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Looking After Your Senior Dog

image of senior dog with white hair

Your pet dog seems to have lost much of their friskiness and would rather spend time dozing off on the sofa than play fetch in the park. Your furry friend is probably starting to show the first signs of aging. If this is the case, are you familiar with what it takes to look after a senior canine?

How fast a canine ages depends on factors such as breed, genetics, or general lifestyle. However, all senior dogs are prone to developing several health issues and you should watch out for their early symptoms. At this stage of their life, it will be essential to keep a close eye on things such as their teeth, joints, and body weight.

This article will provide you with dos and don’ts when the general wellbeing of your senior canine is concerned. With proper care and enough attention, you will enjoy many more years of happiness with your loyal friend by your side.

When Is A Canine Considered a Senior?

How fast canines age will depend on several factors. So, at what point are you supposed to start considering your furry pal a senior? It usually varies from breed to breed, but it is possible to establish some general pattern [1]

If your pup belongs to one of the giant breeds, the senior age is likely to come much sooner. In the case of Great Danes, for example, it usually starts when they are 5 to 6 years old. Small breeds, however, seem to maintain their vitality for much longer. Hence, a small breed pooch, such as a Miniature Pinscher, will only be considered senior when they turn 10 or 11.

At the same time, medium and large breeds typically fall somewhere between the other two groups. This means a pup such as a Labrador Retriever reaches their senior age when they turn 8 or 9. 

In addition to breed and genetic factors, how soon your pet gets old also depends on how well you feed them, whether they are provided with proper medical care, exercise, and good living conditions overall.

senior golden retriever lying on the ground

Common Health Problems of Older Dogs

Old age in pups brings a number of health issues that an owner needs to recognize and address promptly. Not all dogs will develop each of those conditions, but, on the whole, their incidence among senior dogs is rather high. In this section, we look at the most common health conditions affecting senior canines.

Mobility Issues

When your pet pup reaches a certain age, you will probably notice that they do not move with ease any longer. This is one of the first signals that your best pal is becoming a senior. 

Long walks, as well as intense running and energetic play sessions, will no longer be your pet’s favorite. They will probably find it more difficult to go up and down the stairs, jump off sofas, or out of a car. Finding a comfy sleep position can also appear to be a bit of a challenge.


As a dog gets older, their joints are at a greater risk of developing a condition known as arthritis [2]. It is usually chronic, painful, and can hamper your pal’s quality of life to a great extent.

When suffering from arthritis, a pup’s joints become inflamed, as a result of cartilage loss or damage, resulting in bones rubbing against each other. If this happens, your pet will experience discomfort, pain, and difficulty moving.

A change in lifestyle including weight control, proper diet, and optimal workout, as well as adequate anti-inflammatory therapy, are effective in dealing with the symptoms of arthritis.

cleaning dog teeth image

Dental Issues

Teeth problems can give your aging pal a hard time, so your canine needs to get proper dental care at all times. Dental disease prevents your pet from eating normally, and can even result in the loss of teeth. Moreover, studies have shown that canines with healthy teeth live up to 2 years longer than average.

Plaque, tartar and gum infection are some of the frequently encountered problems in older dogs. If neglected, they can impact negatively on your pup’s overall health and even lead to heart and kidney diseases. Dental hygiene and proper care should be a routine when your dog is in question

Degenerative Diseases

When a dog gets old, one of the health issues they may encounter is the so-called degenerative disease, i.e., degenerative myelopathy. It is marked by the degeneration of the white matter in a pup’s spinal cord, typically in the chest zone. Though it is not painful, it progresses at a fast rate and can severely deteriorate the quality of your senior buddy’s life.

