Signs of Aging

Animals change over time. As animals age, physical changes may be sudden or gradual. They will experience good days and bad days. They may suffer ailments that will heal on their own, given a day or two, and some which will require veterinary intervention. You may observe drastic changes, or they may be so subtle that they are hardly noticeable. The effects on the animal may be profound, or so subtle that they draw no concern. The change may be a one-time occurrence, or may recur over time.

The best way to cope with these changes is to monitor your pet: Observe your pet carefully. Look for signs of disorientation, glazed or dry eyes, disinterest in eating and drinking, lethargic behavior, reluctance to get up and walk around, or general listlessness. Some of the most common observations you may make in regards to the changes your pet is experiencing are:

Changes in Sleep: When older animals sleep, they sleep more profoundly and may become more snappish if awakened out of a restful sleep. On the other hand, an older dog may pace at night, and be difficult to settle down! An orthopedic foam bed with a machine washable cover will be helpful for the occasional toileting accident.

Grumpiness: As animals age, they may experience physical ailments that cause them to feel discomfort. They may become frustrated with their own aging process. They might not hear as well as in younger years, their sight may be impaired, they may feel physically vulnerable when in the company of younger animals. They may have aches that they did have before, and/or soreness in their joints and muscles. Be patient with your pet's changing moods and gradual decline. They may become grumpy sometimes--it's not their fault!

Deterioration of Senses: Four of the five senses diminish with age. Touch is the only sense that stays as acute over time. Older pets also feel the cold more intensely in the winter and suffer from heat more in the summer than do younger animals.

Cognitive deficiencies and arthritis: Older animals sometimes have problems with mental clarity and movement. Again, your veterinarian is in the best position to recommend medications that can help greatly in this area.

"Elephant Skin": It's the rough skin on elbows and hips where the hair has worn away. This is typical of larger dogs and older dogs. Trick to help cure Elephant Skin: rub Bag Balm into the area where the hair has worn away, every other day for a while. Our experience has been that the hair gradually starts to grow back. Once the hair has grown back, you may only have to rub the Bag Balm once or twice a month. Watch the area and you will see the hair grow back and know how often you need to reapply it. Your dog will be much more comfortable with the hair on those pressure points.

Aggressiveness: We have an older dog that was as kind as kind could be all of his life. As he aged, he started to bite at the other dogs and us! Of course we couldn't have that, and thought that we might have to have him euthanized. Our vet determined that the aggressiveness was the result of anxiety. He had grown older and was more fragile. He felt like the other dogs were a threat to him. We put him on Prozac ($8 per month) and his anxiety lessened. Now, on Prozac, he is back to his old self and we couldn't be happier.

Change in Weight: Extra pounds put added stress on an animal's joints. Check your pet over on a regular basis and keep your eyes open for tumors, lumps, discolorations, or bad breath, and report any changes to your vet.

How to personally handle these changes with your pet:

Perhaps your pet’s ailments cause you to react with impatience. This may be a time that challenges you to develop patience with what is a natural process. The humans who share their lives with these amazing animals may be motivated to act immediately, when the correct course advises, “wait and see”. 

Prepare to see changes. When in doubt, collect all of your observations and tell them to your vet. The more information that you can provide, in terms of observations and medical records, the more readily they will be able to respond to your pet’s needs.