The Problems of Aging
All creatures, including humans, have health problems of one sort or another as they get older, and Yorkshire terriers are no exception. The wear and tear of a lifetime of movement can lead to joint problems. Kidneys can become less efficient, any or all of the senses can decrease or fail, and coat and skin problems can arise. Modern veterinary medicine can help with many of the common canine conditions associated with aging.
If your Yorkie has always jumped onto the couch or climbed stairs but is reluctant to do so as she ages, she may be experiencing arthritis. It's a common problem among older dogs of all breeds. Help make life easier for your senior by lifting her in and out of the car, onto the couch (if she's allowed there), and carrying her up and down stairs. If she lags on walks, take it slow and shorten the distance you travel.
Arthritis can also make joints painful to touch, so watch your Yorkie for any signs that she is in pain. If you ignore warning signs, your Yorkie may feel obliged to bite to tell you to stop hurting her.
Stiffness can make grooming more difficult for your dog. So you may need to take a larger role in helping her keep clean. Use a damp cloth to clean where urine may dribble or feces gets stuck in hair. Baby wipes are ideal for both purposes.
You may not bite if someone kept poking you in some sore swollen spot, but you'd certainly tell them to knock it off in no uncertain terms. If your Yorkie stiffens when you touch a certain place, or even growls, it doesn't mean she's turned into a dangerous dog — she's telling you it hurts.
There are both supplements and anti-inflammatories that may help ease the problem. Supplements might include glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, or ester C. Glucosamine, specifically extract of green-lipped mussels (a natural source of glucosamine), has the most scientific study behind it. It's not a quick fix, however. Building up to therapeutic levels can take two months, so don't expect instant results.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help ease the swelling and pain. But they're not innocuous. Side effects can be serious and might include vomiting, diarrhea, and damage to the kidneys or liver. If your Yorkie is taking NSAIDs, you should have blood work done regularly to check liver and kidney function. And whatever you do, do not share your own NSAIDs with your Yorkie. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be toxic to dogs. Aspirin at the appropriate dose isn't toxic, but it can have its own side-effect problems.
It's hard to hear the “C” word without flinching, but many forms of cancer are treatable. The incidence of cancer in dogs increases with age. Also, of course, the earlier it's caught the better, so it's wise to check for warning signs. Some possible signs of cancer include:
Any new lumps or bumps, or changes in existing ones
Sores that won't heal
Sudden or unexplained weight loss
Swelling, especially in areas other than joints
Prolonged lack of appetite
Bleeding or unusual discharge from the nose, mouth, or other body openings
A bad or strange smell coming from any part of the dog
Lack of energy
Difficulty swallowing or eating
Difficulty urinating or defecating
Don't panic and assume it's cancer if you see any of these signs. There are other explanations for most of them, and even if they are signs of the disease, the condition may be relatively easy to treat.
Dogs can receive radiation treatment, chemotherapy, and other common cancer treatments, the same as humans. As they don't have the worry of knowing they have cancer, they often do very well with treatment.
The most common types of cancer in dogs are mammary (breast cancer), skin tumors, testicular cancer, lymphoma, and cancers of the mouth or nose. You can avoid testicular cancer by neutering your Yorkie and greatly lower the risk of mammary cancer by spaying before the first heat.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)
This is the canine equivalent of Alzheimer's disease. As in humans, the dysfunction progresses over time. A dog with CDS will often appear disoriented or confused. He might stand staring into space, almost as if he's forgotten what he was about to do, or wander aimlessly through familiar surroundings. Their interaction with the family usually diminishes. The dog's sleep patterns may change, and you may hear him wandering about at night. Often, he will start having housetraining accidents.
If you see any of the signs — disorientation, changes in sleep or activity, less interaction, housetraining problems — in a Yorkie aged eight or more, have a full checkup done on the dog. Problems with the thyroid, kidneys, or adrenal gland can mimic the symptoms of CDS, so it's important to establish a definitive diagnosis.
Supplements may help alleviate CDS, and medications have been developed to combat the disease. And remember that it's very important not to punish your Yorkie for any of these behavior changes — it's not his fault.
