Problems of Aging

Veterinary care is more important than ever as your dog ages. Don't chalk up every health change in your senior poodle to “old age.” Rather, get symptoms checked out — they might indicate a condition that can be treated (or at least the symptom itself can be dealt with).

Degenerative Joint Disease

Degenerative joint disease, also known as arthritis, occurs when the cartilage that cushions the bones in the joints deteriorates. Then bone rubs painfully against bone. This can happen just through ordinary wear, even if there isn't an injury. If your poodle becomes stiff, starts limping, or has difficulty lying down or getting up, arthritis may be the culprit. Take him to the veterinarian for a checkup.

Your poodle doesn't need to live in pain. A number of “nutraceuticals,” like glucosamine and chondroitin combinations, as well as anti-inflammatory supplements made from sea animals, can help rebuild the cartilage and reduce the pain associated with arthritis. Their proponents even say that these nutraceuticals can reverse the cartilage damage. Treating with nutraceuticals early in the degenerative process can be particularly helpful. These treatments haven't been shown to have side effects, though it can take a while for your dog to show signs that the nutraceuticals are helping.

Alert!

Don't give your poodle any over-the-counter nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil) without first talking with your veterinarian. Such drugs can help humans with arthritis, but may not be good for your dog. Ibuprofen, in particular, is toxic to dogs.

If the arthritis doesn't respond to the more benign support of nutraceuticals, there are a number of anti-inflammatory drugs on the market for dogs. Rimadyl, Duramaxx, and Etogesic are all drugs that can help ease the pain of arthritis. These drugs all have side effects, however, and some of them are serious. Ask for blood tests to ensure that your poodle isn't suffering from any liver or kidney problems — which can be exacerbated by these drugs — before giving these medications to your dog. If you choose to start using them, be sure to monitor his blood work to see that his internal organs aren't being damaged.

Canine Cancer

While certainly not all old dogs develop cancer, it is a major cause of death for geriatric dogs and accounts for over 50 percent of canine deaths per year. Depending on the type, a diagnosis of cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. More and more treatments for cancer in dogs are becoming available, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and alternative therapies.

Making a decision on how to treat cancer in your dog can be very difficult, particularly when your dog is older. But one thing is certain. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the more options you will have.

Here are ten common signs of cancer, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • Abnormal swellings that persist or grow

  • Sores that don't heal

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening

  • Offensive odor

  • Difficulty eating or swallowing

  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina

  • Persistent lameness or stiffness

  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating

If you see any of these signs, take your dog to the veterinarian. As scary as a potential diagnosis of cancer is, delaying a vet visit out of fear can only make matters worse.

If your poodle is diagnosed with cancer, talk with your veterinarian about the best diet for him. Research done by Greg Ogilvie, DVM, of Colorado State University's Animal Cancer Center indicates that minimizing simple carbohydrates (starches and sugars); providing high-quality protein, and soluble and insoluble fiber; and increasing omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants is beneficial for cancer patients.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction (CD), also known as canine senility or “doggie Alzheimer's,” is defined as any decline in mental function that can't be attributed to another factor. A poodle that suffers from cognitive dysfunction might seem disoriented or confused. He might wander in the house aimlessly or even seem to be lost in familiar surroundings. He might not get involved in what's going on around him and not respond to you like he used to. He might even lose bladder or bowel control.

A drug called deprenyl (brand name Anipryl) can reverse these signs of aging and help your poodle gain back his quality of life. About a third of the dogs that took deprenyl for their cognitive dysfunction responded extremely well. (An additional third responded reasonably well to the drug, and the final third did not respond at all.)

Other research suggests that giving your aged poodle antioxidant supplements, like vitamin E, might help repair her cognitive dysfunction. Talk with your veterinarian about supplements and dosages.

Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops making sufficient insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar. It's not an uncommon ailment in older poodles. Signs that your poodle may be diabetic include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, recurrent urinary tract infections, weakness, and fatigue.

Alert!

Diabetes occurs in one out of every 400 to 500 dogs and cats. Unspayed females are more prone to diabetes than males or spayed females. Poodles are among the breeds that might have a higher prevalence of the disease. Obese dogs are at a higher risk of developing diabetes.