The symptoms of this condition include weakness of limbs, loss of coordination, wobbling, or dragging their feet. In the initial stages, it will be present in hind legs, progressing to affect the front ones within 6 months to one year. It results in a dog’s complete inability to walk.

dog using walkin wheels

Kidney Problems

Kidney failure is another sign that your tail-wagger is getting old. If they develop symptoms such as lethargy, appetite loss, diarrhea, blood in urine, constipation, weight loss, or increased thirst, there is probably something wrong with their kidneys. Kidney disease is often conditioned by hereditary factors, but it can also be related to other health problems such as dental disease.

Proper treatment is of vital importance when kidney problems of senior dogs are concerned. If not dealt with adequately and on time, they can present a life-threatening condition.

Liver Disease

Another vital organ susceptible to disease as your pet dog ages is their liver. Its role for the overall health of your canine is essential, so we should keep a close eye on the most common symptoms of this condition affecting a large number of senior dogs.

The earliest sign of the liver malfunction is jaundice – a dog’s gums, eyes, and ears turning yellowish, as a result of built-up bilirubin levels [3]. Disorientation, seizures, behavioral changes, vomiting, loss of appetite, excessive drinking, and urination are other indicators that the liver is not working properly.

Hearing and Vision Loss

Like aging humans, dogs can also start to lose their sense of hearing as they get older. If you notice that your furry friend does not hear well, it is time to take him to a vet for screening. 

The loss of hearing can be caused by ear channel inflammation or an excessive amount of discharge. These conditions are treatable, unlike the loss of hearing resulting from old age, which presents an irreversible process.

Old age in canines often brings impaired vision. Cataract and glaucoma are usually the reasons why senior dogs lose their eyesight. Hypertension and diabetes can lead to worsening of  eye-related issues. 

It will not take long before you notice that your dog is facing vision problems. This can make your pal more vulnerable, prone to getting injured, or even turning aggressive.

dog having ear problems

Heart Problems

One of the common problems an aging dog is likely to develop is some form of heart disease [4]. With age, your dog’s heart loses its ability to pump the blood as efficiently as it used to  before.

There are several instances of heart deterioration, with valve disease, and congestive heart failure being the most common.

Recognizing the symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing, vomiting, and reluctance to exercise at an early stage is essential for future treatment and your pal’s prospects.

Medication can be effective in increasing your furry friend’s chances of living a normal life. Similarly, a lack of adequate care can be fatal to your dog.

Behavioral and Cognitive Issues

All of a sudden, your pooch may start behaving oddly. It may include unprovoked barking, disorientation, or forgetting where their food is. Such behavior looks a lot like Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon among senior dogs. The condition is known as CCD, i.e., canine cognitive dysfunction [5].

It is rather hard to diagnose, as its symptoms overlap with several other health issues. Though it is not curable, proper nutrition, moderate physical activity, and regular mental stimulation can be effective in alleviating its symptoms.

Special Needs of Elderly Dogs

  • Temperature regulation can be a serious issue for older dogs, as their bodies are not so tolerant of extreme weather conditions. It is thus vital to keep them warm during winter, never leaving them outside for too long. Similarly, extremely high temperatures can result in dehydration, so avoid exposing your pal to such conditions as well.
  • The amount of exercise a senior canine gets should be moderate and tailored to their individual needs. It will help your buddy maintain healthy body weight. Remember that their heart and lungs are not the same as those of a young pup, so a workout that is too intense is not an option.
  • Diet can make a difference when the overall wellbeing of your aging pet is concerned. Check with your vet what type of nutrition would be most beneficial for your pooch. Make sure they do not gain excessive pounds, as it can be the source of several health-related problems.

Caring For Your Senior Dog

You’ve shared many memorable years with your furry buddy, but time is inevitably starting to take its toll, and senior age is about to bring new challenges. This is the stage of life when your old buddy needs more of your attention to help them sail through their old age as smoothly as possible. What special care does your senior pet dog require?


Maintain a Healthy Weight

Older dogs are susceptible to becoming obese more quickly than their more youthful counterparts.. Excessive weight can impact many aspects of your pet’s wellbeing negatively. In many cases, it triggers diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or serious conditions such as cancer.

