Senior PON Care
Senior PONS, like Senior humans, are at an increased risk for a variety of diseases and health problems. Online research has indicated that dogs over the age of seven are at increased risk for age related disease and other age related changes. Once your PON is older than seven, it is vital that you are well informed about the effect of aging on the health and quality of life of your beloved PON.
Routine Physical Exams
A complete physical exam is an important tool for early detection of a number of medical conditions. After your PON has reached the age of seven, routine physical examinations are more important than ever. During the exam, your family veterinarian will evaluate your PON's health issues. In addition, speak with your breeder about conditions which run in your PON's genetic lines.
A complete oral exam will evaluate dental health. Abdominal palpations determine the size and shape of internal organs and allow veterinarians to detect abdominal masses, if they are present. Bones and joints are also palpated to screen for arthritic changes (see Arthritis section below). The skin, eyes, ears, and body condition are also evaluated for changes and abnormalities that may indicate the presence of disease. Your veterinarian will also inquire about your PON's over all health, diet, activity, and behavior patterns. If you keep your PON on the recommended vaccine schedule, this will insure that your PON is examined at least once a year. For older PONS, however, more frequent exams are sugested.. This helps to insure that irregularities, abnormalities, or diseases are detected early. It is recommend that a complete physical exam be performed at least twice a year, particularly for PONS over the age of ten.
As your PON matures, he/she will probably become less active. This decrease in activity and energy requirement may lead to obesity if the dietary intake is not altered to compensate. Most major brands of dog food offer a "senior" formula. These foods maintain the high nutrient density while providing fewer calories per serving. After switching to a senior diet, it is a good idea to monitor your PON's weight. If your PON suddenly loses or gains weight on the new diet, it may be necessary to change the serving size of each meal. You should be able to feel your PON's ribs as you rub your hands along his/her side. If you can't feel the ribs, it may be necessary to restrict the number of calories your PON is consuming. You should never be able to see the ribs when you are looking at your dog. This is an indication of an undernourished animal. Alternatives to commercial dog food include raw or home cooking which contain less calories.
The accumulation of tartar is generally a problem in most older dogs.Oral exams will help detect gingivitis (swollen, reddened gums), receding gum lines, and tartar build-up. If any of these conditions are found, the vet will probably recommend a dental prophylaxis (teeth cleaning).
All dental c1eanings are done using an ultrasonic tooth scaler. Special instruments are also used to clean teeth beneath the gum line. All of the teeth are also polished with a fluoride polish that helps prevent tooth decay. This procedure must be done under a general anesthetic. As with all anesthetic procedures, pre-surgical blood screenings are strongly recommended. Older animals are at a higher risk for many diseases that can affect the body's ability to handle the anesthetic. If dental problems are not treated early with routine c1eanings, they can lead to more serious complications. These can include tooth abscesses, tooth loss, and systemic infections from swallowing large amounts of associated oral bacteria. Endocarditis, a very serious infection of the heart valves, is linked to poor oral health. For this reason, it is important that dental problems and abscessed teeth be treated in a timely manner. Brushing your PON's teeth daily can decrease the severity of dental problems and decrease the frequency of dental c1eanings.
Routine Laboratory Screenings
Research has shown that dogs over the age of seven are much more susceptible than younger dogs to cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Since most of these diseases are not associated with clinical signs until late in the course of the disease, it is important to detect early changes through routine blood screening. Even if your PON acts healthy, he/she may actually be in the early stages of a serious illness.
Blood chemistry tests provide an inside look at your PON's internal organs. As with your own regular health check-ups, testing on a regular basis monitors your PON's health over its lifetime and enables vets to detect potential problems. A complete screening of blood chemistry tests and urine screenings should be done on a yearly basis from the age of seven onwards.
Arthritis is a common condition of older dogs and if you notice your PON seems stiff, especially after first getting up, or if your PON has trouble going up and down stairs, he/she may have arthritis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed to ease the pain and counteract the joint inflammation associated with arthritis. Before prescription strength drugs can be used, it is necessary to evaluate and examine your PON. It may be necessary to do blood chemistry tests to check liver and kidney function before giving certain medications to your PON. Try natural options first.
