudiness. Does he bump into things or seem to have trouble recognizing people he knows? Does your dog fail to respond when you call, seem surprised when you come home or become startled when someone walks in the door? One good way to test whether your dog is actually experiencing hearing loss or is merely being "selectively deaf" is to turn on the electric can opener or jingle the cookie jar lid. If your dog can hear, he'll come running.

  • Sudden onset of bad breath
    This can indicate dental problems.

  • Lack of mobility
    If your dog has more trouble getting up in the morning, it could be suffering from arthritis or age-related changes in muscle tone.

  • Changes in skin and coat
    Rougher skin, coarser hair and graying are signs of age or poor health.

  • Fatigue while exercising
    Older dogs should receive moderate exercise, but watch for excessive panting and a drooping tail. These are signs your dog is tiring. Exercise helps maintain your dog's lean body mass -- but don't overdo it.
  • Additional signs to watch for include:
    • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
    • Non-healing sores
    • Tremors/shaking
    • Change in the size, color, firmness of lumps, bumps, warts, etc.

You know your pet best. Any sudden or significant change in your pet's usual eating, exercise or behavior patterns can signal an underlying problem.

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Senior Pet CheckUp - Recommended for all pets eight years and older

The comprehensive physical exam is the most under-appreciated aspect of health care. In the past, veterinarians stressed vaccinations as the reason for a yearly visit. The physical examination is the single most important reason your veterinarian needs to see your pet. Major health problems can be detected with a physical exam. Pets age faster than humans and hide health problems. Don't neglect your pet's physical. A comprehensive checkup is recommended at least once a year for all pets age 8 and older.

Test or Procedure

Targeted Systems or Conditions

Comprehensive Physical Exam

Overall health: weight, lymph nodes, skin, coat, lumps, bumps, heart/lungs, teeth, eyes, etc.

Blood Chemistry Tests

BUN/CREA/Phos and more Kidneys
ALT/ALKP/Amylase/bilirubin Liver, pancreas
Glucose Diabetes
Calcium Some cancers
Electrolytes Hydration, hypokalemia
Urinalysis and total protein Kidneys, bladder, crystaline urine
Pack cell volume Anemia
CBC Immune status, infection, anemia, some cancers
Thyroid test (T4) Thyroid

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This information is made available to you by the efforts of YGRR volunteers. To join them in helping our homeless Goldens, please consider becoming a member or making a donation.

Thank you.



Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1985.
Rescue and Adoption services for Golden Retrievers from the six New England states.
Address: P.O. Box 808, Hudson, MA 01749-0808
Hotline: 978-568-9700


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