Ask Dr Iain-Geriactric Griffons

Geriatric Griffons


With every passing year when your Griffon has their health check with their vet, the chances of some problem associated with aging being detected obviously increases, just like us!


EYES;    Your vet will check for evidence of cataracts which shouldn’t be confused with the normal blue tinge colour that the lenses of all dogs will develop as they get older which is normal lens degeneration and is usually of no concern. The cost of cataract removal and replacement with a synthetic lens is much more affordable nowdays.


DENTAL;    We’ll check their teeth for evidence of dental disease such as tartar and the gum inflammation and infection (gingivitis). Eventually the bacteria causing tartar and gingivitis can reach the roots of the teeth and cause tooth root abscesses or more commonly just simply loosening and loss of the teeth. This is why it is important not to feed exclusively canned, loaf or other soft foods which don’t act to clean the teeth but instead leave food residue on the teeth which encourages bacterial growth and formation of tartar and dental infections. Dry food, especially oral care varieties and some raw bones and/or dental treats are needed for good dental health. Bones should always be raw (dogs can’t digest cooked bones!) and chicken necks or portions of a lamb neck are ideal for Griffon sized dogs. Sometimes your vet may recommend daily application of a dental gel (e.g. Maxiguard) and even brushing the teeth a couple of times weekly, especially if your dog lacks enough remaining teeth to properly chew bones and treats. Don’t ever use ‘people’ tooth pastes, it usually results in a rodeo as dogs hate frothy, minty toothpastes and you can eventually cause fluoride toxicity because dogs won’t generally rinse and spit after brushing but instead swallow most of the toothpaste! Instead we recommend meat flavoured and low fluoride ‘pet’ tooth pastes.


HEART;    When a Griffon reaches eight or more years of age, we start to expect hearing the development of a heart murmur. The most common cause in all dogs is simply age related scarring and degeneration of the valves inside the heart, usually those that sit between the left atrium and ventricle (mitral endocardiosis). Especially if your Griffon has started having the occasional cough, sounding much as if they are trying to retch up a fur ball or as if they have a mild case of kennel cough, then your vet may discuss taking some X-rays to answer questions such as, how enlarged the heart may be, how congested the lungs are and whether there is evidence of the other common cause of coughing in older small dogs, chronic obstructive bronchial disease. Blood and urine tests can help determine if there is any renal or liver disease present that can influence what medication might be prescribed. Sometimes, especially if there is no coughing or minimal lung congestion either heard on auscultation or seen on the X-ray, we may just monitor the situation. Your vet may ask you to measure at home your dog’s respiration rate when they are sleeping. A resting respiratory rate of 30 or more breaths a minute is a good indicator that further cardiac and respiratory investigation and treatment is needed. However, many dogs can have a heart murmur for years before any medication is necessary.



DEGENERATIVE JOINT DISEASE (DJD);    Griffons develop arthritis due to wear and tear on aging joints just as much as the larger breeds but like all smaller dogs can sometimes not display symptoms of pain and disability as early or acutely as the larger breeds. Commonly those Griffons with long standing patella luxation or hip dysplasia will develop more severe arthritis in their stifles (knee) and hip joints especially if they are overweight. Weight reduction diets can profoundly help those obese dogs with DJD. I certainly recommend the early use of a daily chondroprotective supplement for any Griffon once they reach middle age, say 6 years or older, or sooner if they do have luxating patellas or have suffered an orthopaedic injury such as a ruptured cruciate ligament or are overweight.


Chondroprotectives help reduce production inflammatory enzymes and factors in the joint, preserve and even repair the joint cartilage surfaces and help production of synovial joint fluid. Commonly known examples are glucosamine and chondroitin which are found in many human preparations. There are several over the counter veterinary preparations for dogs, such as Sashas Blend and Joint Guard. These are added daily to the pet’s food and do take several weeks before showing improvement in an arthritic dogs demeanour and mobility. Sashas Blend is derived from abalone, green lipped mussel and marine cartilage which are natural sources of glucosamine, chondroitin and other glycoaminoglycans. It does have a strong marine odour and taste which an occasional dog won’t tolerate. Joint guard is relatively tasteless and odourless in comparison.


Another popular form of chondroprotective therapy is by injection of products such as Cartrophen and Pentosan (pentosan polysulfate sodium). These are given as a weekly subcutaneous injection by your vet, for four consecutive weeks. After that, the course is repeated every 3 to 12 months depending on the dog’s response or some vets will give a single maintenance injection every few months. These injections can be used concurrently with oral chondroprotectives. Many vets will dispense these injections so that they can be administered at home.


Anti-inflammatory medication for additional pain relief can be required by some dogs with more severe or advanced DJD.  It’s important that you have your vet prescribe this medication as many human NSAID’s (non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs) are very toxic to dogs and cats. I’ve known of more than one pharmacist who has recommended nurofen with fatal consequences for the dog concerned. When I graduated over twenty-five years ago, the two commonly used NSAID’s were buffered aspirin and phenylbutazone! Nowadays we have drugs such as Rimadyl (carprofen), Metacam (meloxicam) and Onsior (robenacoxib) which give many times more potent pain and anti-inflammatory relief but are far safer for long term use. We usually recommend routine blood tests when prescribing these medications as dogs with early renal or liver damage are more susceptible to side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding. Sometimes in dogs that can’t tolerate NSAID’s we might recommend pain relief medications such as tramadol.


LABORATORY TESTING;    In addition to testing before prescribing NSAID’s, routine blood and urine testing is a good idea with older dogs, especially if they have symptoms such as coughing, or drinking excessively, or weight loss or gain. Many diseases in the early stages may only be detected by blood and urine testing and it is obviously better to institute treatment for things like renal disease, thyroid disease, diabetes and Cushing disease earlier rather than later. Your vet may also recommend testing prior to any surgery if they detect a lump or similarly prior to doing dental work or X-rays or scans and other procedures that might require a general anaesthetic.


Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD);    Is the canine equivalent of senility or dementia where affected older dogs can lose their memory and become confused. Typically they forget their toilet training, are easily disorientated, possibly act dazed and become withdrawn. Sometimes it’s hard to assess how much these symptoms are due to CCD or due to arthritis or deafness or blindness.


There is no cure but sometimes supplements or diets that contain antioxidants and omega-3-fatty acids can slow progression of the disease. Years ago my Pug, Emily, suffered from CCD and responded for several months to a diet change to Hills b/d, which is formulated for dogs with CCD.


A veterinary drug that improves blood flow to the brain without increasing its requirement for glucose is Vivitonon (Propentofylline). It is administered once daily and certainly helps many dogs with CCD. Dogs with CCD do have a depletion of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in their brain. It might be for this reason that another once daily tablet medication, Anipryl  (selegiline, L-deprenyl), which prolongs dopamine activity can help some dogs with CCD.



Iain Mitchell B.V.Sc(Hons), M.A.C.V.Sc.











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