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Weight Loss in Older Dogs: When to Worry

As your dog reaches their senior years, you'll likely notice changes in their health and behavior. While some of these changes are normal, others may cause concern, such as sudden weight loss. Today, our Stockton vets discuss weight loss in older dogs and when you should be concerned. 

When Your Older Dog is Losing Weight

It's more common to see older dogs gain weight than lose weight. However, this isn't always the case. If your senior dog is losing weight gradually or suddenly, this can be cause for concern. In general, there are two potential primary causes of weight loss as your dog enters their golden years:

  1. Your dog is experiencing weight loss as a symptom of an underlying health condition. 
  2. Your dog needs a new diet at their age. 

Causes of Weight Loss in Older Dogs

While some dogs begin to lose weight and muscle mass as they get older (around 6-8 for larger dogs and 8-10 for smaller dogs), some will gain weight as they reach their senior years. 

This may also indicate that your elderly dog is having problems keeping up with their physical health on their own. 

Older dogs need more calories in the form of digestible protein to help them maintain muscle mass. 

That said, it's not uncommon for even healthy senior dogs to gradually lose weight as they age. There may be a few causes for this type of weight loss, including:

  • Reduced appetite 
  • Declining muscle mass 
  • Poor absorption or diestion of food 

Aas previously stated, sudden weight loss may be cause for concern as this can indicate a serious health condition in your older dog, despite the symptoms listed above naturally occurring. Gradual weight loss is less likely to be caused by a serious health issue. 

Changes in bodily functions or behavior can help your vet pinpoint a reason for your pooch's weight loss. Some general causes include:

  • Dental issues
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Dehydration 
  • Hip arthritis or lower back pain 
  • Liver or gallbladder disease 
  • Cancer 

If your older dog appears to be losing weight over time, contact us to schedule a physical exam.

If you've noticed more sudden weight loss, it's vital to bring your dog in to see your veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out potential illness or disease - especially if the weight loss is coupled with symptoms of conditions listed above. Your veterinarian can also create a diet plan to counteract weight loss in an old dog that's losing weight.

Why Your Dog May Lose Weight if They're Still Eating

If the aforementioned causes and symptoms haven't appeared in your dog, you may be confused as to why they're losing weight despite eating normally or having a normal appetite. Different reasons for this include:

  • Dietary Changes - Either the brand of food your senior dog is eating or its ingredients have changed (e.g. sometimes companies that sell kibble will change their recipe and the number of calories per serving)
  • Liver disease
  • Malabsorption disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseae
  • Maldigestion disorders that disrupt the body's ability to break down food into nutrients 
  • Diseases such as diabetes, which can cause loss of weight and muscle mass 

Causes for Concern

While you shouldn't assume the worst right away, most vets will advise you to schedule a thorough medical checkup if your dog has lost 10% or more of his or her normal body weight.

If your dog's weight loss has crossed this threshold within the past year or less, it's important to have your vet conduct a full physical exam. Your veterinarian should be aware of and monitor any:

  • Symptoms of stress or excessive pacing, panting, or whining
  • Constipation or a distended belly
  • Dry heaving, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Lethargy, depression, or confusion 
  • Changes in behavior or character 
  • Complete loss of appetite 

Diet for an Older Dog That Is Losing Weight

Remember that older dogs require a diet packed with calories so they won't need to consume as much or as frequently to reach their caloric requirements. 

Animals with normally functioning kidneys will need high-quality, easily digestible protein. While a dog's diet should contain moderate fat content, as they transition from early senior to geriatric, you should be adding high-quality fats to the mix to improve protein efficiency and increase calorie content.

Plus, picky eaters may be more inclined to eat high-caloric meals. Dense substances like fiber can be used to alleviate constipation issues for aging dogs and help them feel fuller while they consume fewer calories. That said, geriatric dogs will often need lower amounts of fiber, more easily digestible food, and higher density in calories. 

Look for premium dog food and ask your vet how much exercise is appropriate for your dog's specific needs. 

If your elderly dog is losing weight and muscle mass, your veterinarian may perform blood tests and a urinalysis to determine whether your dog has diabetes. Other diabetes symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, increased appetite, cloudy eyes, and chronic or recurring urinary infections. If your veterinarian confirms a diabetes diagnosis, treatment will include a special diet and insulin shots.

Importance of Routine Pet Care

Understanding your dog's current health status and new or ongoing medical conditions, as well as any changes to their behavior or physicality, will help inform your vet about potential causes for their weight loss or muscle mass decline.

It is beneficial to schedule routine exams with your veterinarian so that they can establish baselines for your pet's typical health and behavior. This can be useful if they aren't feeling well or if their health status changes as they get older.

Your vet can advise you about how often they recommend coming in for a checkup and may recommend increasing the frequency of visits as your dog ages. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed that your dog's weight has changed significantly? Contact our vets in Stockton today to book checkup for your senior dog.

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New Patients Welcome

Bear Creek Veterinary Hospital is welcoming new patients! Our compassionate vets are experienced in caring for Stockton companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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