What to Expect with an Older Dog

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PetMD Editorial
Published: August 29, 2013

Common Signs Seen in Senior Dogs

All dogs get older. And like us, dogs age at distinctive rates, especially dogs of different breeds and size. For example, giant breed dogs like Great Danes are generally considered to be a senior by roughly 5-6 years old, whereas a smaller breed dog like a Chihuahua would probably only enter the senior stage between 10-11 years. Pay close attention to following signs and issues associated with aging, and visit your veterinarian regularly (many vets recommend twice a year for senior dogs) so that these issues do not become an insurmountable problem as your beloved dog enters his senior years.


Portions adapted from Tips for Caring for Senior Dogs and 5 Tips to Keep Your Senior Dog Healthy by Lorie Huston, DVM


1. Vision Loss and other Eye Problems

Has your dog begun bumping into things, falling uncontrollably or displayed signs of eye discomfort (eye redness, cloudiness, etc.)? He may be suffering from vision loss or an eye disorder. Deteriorating eyesight is part of the normal aging process for dogs. There are, however, certain things you can do to help your dog adjust. Ask your veterinarian for tips on handling dogs with vision loss and to rule out treatable eye diseases such as cataracts, dry eye syndrome, or conjunctivitis.


Image: Annette Shaff / Shutterstock

2. Increased/Strained Urination

Increased urination or strained urination may be an indicator of kidney disease or urinary tract infection, both of which are more commonly seen in middle-aged to older dogs. Fortunately, urinary incontinence and strained urination can often be alleviated with medication or dietary changes. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect a problem.


Image: MCarper / Shutterstock

3. Bad Breath, Bloody Gums and other Oral Problems

If you haven’t been diligent on brushing your dog’s teeth or bringing him into the vet’s office for a professional cleaning regularly, he’s probably beginning to display the signs of oral diseases (bad breath, excessive drooling, gum inflammation, and loose teeth). Dental hygiene, after all, is primarily about good maintenance. However, it’s not too late to start. Take your dog to a veterinarian and discuss how you can resolve the issues and prevent them from occurring in the future. It’s all worth it for a pearly white smile and fresh doggy kisses.



4. Lumps, Bumps and other Skin Problems

Your dog may encounter skin and coat issues at any age, but he is more susceptible to them as he gets older. This may exhibit itself as rashes, lesions, swelling, lumps, dry skin or hair loss in dogs. Fortunately, there are often things your veterinarian can do to help alleviate the symptoms (such as make dietary changes) or even cure the underlying cause of the issue.



5. Gaining/Losing Weight

Some older dogs have difficulty maintaining their weight and may need a diet with a higher calorie content or better palatability, while other dogs tend to gain weight and may need a diet for less active dogs. Neither being overweight or underweight is ideal for your dog. Overweight and obese dogs, for instance, have a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, even cancer. Discuss with your veterinarian when it would be appropriate for your dog to switch from an adult to senior diet, and ask him or her about the benefits of therapeutic diets, which can provide key benefits to help manage conditions commonly associated with aging dogs. In addition, devise an age-appropriate exercise routine with your vet. A proper diet and exercise plan can be important in delaying the signs of aging and increasing your dog’s longevity.



6. Difficulty Moving

It may be hard for you to see your once active dog having difficulty getting around the house or playing fetch like before, but joint issues such as arthritis and hip dysplasia are common in older dogs. Discuss with your veterinarian if dietary changes (such as the addition of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) as well as ramps and orthopedic beds can help your dog get around easier.

Image: Ken Drori / Shutterstock

7. Behavior and Memory Problems

Changes in your dog’s behavior may be a normal part of aging or a symptom of a disease like dog dementia (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome). Therefore, it’s best that you consult your veterinarian should he exhibit signs of confusion, disorientation, memory loss, irritability, unusual pacing, or other personality changes.

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