Diagnosis is made with a blood test. Treatment includes twice-daily injections of insulin. As tough as that might sound, once you get into a routine of giving your dog shots, it should be easy to manage.

Talk to your veterinarian about your poodle's diet and how much exercise he should get, since strenuous exercise has an effect on blood sugar. Ask your vet how to recognize signs of low blood sugar, and find out what to do if they occur.

Hearing Loss

Your poodle's hearing may deteriorate with age. Dogs are so adaptable that it might actually take you some time to notice there's a problem. As soon as you see signs of hearing loss (or even before), you can teach your dog to recognize basic sign language. Since dogs are so in tune with body language, it's sometimes easier for them to understand sign language than words. Create and teach simple signs for messages, like “Good boy!” “Watch me,” and “Would you like a treat?” as well as cues for “Sit,” “Come,” “Down,” and “Stay.”

Essential

Living with a Deaf Dog, by Susan Cope Becker, can help you with any difficulties you might encounter due to your poodle's hearing loss, as can the excellent website hosted by the Deaf Dogs Education Action Fund. Both supply suggestions for signs you can use with your dog.

If your poodle starts to lose his hearing, be vigilant about his safety. Don't let him off-leash in an unsecured area. He might not hear oncoming traffic or other dangers, and he won't benefit from any verbal warning you give him.

Incontinence

If your poodle starts to leak urine in his sleep, or if he suddenly begins to poop in the house, you could be seeing the signs of several problems. A trip to the veterinarian is definitely in order. Increased urination could be something as simple as a urinary tract infection, but it can also be a sign of diabetes or a hormone-related problem.

Especially in an older dog, don't assume that incontinence is a behavioral problem. Don't yell at him, punish him, or banish him. Instead, have him checked out by your veterinarian. You should also give him more opportunities to go outside. He just may not be able to hold it as long as he could when he was younger.

Kidney Disease

The kidneys are very important organs, since they remove waste products from the body and regulate water and electrolytes. They also assist in regulation of blood pressure and in the production of red blood cells. As a dog ages, his kidneys can show wear, and they may not function as well.

Fact

A new urine test called early renal detection (ERD) detects small amounts of albumin, an indication of early kidney disease. This test can help your veterinarian identify kidney problems before they would show up on a blood test.

The main signs of kidney problems are increased thirst and urination and weight loss. Regular blood tests will help your veterinarian detect kidney problems even before symptoms start to show up.

Nutrition is a key component of dealing with kidney problems. Acupuncture or other holistic modalities may be of great benefit as well.

Old-Age Vestibular Syndrome

One day your poodle might suddenly become very dizzy. He might start walking in circles, his head may tilt to one side, or he might not even be able to keep his balance well enough to stand up. His eyes might drift back and forth. One side of his face might become paralyzed, and he might seem to you like he's had a stroke. (Strokes in dogs are very uncommon.) Chances are that he has peripheral vestibular disease.

The condition is also called old-age vestibular syndrome because it most commonly appears in geriatric dogs. It seems to be caused by an inflammation of the nerve that connects the inner ear to the cerebellum.

If your dog begins to exhibit these symptoms, stay calm and call your veterinarian. In some cases, a veterinarian will be able to determine the cause of this inflammation, but it is not always obvious. If no cause is found that your vet can address with medication or other treatment, your vet will probably just ask you to wait for the symptoms to subside.

If your poodle is so dizzy that he can't eat or drink, your vet might prescribe an antihistamine, like Benadryl, which helps with the nausea, or motion-sickness medication, like Antivert. Dogs with peripheral vestibular disease usually recover fully within two weeks, though sometimes a head tilt can linger.

Vision Loss

Essential

You can help your poodle cope with vision loss by keeping the floor free of clutter and by not rearranging furniture. If you must move things around, carefully walk your poodle through the new arrangement to show him where he can now expect to find obstacles in his path.

Your poodle might start losing his vision as he ages. As with hearing loss, he'll probably adapt readily, using his other senses to make up where his eyes fail.

If your poodle's vision loss is due to cataracts, ask your veterinarian about the feasibility of having the cataracts surgically removed. She may refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist, who might recommend surgery. If successful, cataract surgery could restore much of your poodle's vision. Other forms of vision loss may be permanent.

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