As your dog gets older, subtle changes in their health can creep up. Here’s what you should keep an eye out for, and how booking regular check-ups with your vet can help to prevent any problems.
1. Weight loss
As pets get older, they may gradually lose a couple of pounds. However, if you notice any sudden or significant weight changes in your dog, it’s important to speak to your vet to identify the cause.
Weight loss coupled with a good or even increased appetite can be a sign of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), although this is a condition that is more common in cats. If you do notice these symptoms, give your vet a call straight away. While a good recovery is possible through treatments such as surgery or medication, the condition can cause complications and organ damage if it’s not addressed early enough.
Other causes of rapid weight loss may be due to a parasite, or kidney or liver disease – so it’s best to book a check-up as soon as you can. But keep in mind that weight loss could also be due to something that is quite easily treated, such as a short-lived infection.
2. Changes in appetite
When a pet with a previously normal appetite seems to be constantly ravenous, there could be a number of explanations. Cushing’s disease could be to blame – a condition that’s common in dogs, and is due to a pet’s body producing too much of the hormone cortisol.
Loss of appetite, on the other hand, can have numerous causes. As a first port of call, check whether a change in your dog’s environment has made them stressed and less likely to eat. Alternatively, you might need to speak to your vet to rule out any other conditions, such as kidney disease, a blockage in the throat or intestinal tract, or glaucoma (a painful condition where pressure builds up in the eye). They’ll be able to pinpoint the cause with an all-over examination and any necessary tests.
3. Increased thirst and frequent urination
If your pet is drinking lots more than usual, and warmer weather or indoor heating isn’t the explanation, it should be checked. Increased thirst can, once again, be a sign of Cushing’s disease and, if left untreated, can lead to health issues such as your pet being more prone to infections. However, once your vet has confirmed a diagnosis, the condition can usually be managed well with medication.
4. Lumps and bumps
While lumps and bumps aren’t uncommon, especially on dogs, their causes can be varied and it’s always worth getting an unexplained swelling checked out. While it could be a cyst or infection, it could also be a lymphoma, which accounts for 20% of all cancers in dogs aged 10-plus. Early detection is vital to ensure your pet has the best outcome, so keep up with your regular check-ups to help your vet spot any skin changes before they become a cause for concern.
Losing interest in playing, and sleeping more in the daytime, but less at night, may indicate that an older pet has cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Around half of dogs over the age of 11 will develop at least one symptom of CDS, such as lethargy.
However, lethargy in older pets doesn’t automatically mean CDS. If your pet is very inactive, lacking enthusiasm and not reacting as usual, they could have another condition, such as an infection. With a thorough check-up, your vet will be able to determine the cause and get your pet the right treatment.
6. Behaviour changes
Forgetting trained behaviour, being easily startled, yowling or barking at night, and showing signs of anxiety, are all common signs of CDS. As pets age, they can also suffer hearing loss which can make them nervous and stressed.
Behaviour changes, such as a previously docile dog suddenly snapping or biting, can also indicate that your pet is in pain. Any number of problems (such as arthritis) could be the cause – your vet can help you support your pet and decide on the right course of action.
7. A bad smell
If your pet starts to pong a bit, it’s worth checking out the cause. For example, smelly breath in dogs may point to gum disease. As well as being painful, this can lead to tooth loss and, at its worst, the bacteria can also enter the bloodstream, affecting your pet’s other organs. If you’ve noticed your pet’s bad breath, make sure to get it seen to as soon as possible and speak to your vet about treating the cause.
Have you noticed any of the symptoms on this list? Don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your vet and, to ensure these symptoms don’t crop up in future, schedule regular six-monthly check-ups, too.