Did you know that a dog is considered a senior once he is in the last 30 percent of his expected life span? As he approaches the last quarter of his life, he is considered geriatric. And just like humans, there’s a variety of bodily changes he will encounter. Regular veterinary checkups with blood work and X-rays are important to monitor these changes and make sure your senior dog is comfortable throughout his life.
What Can I Expect As My Dog Gets Older?
Normal signs of aging in dogs include slight cloudiness of the eyes, hearing loss, and moving a little slower. Signs that your dog is getting old that should not be assumed as normal dog aging are unexplained weight loss, an increase in water consumption and urination, lameness, forgetfulness and other changes in their daily routine. If you notice these things, take your elderly dog to see your veterinarian for further evaluation.
How to Care For a Senior Dog
Senior Dog Diet
One of the most significant changes a senior dog will experience is his metabolism, which will decrease by about 20%. If his calorie intake doesn’t reflect this change, the risk of obesity increases. Weight management is the most important thing you can do to help your dog in his old age, as it benefits overall health, joint pain management and more. Other health problems may require additional changes in your dog’s diet and nutritional needs.
Old Dog Skin Problems
Your dog’s hair coat will gradually become thinner, duller and gray in color, especially around the face and muzzle. His skin will also become thinner and more susceptible to injury. Fatty acid supplements can help restore some of the quality and shine of a healthy coat. Your senior dog may also need to be groomed more often in order to prevent tangles and mats. With extra one-on-one attention, you can also keep track of any new injuries, abnormal growths or pain your dog may have. Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed to an appropriate length will help reduce arthritis in the feet and improve traction on all surfaces.
How to Help An Old Dog With Arthritis?
Over time, your dog’s regular activity and movement will cause gradual degeneration in his joints and cartilage. This results in pain and inflammation in the joints, making it difficult for your dog to move as freely as he used to. There are a variety of things you can do for a dog with arthritis to make his life easier. Dog joint supplements such as Doc Roy’s Aches Away Plus have ingredients that will help replenish lost cartilage and synovial fluids. Weight management, elevated feeders and ramps will reduce the stress on his aching joints. Heated or orthopedic beds can warm up stiff joints or give him the support he needs as he sleeps. For dogs with arthritis and normal liver and kidney function based on blood work, your veterinarian can add a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as carprofen (Rimadyl®) to improve mobility with decreased pain.
Senior Dog Dental Care
Dental disease in dogs is the most common problem in older dogs. Over 70 percent of dogs have signs of gum disease by the time they’re age four. This makes good oral hygiene extremely important in your dog’s younger years, and especially as they get older. Plaque will start to form tartar if it is not removed, leading to gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. Regular dog dental care includes dog tooth brushing, dental rinses, hard chews and treats for friction against plaque and regular dental checkups with dental cleanings with your veterinarian.
Senior Dog Constipation
As your dog’s gastrointestinal tract gets older, the movement of food through the digestive tract may slow down, causing canine constipation. If your dog has pain while trying to defecate, constipation is also a common result. Some old dogs struggle to posture to urinate and dedicate if they have arthritis so managing joint pain may reduce constipation. However, dog constipation is also a sign of many other diseases, so check with your veterinarian if your dog has problems. Common solutions of constipation in elderly dogs include enemas or laxatives.
Old Dog Heart Murmur
Your dog’s heart may start to lose efficiency over time as the muscles gradually weaken. The heart won’t be able to keep up with the amount of blood it needs to pump, starting the slow process of cardiac failure. This is a particular problem in small breeds of dogs. Your elderly dog will tire easily and start to become weaker and weaker. If your veterinarian hears a heart murmur, chest X-rays are indicated. Your veterinarian will prescribe medications that strengthen the heart muscles, reducing the long-term effects of cardiac problems. Dogs with heart murmurs used to survive an average of six months following diagnosis. Now, with improved medications, dogs with similar conditions may live years with proper management.