Giving your dog an injection is not as frightening a task as you may think. The shot is given subcutaneously (under the skin), so you don't have to find a vein. The loose skin over the back of the shoulder is easy to gather up and slide a needle into.
Diabetes is fairly common in older dogs. There might be a genetic predisposition, and obesity is a definite contributing factor. With diabetics, the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin to send blood glucose into the body's cells. Glucose levels in the blood rise to abnormally high levels. Untreated diabetes can lead to a variety of complications and eventually death. Fortunately, it's a manageable condition.
Signs of diabetes include increased drinking, which, in turn, leads to increased urination. A diabetic dog may eat ravenously and yet still lose weight. Your veterinarian will perform a blood test and urinalysis to make a diagnosis of diabetes.
If your Yorkie is overweight, you'll have to help her lose those extra pounds. To keep glucose from spiking, meals should be given at regular times, and exercise should be as regular as possible. You'll likely have to give your Yorkie insulin injections once or twice a day. This is easy to do — your veterinarian can show you how to use the loose skin at the back of the neck. Most dogs don't object to the shots.
Even if you have been lucky enough to escape dental problems when your Yorkshire terrier was younger, you may see them now that she's aging. It's hard to fit the normal number of canine teeth into that downsized mouth, and a less-than-perfect bite means that tartar and plaque tend to accumulate. You can help prevent problems by brushing regularly and having your Yorkie's teeth cleaned as necessary. But you still may see problems arise.
Dogs don't tend to get cavities, but teeth can fracture (mainly the canines) or loosen (mainly the incisors, the front teeth). Extractions may sometimes be necessary. Fewer teeth in a comfortable mouth is definitely preferable to pain.
Both humans and canines tend to become hard of hearing as they age. The delicate mechanisms of the inner ear gradually degenerate. Some dogs may go totally deaf. It's not much of a problem for them. Using hand signals during training means you can continue to communicate with your Yorkie even if he loses his hearing completely. You will only have to be mindful not to sneak up on him from behind. Some nearly deaf dogs can still hear sharp sounds such as clapping or a clicker, and you can use those to announce your presence. Otherwise, you can stomp on the floor or ground so your Yorkie can feel the vibrations.
Your responsibility to keep your dog safe increases if he is deaf. Never let him off leash outside your home or fenced yard because he can't react to any warning sounds of traffic.
Dogs cope very well with the loss of one of their senses. Their hearing, sight, and sense of smell are all so effective that two senses together can compensate for the loss of the other one. With basic precautions, your deaf or blind dog can continue to do most of the things she's used to doing.
The most common cause of vision impairment in dogs is nuclear sclerosis. As the lens of the eye ages, it thickens and loses elasticity. The eye appears hazy or bluish-gray when you look at it. Though it can impair vision somewhat, especially close up, it rarely causes blindness.
Cataracts also occur in older age, especially in diabetic dogs. The lens starts to become opaque at the center, and then the cataract spreads outward. Dogs can receive cataract surgery, but blind dogs can continue to live a happy life with their humans. Avoid moving the furniture around indoors, and keep your Yorkie on leash outdoors, and he should be just fine.
Healthy dogs have a lot more kidney function than they require, so obvious signs of kidney disease don't show up until three-quarters or more of kidney function has been lost. However, your veterinarian can perform tests that will spot problems earlier. You may want to make the early renal disease (ERD) test part of your Yorkie's regular health checkup.
Protein becomes an issue for dogs with kidney disease. The impaired kidneys can't process protein as efficiently as they once could, and metabolism by-products become an issue. Yet the dog continues to require protein. Your best bet is to feed the most easily digestible protein available.
Hypothyroidism is a common hormonal disorder among middle-aged to senior dogs. The thyroid ceases to make a sufficient level of hormones, and the dog may suddenly gain weight, show skin and coat problems, and suffer ear infections.
Fortunately, hypothyroidism can be managed by giving replacement thyroid hormone. Your veterinarian will determine the amount needed and may require periodic blood tests to check that appropriate levels are maintained.