Senior dogs are typically less mobile and active, which is why they put on extra pounds easily. Maintaining an optimal, healthy weight is one of the main tasks of a senior pup’s owner. Consultation with a vet will provide you with relevant guidelines regarding your pup’s diet.


Provide a Healthy and High Quality Diet

Designing an ideal nutrition plan for your old canine can be surprisingly challenging. Since there are no strict standards regarding what senior dogs should eat, the choice of an ideal food type can be tricky. An adequate choice of food that will ensure an optimal intake of necessary nutrients is of great significance. Your vet can give you useful tips on how to feed your pup at this stage of their life.

Your aging canine should be fed a varied, quality diet including a wide range of nutrients. It is suggested that the food rich in fiber, protein, and L-carnitine, as well as healthy Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, but lower in calories, is ideal for senior pooches.


Undergo a Body Condition Evaluation

To keep your pet as healthy as possible, it is advisable to evaluate their body condition regularly. You can ask your vet to perform this check every time you pay a visit to their office. Moreover, your vet can instruct you on how to perform this evaluation on your own.

By evaluating your senior canine’s body condition, you will get an insight into whether their body weight is ideal, or they are possibly overweight or too skinny. Monitoring their body condition is crucial, having in mind that more than half of all pets in the USA are overweight.

evaluating senior canine's body condition


Visit A Veterinarian Regularly

Even if your pet pooch appears to be perfectly healthy, it is wise to get them examined by a vet at least once a year. In the case of an existing medical condition, these visits should take place much more frequently.

Many diseases go unnoticed for a long time in senior canines. By visiting a vet regularly, you increase the chances of recognizing the symptoms of common senior dog diseases in their initial phase. This will mean better chances for dealing with a disease successfully.


Maintain a Good Dental Hygiene

Bad teeth and dental hygiene are frequently the sources of much more serious health issues. As humans, we look after our dental health and our pet dogs call for the same kind of attention. Dental hygiene in dogs should not be taken for granted, indeed.

Brushing your pup’s teeth may sound weird, but it is an effective way to protect them from plaque and tartar. To make it easier, you can make use of a wide choice of dental toys and treats. By chewing these regularly, your dog’s teeth stand much higher chances of staying healthy, plaque, and infection-free.



Exercise tailored to your pet’s individual needs is always beneficial. If your pup works out regularly, they are likely to stay fitter and maintain optimal body weight. Their joints will be in better condition, too.

Your vet will help you develop an exercise plan that will be neither too demanding nor too mild for your canine. For some pups, regular walks will be sufficient to keep them in good shape. Others, however, will be up for a more intense activity.

old black dog playing in the sand


Provide Toys

Senior dogs are typically less agile and energetic, so it is essential to find a way to keep them active rather than let them turn into couch potatoes. Specially designed toys can help keep your aging pet entertained and engaged in useful physical activity.

These toys are aimed at keeping your pup active and engaged, both physically and mentally. Some will make outdoor play sessions more stimulating, while others can make the time spent indoors more fun.

If you want to pick a toy for your best buddy, you may be surprised at the variety of options available. Frisbees, stuffed toys, chew toys, brain balls, and treat puzzles are only a few of such toys available in pet stores.


Invest in a Comfortable Bed and Dog Care Products

Old pups often move with difficulty. This is usually the result of skeletal and joint issues, chronic arthritis being the most common one. If your senior canine suffers the symptoms of this condition, it is probably hard for them to find an ideal sleeping position.

To make sure your furry pal sleeps comfortably, you should provide them with an adequate dog bed. Dogs with painful joints and mobility issues usually find soft surfaces the coziest, so the surface on which they sleep should be soft and plushy.

