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Title Text — Spring 2010 | Out Here Magazine

Recognize health symptoms early to ensure their best life

By Hollie Deese
Photography by Carol Davis

Fido is living longer than ever these days, thanks to better care, nutrition, and veterinary attention. And while that is great news for both pets and their owners, it also presents its own set of challenges.

Aging dogs experience many of the same problems we do — arthritis, hearing and vision loss, diabetes, kidney failure, cancer — but at a much quicker rate. That's why it's key to keep a close eye on your senior dog.

"As pets get older, owners do need to be more observant and watch for certain changes in mobility," says Laura A. Surovi, a veterinarian at Brightwood Animal Hospital in Mentor, Ohio. "Even eating and drinking habits can be very important."

Preventive care also is key for a healthy older dog.

"Maintaining a healthy weight is probably the biggest thing you can do for overall health and longevity," says Janet Tobiassen, a veterinarian and veterinary medicine writer for "This will reduce the risk of heart, joint, and metabolic and hormonal diseases and some cancers."

Tooth and gum care also can prevent health problems in your dog. Diseased teeth and gums can affect the heart, liver, and kidneys — and even bigger vet bills — if left unchecked, Tobiassen says.

Determining when your dog is considered a senior is the first step in pinpointing a problem because it gives you a general timeline to start looking for changes.

A dog 7 years or older should be considered middle- to senior-aged, especially in larger breeds, and in the early teens for smaller breeds, Tobiassen says.

But it can be difficult to know if your dog is having age-related health problems, because many of them are silent sufferers when it comes to pain. However, there are subtle signs to watch for.

"Pain is something that can be very difficult to recognize because a majority of people think pets will bark or whine, but the truth is the majority don't vocalize their pain," Surovi says. "A pet who is slow to get up, maybe limps a few steps, or is slow to lay down can signal the beginning of arthritis. Owners may start to notice when pets who were once very readily able to jump won't anymore, or who once took multiple steps are avoiding them."

Hearing and vision loss can be even harder to notice, so owners have to be attentive to changes. "Maybe they return home and the pet that once greeted them at the door is asleep on the bed and never heard them," Surovi adds. Take your dog to the vet at the first sign of a problem and don't simply chalk it up to old age; otherwise, you may be setting up your cherished pet for unnecessary suffering.

"We sometimes find there is something going on that may not just be age-related," says Surovi. "No matter the problem, there are things we can do to increase their comfort level." And that's something all owners want for their pets.

Hollie Deese writes from Madison, TN.