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Weight Loss in Older Dogs: When to Worry

Weight Loss in Older Dogs: When to Worry

As canines mature, shifts in well-being occur organically. Observing weight loss in your senior dog might raise concerns. At Marina del Rey, our vets engage in a comprehensive exploration of weight loss among elderly dogs and offer guidance on nurturing your aging companion.

Why Your Old Dog May Be Losing Weight

If your senior canine is experiencing weight loss, the process might occur gradually, manifesting as subtle changes in their body that eventually catch your attention, or it could manifest as a sudden drop in weight. Irrespective of the speed at which your older dog is shedding pounds, it's crucial to ascertain the underlying reasons for this phenomenon.

Weight loss or a decline in muscle mass in dogs can often be an indicator of an underlying health issue, sometimes of a serious nature. Timely detection of health problems is paramount, as it plays a pivotal role in effectively managing diseases or ailments and ensuring your aging furry friend enjoys the best possible quality of life during their golden years.

Given that you interact with your beloved companion on a daily basis, you are in an excellent position to monitor even the most subtle changes, no matter how insignificant they might appear initially. It's essential to keep track of every small alteration, as these nuances might hold relevance when consulting your veterinarian. As your dog advances in age, it becomes especially important to remain vigilant for any noticeable shifts in weight or appetite.

This article aims to delve into several common causes of weight loss in dogs, provide insights into when such occurrences should raise concerns, explain how weight loss can happen even when a dog is consuming food, offer guidance on appropriate nutrition for older dogs experiencing weight loss, and outline strategies for helping your senior canine regain lost weight.

Causes of Weight Loss in Older Dogs

Certain canines experience weight gain as they transition into their senior years (typically around 6-8 years for larger breeds and 8-10 years for smaller breeds). However, a majority of them tend to undergo a decline in weight and muscle mass as they progress in age. This shift might coincide with other indications that your older furry companion is encountering challenges in autonomously sustaining their bodily condition.

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

It's not unusual for even healthy senior dogs to gradually lose weight as they age. There may be a few causes for this kind of weight loss, including:

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

As previously stated, sudden weight loss could point to a serious health condition in your older dog despite the above symptoms naturally occurring. Gradual weight loss is less likely to have been caused by a serious health issue.

Changes in other behaviors or bodily functions may help your vet pin down a reason for the weight loss. Some general reasons include:

  • Dehydration
  • Dental issues
  • Hip arthritis or lower back pain
  • Gallbladder or liver disease 
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease 
  • Cancer

If your senior dog appears to be losing weight over time, contact us to request a physical exam

If the weight loss is more sudden, especially coupled with the above symptoms, it's vital to see your veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out potential disease or illness. Your veterinarian can also develop a diet plan to feed an old dog that is losing weight to counteract the loss.

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

Should the earlier mentioned factors and signs not relate to your canine companion, you may find yourself pondering the reasons behind their weight loss even though they maintain a regular eating pattern and display an ordinary appetite. Diverse factors account for this phenomenon, such as:

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

Causes for Concern

While there's no need to assume the worst, most veterinarians will tell you that if your dog has lost 10% or more of his or her normal body weight, it's time to consider a thorough medical examination.

If your dog has lost this much weight within the past year or less, it's important that your vet conduct a full physical checkup. Your vet should know about and monitor for the following:

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

Diet for an Older Dog That Is Losing Weight

When caring for older canines, it's crucial to provide them with a calorie-rich diet. This approach ensures that they won't need to consume food as frequently or in large quantities to meet their caloric needs.

A diet rich in high-quality, easily digestible protein is essential for animals with normally functioning kidneys. While maintaining a moderate fat content in a dog's diet during the transition from early senior to geriatric stages is important, introducing top-notch fats can enhance protein utilization and boost overall calorie intake.

Moreover, dogs with selective appetites might find themselves drawn to meals that are high in calories. Introducing dense components like fiber can address constipation concerns among aging dogs while promoting a sense of fullness with fewer calories consumed. Nonetheless, geriatric dogs often require reduced fiber content, easily digestible nutrition, and greater calorie density.

When selecting dog food, opt for premium options and consult your veterinarian to determine the appropriate exercise regimen tailored to your dog's unique requirements.

Should you notice weight loss and muscle decline in your senior dog, it's prudent to have your vet perform blood tests and a urinalysis to evaluate the potential presence of diabetes. Additional signs of diabetes encompass excessive thirst and urination, heightened appetite, cloudy eyes, and recurring urinary infections. In the event of a confirmed diabetes diagnosis, treatment will encompass a specialized diet and insulin injections.

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's beneficial to regularly visit your veterinarian for routine exams so that they can establish benchmarks for your pet's typical health and behavior. This can be helpful when they aren't feeling well or if the status of their health changes as they age. 

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 significant weight changes in your dog? Contact our Marina del Rey vets today to book a wellness exam for your senior dog. 

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