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Senior dog healthchecks

Some conditions creep up on us and our pets as we get older. This information is about these conditions and monitoring for changes.

The first condition that should be mentioned is kidney failure for the simple reason that many pets do succumb to this in later life. We very rarely know what actually causes the initial damage but the result is that the ability of the kidneys to filter blood and remove waste products is impaired. One of the signs recognised early on in the disease is an increased thirst and increased urination. You may notice your dog suddenly drinking like a fish from all sorts of locations. Once the kidneys are damaged, affected dogs are noticed to pass more urine which is more dilute than it should be. Although collecting urine samples can be tricky for the owner, samples are incredibly useful. Checking urine samples can give us an early warning about the kidneys but also help spot problems such as diabetes and bladder problems including cystitis.

A product of the metabolism, Urea is the substance that causes many of the problems and it rises because damaged kidneys fail to remove it from the blood. As it rises, the dog’s appetite will get worse and they will lose weight, but they also lose protein through the damaged kidneys and this contributes to the weight loss. In severe and advanced cases, we also see vomiting, ulcers in the mouth and sometimes depression because of its affect in the brain.

We cannot reverse the damage to the kidneys but we can manage renal failure in a number of ways. By changing the diet to one of the diets specifically designed for the condition, we can reduce how much urea is produced and therefore improve the way the dog feels. The diet also helps slow down the speed of the deterioration. We can also improve their appetite with stimulants and attend to some of the imbalances that result from failing kidneys.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition which typically affects middleaged, medium-large breed dogs. It is caused by a decreased production of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) from the thyroid gland located in the neck. Thyroid hormone plays a very important role in the body – it regulates your dog’s metabolism and affects many different areas of the body. In hypothyroidism there is too little thyroid hormone which causes changes in metabolism and a wide range of signs. These signs develop gradually, and may sometimes be missed or attributed to old age.

Dogs with hypothyroidism tend to be lethargic or sluggish and reluctant to go for walks. Hypothyroid dogs usually gain weight even though their diet has remained the same and some of these dogs will fail to lose weight despite having their food intake reduced. Dogs with hypothyroidism may become more sensitive to the cold e.g. lie close to the central heating to stay warm.

Changes in the skin and hair coat are very common signs of hypothyroidism. Affected dogs can have dry, dull coats and patchy areas of hair loss. The hair loss is often first noticed in places undergoing friction, such as the neck in dogs wearing collars.

The condition is usually diagnosed by a combination of clinical signs and blood tests. Finding a lower than normal level of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in the blood can point towards hypothyroidism although additional tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis as some other conditions can affect thyroid hormone level.

Hypothyroidism can be easily managed with medication but does need lifelong treatment. It consists of hormone replacement with synthetic thyroid hormone.

Arthritis

Around 1 in 5 dogs over the age of just 5 years have arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is described as inflammation of the joint and its surrounding tissues which results in the progressive degeneration in the structure and function of the joint. It is a very common condition in dogs, cats and people and tends to occur in older age through general ‘wear and tear’.

The first sign usually seen is lameness (a change in a dog’s gait) as the dog tries to put more of its weight on its unaffected limbs. Another very common sign is stiffness with the dog finding it a struggle to get up or lay down and being reluctant to exercise. Depending on the amount of pain experienced, there may also be changes in appetite and behaviour with some dogs appearing restless and uncomfortable.

There are a number of areas that we target when treating an arthritic dog, including any issues with their body condition and weight. Arthritis is often treated medically with the use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs). These drugs are very often effective at treating the signs of OA by reducing joint inflammation and pain, and they improve the dog’s mobility and probably greatly improve their quality of life. Recently, interest has been directed towards a new class of therapeutic agents, known as disease-modifying agents, which have the potential to slow the degeneration of the joint

and its structures. These compounds usually contain chondrotin sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride. They are believed to increase the rate of joint repair, reduce inflammation and by so doing reduce pain. There are also special diet foods shown to help.

Incontinence

A problem that often affects older female dogs, usually neutered but not always, is that of incontinence. The urethra which carries urine away from the bladder may lose its muscular tone and as a result, when the dog is very relaxed, lying down or asleep, urine may leak from the bladder. It is far easier for dogs with this problem to get cystitis, and this may in turn worsen the incontinence. This can be upsetting for both the dog and owner but may be treated relatively easily in most cases using either a daily tablet or a liquid added to food.

Toothache

If you think your dog has toothache but is too old for an anaesthetic, please do think again. Advances in anaesthesia do mean that even dogs considered to be really rather old can sail through and make incredibly rapid recoveries so don’t consider your dog too old to have rotten teeth and the accompanying pain attended to. When their doggy breath gets to much, we can help to make them far less offensive.

Heart Failure

Heart problems may strike at any age but wear and tear is far more likely to result in the heart failing as the dog gets older. Most commonly we see the valves in the heart deteriorate and become leaky which results in blood being pushed back in the wrong direction.

We also see problems in some dogs with the muscle of the heart becoming weaker. Certain breeds suffer more than others but regardless of breed, and age, we always very carefully listen to the heart for any evidence of problems.

Free senior healthchecks at Wright & Morten

Identification of some of these problems, especially kidney problems can be hidden from routine examinations so a few other simple checks can help us to identify when they may be developing.

We offer a free service to make these additional checks. We also provide a simple questionnaire that may help highlight problem areas.

Bring a urine sample to your healthcheck and booster vaccination appointment and we can check this for its concentration and for anything abnormal within it.

Blood sampling

A blood sample may also be completed if you would like us to perform these tests. They allow a far more comprehensive and thorough examination of your dog’s health. This blood sample is a special offer only available at the time of the booster and health examination. The cost of this blood sample is £15. It is important that should you wish us to perform this blood sample, that you should withhold food on the morning of the appointment so that the sample results are not altered by the meal.

A bit of help for old age

If your dog is struggling and seems less responsive, a little dull and fed up, and maybe disinterested in life, then in the absence of any other significant abnormal findings, we can provide a trial of a drug called Vivitonin.

Although there is no cure for ageing, Vivitonin can restore Vitality, Agility and Mental Alertness.

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