Common Age-Related Diseases in Dogs

Just like humans, no two dogs are the same. As they age, they’ll be affected by a variety of different diseases and health problems. Here are some of the more common problems they may face as they grow older.

Arthritis & Joint Problems

Most dogs are affected by joint problems, whether it’s hardly noticeable or nearly debilitating. Arthritis happens when damage from everyday activity causes gradual joint degeneration. The pain and inflammation will result in reduced activity, mobility and flexibility. Supplements are available to support your dog’s joints, rebuilding lost cartilage and restoring some of their flexibility. Other things that can help your dog’s movement include daily exercise, warm and comfortable sleeping areas, ramps or elevated feeders.

Dental Disease

The most common problem in older dogs, more than 70% of dogs show signs of dental disease by the time they’re four years old. Good oral hygiene is a must for dogs. If plaque is not removed, it starts to form tartar, which leads to gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. Hard kibble and treats will create friction to remove plaque, and nylon or rawhide bones can also help. You should brush your dog’s teeth several times a week, and watch for warning signs of gum disease to prevent further problems.


Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in any area of the body, including skin, bone, blood cells, lymph nodes or other organs. This growth will either be malignant (aggressive and spreading) or benign (slow-moving and removable). You may notice abnormal swellings, sores that don’t heal, weight loss, changes in appetite and more. Treatment for cancer can be a difficult decision. It often depends on what options are available for the type of cancer, the prognosis and the dog’s quality of life, as well as the owner’s commitment and financial resources.

Kidney Disease

Problems with your dog’s kidneys may come as a result of changes from the kidney itself or other organs that affect kidney function. They are also a side effect of other diseases such as diabetes or cancer. You may notice increased water consumption and urination, lethargy, weight loss or more, but blood tests or urinalysis can identify kidney problems before any physical signs appear. Your dog’s diet or medications may need to change based on the kidneys’ ability to process foods and other products.

Eye Problems

Cataracts are one of the most common problems for older dogs. These occur when the fibers in the lens begin to break down, resulting in a loss of transparency and reduced vision. This gives the eye a white, foggy appearance, and it requires surgical removal of the lens. Dry Eye is when the eye does not produce enough tears. A thick, yellow discharge will start to accumulate, and infection can occur because the tears don’t properly cleanse the eye. Dry eye requires ophthalmic ointments or drops to replace the lost lubrication from tears.

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes happens when the production and function of insulin decreases. Insulin is necessary for cells to convert glucose into usable forms of energy. When this happens, your dog will have increased thirst and urination, as well as an increased appetite and weight loss or weight gain. Diabetes is also common in combination with a variety of other diseases, including hypothyroidism, pancreatitis or urinary tract infections, which may complicate the diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, diabetes cannot be cured, only managed with diet, exercise and insulin injection.

Heart Disease & Mitral Insufficiency

Over time, your dog’s heart may start to lose efficiency. Muscles will gradually give out as the heart is asked to pump more blood than it’s able to do. The most common heart problem is in the mitral valve, which can shrink and become deformed over time. Because it will not close completely, it starts to leak, and the blood will back up into the heart, even the lungs. This causes the slow process of cardiac failure, and the dog will tire easily and become weaker and weaker. Your veterinarian can prescribe medications to strengthen the heart muscles and reduce the effects of cardiac problems.

Cushing’s Disease & Hypothyroidism

As your dog ages, his glands may start to over or under produce hormones, causing diseases and other problems in their body. Hypothyroidism is when not enough thyroid hormones are produced, which affects the metabolic functions of every organ in their body. This is treatable with hormone replacement therapy, usually for the rest of the dog’s life. Hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing’s Disease, is the overproduction of glucocorticoid, another hormone that plays an important role in the function of many cells and organs. These are often caused by pituitary tumors and are treated with drug therapy, but they cannot be cured.

Gastrointestinal Disease

Dogs can suffer a variety of gastrointestinal diseases as they get older, including gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, stomach tumors and more. These often result in symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, constipation or weight loss. However, many of these symptoms are a result of other diseases as well, so your veterinarian will use blood tests, urinalysis and fecal exams to see what is causing the problem and determine appropriate treatment.

Liver Disease

The liver is important for a variety of body functions, including digestion, detoxification, the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats and many more. The liver is unique in the fact that it can regenerate itself when part is damaged or removed, but problems start to occur when it cannot keep up with its many tasks. This results in vomiting, weight loss and loss of appetite, behavior changes and yellow, pale gums (jaundice). Since these symptoms are also common in many other diseases, liver disease can be difficult to detect, and it may accompany other diseases as well. A combination of treatments and supportive care can keep liver diseases under control, whether it’s a cure or simply slowing its progression. Since the liver will have a lower ability to metabolize medications, your veterinarian will prescribe lower doses to help the liver function effectively.

As your dog ages, regular checkups become even more important in order to keep your dog healthy. Since dogs age so much faster than humans, diseases can pop up in just a number of months and progress beyond treatment. If you see any difference in your dog’s behavior or health, check with your veterinarian to make sure there aren’t any significant health problems. With careful monitoring, you can make sure your dog says healthy, even in his old age!

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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