Everything you need to know

Main menu: Home | Index | Colours of the Rainbow | Contact Us

Chocolate Havanese

Caring for your senior

Signs of aging and actual age are entirely different matters. The body may show signs of aging at an anticipated stage of life; however, in some, these signs appear prematurely or later than expected. Regardless, the appearance or lack of these does not change the actual age. For example, even though an 80-year-old human's heart is as healthy and strong as a 30 year old's, nothing changes the fact that it has been beating for eight decades and "is" 80 years old. Conversely, a 20-year-old with prematurely greying hair is still only 20 years old. The same is true for animals, the actual date of birth cannot change nor can the number of years that have been lived. A 13-year-old dog that plays like a puppy is still 13 years old, but his virtual age may be much younger. Virtual age is a reflection of a dog's mental and physical condition. Virtual age calculators use overall health, behavioural states, vitality, activities, surroundings, diet and more to determine a relative age. A younger virtual age is a reflection of a dog in optimal health and this in turn may optimize longevity; an older virtual age is a sign of a dog in poor health or condition, which may shorten the life by months or years. Even so, the actual age is what it is.

Birthdays add up and time marches on. As dogs get older, they may begin to show signs of aging, much in the way that humans do. You often hear that canines become seniors at seven years of age, but just as one single ratio (7:1) cannot determine equivalent human years, a set age for becoming a senior is also imprecise. It may be more accurate to say that a dog is geriatric when he has reached about 75% of his life expectancy. This is equal to approximately 60 years of a human's 80-year life expectancy. Most breeds with an average life expectancy are geriatric at about eight to nine years of age. Dogs with moderate to short life expectancies reach their senior years as early as five to seven years of age. In long and very-long lived breeds, this may be as late as 10+ years of age. A seven-year-old Havanese is a middle-aged mature adult; he is not truly geriatric until approximately 10 years of age. two and eight Of the pair pictured here, one is two years old and the other nearing eight; can you tell which is which?

Recognizing subtle signs of aging and knowing how best to care for your geriatric dog will help ensure the very best golden years possible. Just because your pet has become a senior does not mean life's end is near; there can still be several years of happiness, good health and companionship. Most Havanese breeze through their senior years with few problems; however, care must be taken as any issues can have significant impact on health and wellbeing. Dogs have remarkable coping mechanisms and are masters at learning to adapt and compensate. These strategies serve well in the wild where survival-of-the- fittest rules the day; the downside is that the early stages of a surprising number of diseases and health conditions may go unnoticed. Extra vigilance allows treatment and management of issues as soon as they come up, before they become untreatable problems. Seniors will benefit from twice-yearly veterinary visits and regular health checks.

Reduced activity: One of the first signs of aging may be a gradual decline in activity levels. Slowing down on long walks, panting after fewer ball tosses, more frequent and longer naps, and deeper and sounder sleep are all signs of decreasing activity levels. Don't push; let your senior take life at his own pace. Exercise is still important, but shorter walks and easy strolls may become the new routine.

Weight gain: Decreased activity often leads to loss of muscle and increases in fat tissue and may translate to increased weight. A bit of fat on a senior dog is not necessarily bad as it helps provide reserves in times of illness and disease, but too much extra weight is never good. Obesity carries increased risks at advanced ages; it may worsen heart and lung conditions and put extra strain on aging joints. If you notice significant weight gain, a weight loss program may be in order. Cutting portions may not be the best solution, as that will also reduce the vitamins and nutrients essential to wellbeing. Weight loss or senior formulas may be more appropriate. Always check with your veterinarian prior to starting a diet for recommendations and weight loss goals.

Nutrition: Senior formulas provide limited calories for lower energy requirements but also include the protein necessary to maintain muscle and the required balance of vitamins and minerals. Choose the best food you can afford, high quality and easily digestible. As digestive processes slow, senior dogs may benefit from smaller meals twice a day. Tempting additions may enhance the smell and encourage a senior to eat, warm water, a spoonful of canned food, a dollop of cottage cheese. Tooth loss or gum disease may necessitate a change in formulation.

Vision and hearing loss: Old-age related cataracts and other eye changes may occur in older dogs. Some eye changes directly relate to disease (such as diabetes). Some vision changes are correctable but others may not be. Loss of night vision may be one of the first signs of deteriorating eyesight. Have the eyes checked regularly.