Kidney Disease in Older Dogs
Kidney problems in dogs can result for a variety of reasons, whether it’s a result of changes from the kidney itself, changes in other organs that affect kidney function, or a side effect from another disease. Blood tests and urinalysis are the most reliable way to determine if your pet has kidney disease. Depending on their ability to process foods and other products, your dog’s diet or medication may need to change. Additionally, blood pressure medications may be indicated.
Do Dogs Bladders Get Weaker as They Get Older?
Incontinence in senior dogs is simply an uncontrollable leaking of urine from the bladder, which happens when the bladder muscles start to lose their strength. Hormone replacement can help replenish the hormones that affect bladder muscle strength. However, a loss of housetraining with frequent accidents may indicate a more serious problem, so see your veterinarian if your dog has any problems with urinary function.
Senior Dog Behavior
As they age, some dogs lose their ability to deal with stress, which can cause a variety of behavior changes, such as separation anxiety, noise phobias, aggression and more. Combined with the animal’s increasing pain and decreasing ability to avoid the things that irritate or scare them, older dog behavior changes may become more and more prominent. Cognitive dysfunction happens when nerve cells start to die and there is malfunction in nerve communication, similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. This can also cause a variety of behavior changes, including confusion, restlessness, decreased attentiveness and activity levels and not recognizing family and friends. Diet changes and medications may help manage the changes you are noticing.
Do Older Dogs Get More Tired Than Usual
A decrease in your dog’s energy levels may simply be a result of normal aging, but it can also be one of the first signs of disease, as the body struggles to fight viruses and infection. One reason for sluggishness is anemia. This occurs when the body does not have enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. As a result, the animal will be weak and tired because the body is not getting enough oxygen to perform its daily tasks. If your dog’s lack of energy is a sudden change or continues for an extended period of time, talk to your veterinarian about the possible reasons.
Hearing and Vision Loss in Senior Dogs
Hearing loss in older dogs often goes unnoticed in dogs until it becomes severe. You may notice your dog isn’t obeying commands as often because he can’t hear you, or he may suddenly become aggressive when he’s startled by your approach. Dogs with hearing loss are still sensitive to vibration, so clapping your hands, flashing a light or stomping while you’re trying to get his attention may be helpful. Vision loss is also common, whether in the form of nuclear sclerosis, cataracts, glaucoma or more. However, if vision loss is sudden, you should consult your veterinarian.
Older Dog Temperature Regulation
The older your dog gets, the harder it is for him to regulate his body temperature in response to the environmental changes. As a result, you’ll need to make extra efforts to keep him cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Limit his time outdoors when temperatures are extreme, and make sure he has ways to cool down or warm up. Easily accessible water and heated or cooling beds are all effective for helping your dog regulate his body temperature.
Your dog may be getting older and dealing with a few more problems, but he’s still the same dog. It’s important to keep him as comfortable as possible in his last years, adjusting your habits and schedules as needed. In response, your dog will reward you with a lifetime of his love and trust.
If you have more questions on how to care for a senior dog or what to expect as dogs gets older, call us at 800.786.4751.
Last reviewed by Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Arthritis in Dogs and Cats
Arthritis in dogs and cats is very common. Pet arthritis treatment and management can be an effective way to control your pet's joint pain.
Vet Minute: How to Help Dogs with Bad Hips, Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis
There are many options for dog pain relief. Dr. Greer discusses how to help with dog arthritis, dog hip pain and provide joint pain relief for dogs.
Kidney Disease in Dogs and Cats
What are the signs of kidney problems in dogs? Learn kidney disease symptoms in cats and dogs and how to test for kidney disease in dogs and cats. Discover types of kidney diseases in dogs and cats.
Vet Minute: Dog Is Incontinent
Why is my dog leaking pee? Dr. Marty Greer discusses care if your dog is incontinent, leaking urine, may have spay incontinence or a canine urinary tract infection causing bladder control problems.
Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.