In mild cases of arthritis, the vet may be able to prescribe an over-the-counter remedy for arthritis relief. It is very important, however, to check before giving your PON any human over-the counter medications. Certain drugs (such as Tylenol and Advil) can be dangerous to your PON. There can also be adverse reactions between drugs if your PON is currently taking more than one medication. Even if the over-the-counter drug is safe for your PON, the dosage will be different than the human dosage. Please contact your vet to discuss appropriate treatment programs and dosages.
Food supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin and omega-3-fatty acids have been proven to enhance joint health. These supplements are also available through pharmacy and health food stores; however, because they are not regulated by the FDA, it is important to buy a reputable brand in order to insure product quality. Your vet will be happy to help you determine the correct dosage for your PON.
In addition to medications and food supplements, there are a number of things that you can do to help minimize discomfort and other signs of arthritis in your PON:
• Encourage light to moderate exercise, but don't overdo it. Providing frequent, short walks on level ground with good footing is one of the best ways to help your PON. Swimming is also an excellent alternative exercise. Light to moderate activity decreases stiffness and soreness, circulates joint fluid providing enhanced joint lubrication, and increases blood supply to the joint. In addition, exercise is very important for maintaining muscle strength. Strong, healthy muscles provide support for the joints and allow for maximal mobility.
• Discourage high impact activities such as jumping, sprinting, and rough play. These activities may be fun for your PON, but will often result in soreness later that night or the next day or event create new health issues.
• Help your PON maintain a normal body weight and condition. Overweight dogs put a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress on their joints. As dogs become less active due to arthritis, they may bum fewer calories and put on weight if their food amount is not decreased. To determine if your PON is overweight, run your hands down along the rib cage. The ribs can be easily felt and counted in PONS with ideal body condition. Overweight PONS have a fat pad over the rib cage making it difficult or impossible to feel the ribs. If your PON is overweight, your veterinarians can help you formulate a weight loss program tailored to your PON's specific needs.
• Make sure that your PON sleeps and rests in a warm, dry place. Minimize time spent outside on wet or cold days. Dampness, chill, and hard surfaces will worsen your PON's stiffness and soreness.
• Hot packs and gentle massage of affected joints may help to temporarily alleviate or reduce your PON's discomfort due to arthritis.
Lumps and Bumps It is very common for Senior PONS to develop different types of "lumps and bumps." In many cases these are skin growths (similar to moles in humans), fatty lypomas (a harmless fatty tumor just beneath the skin), or sebaceous cysts (a harmless growth of the oil-secreting gland). In some cases, however, these lumps may be more serious tumors.
It is important to examine your PON on a regular basis. If you notice any new lumps, ask the following questions: Is the skin over the lump different from the other skin (discolored, ulcerated, etc.)? Is the lump large or growing? Is the lump firmly anchored and not just part of the skin? Is your PON licking, chewing, or scratching at the lump?
If the answer is "Yes" to any of these questions, we recommend that you make an appointment as soon as possible to have the lump examined. If the answer is "No" to ALL of the questions, it is important that you monitor the lump for any changes.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a condition of older dogs that results in signs of confusion and changes in behavior. It is due to physical and chemical changes in the brain. Some of the signs of CDS may seem like natural aging changes, but CDS is a disease complex that can be successfully treated in many dogs.
The following signs are associated with CDS: aimless wandering, confusion, failure to recognize familiar people, failure to respond to name or verbal commands, decreased interaction with family members, changes in sleeping patterns, urination/defecation indoors, or barking for no apparent reason. It is important to understand that not every dog will exhibit all signs of the syndrome. Even if your PON is showing just a few signs, he/she may still have CDS. If your dog demonstrates any of the above signs on a regular basis, it is important that you set up an appointment with your vet.
Before a diagnosis of CDS can be made, the veterinarian must perform a thorough physical exam and take a complete history of your PON's behavior. Other conditions such as blindness and deafness may have some of the same signs. Depression due to other underlying medical problems can also cause similar changes in your PON.
As your PON ages, it is important to monitor your PON's activity, behavior, and eating habits for any changes. Increased thirst, increased urination, altered appetite, or changes in skin and hair coat may all be indications of underlying disease. Vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, or anorexia (not eating) may also be signs of illness. While younger PONS may be able to recover from some of these problems without medical attention, even minor problems can be much more serious in older PONS. We wish you many healthy years with your beloved PON.