Hearing loss tends to be quite gradual. Most owners may not notice it in the beginning. Subtle signs may be a dog that startles easily and/or sleeps more soundly. Prolonged sleep may be a reflection of reduced activity but may be partially due to some hearing loss as the dog is less aware of goings-on. In many dogs, hearing diminishes slowly over several years, in others it progresses quite rapidly to total deafness. Skin and coat: As your Havanese ages, many changes occur in skin and coat. The skin becomes drier, less elastic and more sensitive. As muscle decreases, the skin hangs a little more loosely. Some older dogs develop thinning/thickening of the skin as well as pigment changes. There can be lumps and bumps; fatty deposits under the skin and skin warts. There may be some coat thinning or coat loss. The coat may lack luster and be duller, due in part to less skin oils. Paw pads crack more easily, nails become more brittle. The coat may lighten or turn grey in areas, especially muzzle, ears and head. Moisturizing shampoos and conditioners may be a good choice for your senior to nourish the coat and skin. A softer brush can be of help with a dog that has developed sensitive skin. Regular grooming will help you monitor changes in skin and coat. A shortened hairstyle is a popular option for seniors. images/senior-short clip

Internal issues: Internal problems are less obvious than physical changes but no less important. Heart and lung problems may occur with advancing age. If mild or moderate activity causes your Havanese to cough, wheeze, pant or become short of breath, these may be signs of heart or lung problems (worsened by excess weight). A pet that drinks/urinates more than usual or lapses in housebreaking may be showing signs of kidney diesase, diabetes or other problems. Dramatic weight loss or gain may warn that something is not right. A weakening immune system may lead to an increase in infections. Don't ignore subtle signs of change in your senior pet. Twice yearly check-ups help to monitor overall health and catch problems in early stages when they can best be treated or controlled.

Teeth and gums: Dental care throughout a dogs's life is very important, but perhaps even more so for a senior. Tooth and gum disease may become issues and mouth infections can spread throughout the body. Some tooth loss is quite common. Any signs of swelling, redness, discharge, foul breath, pain or loose teeth all require prompt attention.

Behavior changes: Older pets may be less tolerant of puppies, active younger dogs and rambunctious children. They may be a little grouchy, set on routine and less adaptable to change. Some withdraw and become disinterested in family and life. Others become confused or disoriented and show signs of senility. Many of the aging processes that affect humans also affect dogs. Medications and treatments are available for a variety of age related conditions. Extra TLC and understanding are the first steps to coping with behaviour changes.

Intolerance to heat/cold: As pets age, they become less tolerant to temperature extremes. They may not cool/warm their bodies as effectively as when they were younger. They may get chilled or overheated more easily and be noticeably affected both by cold and hot weather. A coat and boots are cold weather options while extra shade, cool resting places and plenty of water are essential during hot weather.

Reproduction: If your Havanese was not spayed/neutered, there may be increased risks of uterine infections, cysts and certain cancers in older females and prostate disease in males. There is no menopause in dogs. Females will continue to have heat cycles (which may still be fertile) to the end of their lives, though these may become less frequent. Older males continue to produce sperm and are still capable of siring litters. Take care to avoid inadvertent breedings with intact seniors; the risks are significant. Once a planned breeding career is finished, consult with your Veterinarian to discuss spay/neuter options for older pets.

Bones and Joints: Degeneration of joints, cartilage and connective tissue may occur. Arthritis and joint problems are common in older pets. Pain and discomfort may be contributors to behaviour changes such as sensitivity and grouchiness. Controlling pain will help your pet feel better and improve mobility, which will allow continuation of walks, playtime and enjoyment of a good quality of life. Be sure to keep your Havanese slender; obesity will make any joint problem worse. A warm, soft bed may provide comfort for an achy body while a stool, steps or ramp up to the bed or couch will ensure he can still get on/off his favourite lounging spots with ease.

Pets are beloved companions and an important part of our family and lives. Regular veterinary checkups, quality nutrition, ongoing grooming and gentle exercise, along with your love and care can help keep your senior Havanese healthy and happy for years to come. After all their years of love and devotion, they deserve no less than the best.

Note: This information should not be taken as medical research or a treatment recommendation. If you notice any sudden or unexplained changes, gradually worsening conditions or have any concerns about your senior dog, please see your veterinarian.

Suzanne McKay Email:mckay55@mts.net
Previously published in OUR HAVANESE August 2009