Walking on hard floors can cause discomfort in senior pups, so you should consider placing soft carpets and rugs around your home. To solve the problem related to stairs, think about installing a ramp.

dog laying down in his bed


End-Of-Life Care For Aging Canines

Some health conditions typical of old age in dogs often take a severe form. More than 50% of pooches older than 10 years are likely to be diagnosed with some form of cancer. When things get really bad, what is the best thing you can do to make it easier on our best buddy?

Attitudes are different among owners and veterinary experts when it comes to dealing with conditions such as cancer in aged pups. While some insist on aggressive chemos or invasive surgical treatments, others take into account the overall impact such procedures may have on their pets.

If therapies and surgeries promise a considerable extension and quality of life and are an affordable option, we can consider them to be justified. However, there are numerous cases in which such treatments only mean prolonging the suffering and bringing no actual relief to a sick pup.

Watching your old buddy suffer is devastating. Many owners are left with a tough choice, trying to decide what to do in such situations. No matter how horrifying it sounds, saying goodbye and letting your beloved friend go is sometimes a much more sensible and humane thing to do.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you recognize a senior dog's pain?

Is there a way for your aged pal to show you they are in pain? In most cases, your pet canine will put up with their pain in silence, so it is up to you to interpret even the subtlest signals that something is wrong. This is what you should watch out for.

Limping is almost a certain sign that a pup feels pain or discomfort in one of their limbs. Excessive licking of a particular area indicates the existence of a wound or internal pain, this often means your pal is trying to soothe the pain. If their eyes hurt, pups will most likely squint.

Reluctance to eat and loss of weight usually means that something is going on regarding your pal’s health. Fast and shallow panting may also be a sign of your pet suffering some pain. Abnormal whining is not to be ignored either.

Generally speaking, if suffering the intense pain over a long time, your friendly buddy can even change their behavior and in some cases, even become aggressive.

Can aging dogs suffer from dementia?

We all hate to think about problems typically associated with old age. Canine dementia [6], a condition similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, is certainly one of those infamous health issues. However, even if your senior pal is unlucky enough to develop it, it is essential to accept it and take the best care possible of your loyal old friend.

There are several signals you should be able to recognize, that may indicate the existence of dementia. If your pup appears to be disoriented and wanders aimlessly around  forgetting their way back home, it is something that should keep you alert. Out of character interactions and responses to their environment, uncontrolled peeing, excessive sleeping, or lethargy can also mean the onset of  dementia.

What are the signs of aging in dogs?

How can you be sure your furry pal is entering the senior stage of their life? Although no dog ages in absolutely the same way, some common signals are present in the vast majority of cases.

The first sign of aging is related to your buddy’s health, i.e., the incidence of diseases typical of old age in canines. These typically include joint problems and cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Many senior canines get less energetic and show less enthusiasm for workout and play. 

Limited mobility is another characteristic of old age. Problems with teeth and gums are quite common and are often accompanied by the loss of hearing and eyesight. Changes in senior dogs’ weight are often present, and usually mean putting on a few extra pounds.

Finally, uncontrolled urination can become more frequent, and you should never reproach your pet for these mishaps.


The idea of getting old and helpless is intimidating to most of us. We probably feel the same when our pets are concerned. However, we should all keep in mind that having a senior pet by our side means it is time to provide them with special care, lots of love and attention.

Senior dogs are equally loving and loyal. Yet, they can become rather vulnerable, and depend on us more than ever before. 

Every responsible owner will do their best to take proper care of their old canine buddy. After all, looking after a senior dog is the way to pay them back for all the years of devotion, loyalty, and unconditional love we experienced having them by our side.


• [1] How to calculate your dog’s real age – BBC Future

• [2] Arthritis in Dogs – Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network

• [3] Liver Disease in Dogs – Fetch by WebMD

• [4] Dogs and Heart Disease: An Overview – Pet Health Network

• [5] Behavior Counseling – Senior Pet Cognitive Dysfunction – Debra Horwitz & Gary Landsberg, VCA Hospitals

• [6] Dementia in Dogs: 5 Signs To Look Out For – South Boston Animal Hospital