(See Part I of Pyr Ailments here)
We’re not the only ones who see body changes as we age; our dogs do too, and certain problems are ones humans can share, such as arthritis or diabetes. Human or animal, organs and joints tend to wear out over the years. The good news is, when you start treating these issues early, you can take advantage of some of the proven—and new—approaches to treatment to stave off some of the aging effects.
Prevention starts with annual (or even every six months) senior or “geriatric” blood screening, and discussing an appropriate senior diet if your dog is 7 or older. Weight management is even more important in older dogs, and excessive drinking and urination can be indicators of a couple of different health issues, and should be brought to your vet’s attention. A physical veterinary exam for a senior dog can be a little different than the standard exam. Senior exams should include examining the mouth, throat, gums and teeth; the eyes for cataracts (which can in some cases be a sign of diabetes) and other eye issues; plus a urinalysis and rectal exam (where there are internal lymph nodes). Some of these issues, such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer, were touched on in the last newsletter. Here are some other issues to watch for:
Kidney Disease in older dogs is usually the chronic type, known as CRF (Chronic Renal Failure). The challenge is that symptoms don’t appear until at least 2/3 of kidney function is gone.
- Start with prevention, which means talking to your vet about high quality, senior food, usually lower protein, lower phosphorus, and higher in moisture content. The goal is to make it easier on the kidneys to do their job, which is to filter out impurities. Make sure to provide lots of clean, fresh water.
- Watch for symptoms: Be observant about the amount of water your dog is drinking and how much he’s excreting. Excessive water intake and excessive urination (including not being able to hold it as long) are common symptoms of the start of renal problems, and vomiting is common as the uric acid builds up. Bad breath (ammonia-type smell) and mouth ulcers also are indicators. If you see these in your dog, even if he was fine on the last checkup, you should schedule a vet visit, since it could be that “gray area” where you have the opportunity to slow or stop the advancement of a disease.
- Normal urine from healthy kidneys is concentrated; weakened, worn-out kidneys use more water to filter the impurities, and urine is less concentrated and means more frequent urination. Taking up water at night isn’t the solution to your senior dog’s need to urinate if he has a kidney problem. And if you see any blood or pink color in the urine, that of course needs to be addressed promptly. If your dog has any heart problems or diabetes, these could go along with kidney disease.
- Treating CRF usually means a change in diet and possibly administering subcutaneous fluids (saline solution usually mixed with supportive vitamins) to help the kidneys do their job. Your vet may choose to lower the strength of certain medications to reduce the stress on the kidneys. Various holistic support supplements, such as Chinese herbs, RenafoodR and renal sarcode drops are available, but always discuss with your veterinarian.
Adrenal diseases such as Cushing’s and Addison’s are common in older dogs and require monitoring and medication. Simply put, Cushing’s Disease is caused by the over-production of cortisol by the adrenal glands, while Addison’s Disease is caused by the under-production of cortisol and the hormone aldosterone by the adrenals. The adrenal glands are located on either side of the kidneys, and their hormones control the heart rate, glucose levels and sodium levels, so can trigger issues like high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Cushing’s is often caused by a growth on the pituitary gland (which directs the adrenals to over-produce cortisol) but sometimes the growth is on an adrenal gland. Long-term treatment with steroids can also trigger Cushing’s. Fluffy (left), aged ten, was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease shortly after she came into rescue this summer.
- Addison’s can often trigger a serious problem when the decline in cortisol and aldosterone levels cause a reduction in blood sodium levels and raise potassium levels. Lower blood sodium causes the heart rate to slow down, and the heart tries to compensate by beating faster, but the lower potassium prevents it from doing so, and the result can be the dog going into shock. That’s why in the event of an “Addisonian episode,” the dog usually requires hospitalization with IV fluids to restore the sodium and glucose levels.
- Watch for symptoms like excessive drinking and urination, a dramatic increase in appetite and weight; skin and coat issues, including scaly skin and hair loss. Sometimes there are behavioral changes as well, including agitation/restlessness, increased panting and changes in heart rate. Addison’s sometimes causes diarrhea and vomiting. Again, senior blood panels that check for sodium and potassium levels, as well as high cholesterol, can help detect these issues.
Both these diseases can be treated with medication and regular monitoring; growths on the adrenal glands can sometimes be addressed with surgery, but medication will also be required post-surgery. Natural remedies using homeopathics or adrenal support formulas can also be explored.
We will continue our article on Pyr ailments in the December newsletter.