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Senior Pet Care

Senior Dog Care

Due to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, dogs are living longer now than they ever have before. One consequence of this is that dogs, along with their owners and veterinarians, are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. In recent years there has been extensive research on the problems facing older dogs and how their owners and veterinarians can best handle their special needs.

When does a dog become "old"?

It varies, but cats and small dogs are generally considered geriatric at the age of 7. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter lifespans and are considered geriatric when they are approximately 6 years of age. Owners tend to want to think of their pet’s age in human terms. While it is not as simple as “1 human year = X cat/dog years”, there are calculations that can help put a pet’s age in human terms:

Dog Years to Human Years: 

  • 7 = 44-47 (Small/Medium) 50-56 (Large/Very Large)
  • 10 = 56-60 (Small/Medium) 66-78 (Large/Very Large)
  • 15 = 76-83 (Small/Medium) 93-115 (Large/Very Large)
  • 20 = 96-105 (Small/Medium) 120 (Large/Very Large)

What kinds of health problems can affect older dogs?

Geriatric dogs can develop many of the same problems seen in older people, such as:

  1. cancer
  2. heart disease
  3. kidney/urinary tract disease
  4. liver disease
  5. diabetes
  6. joint or bone disease
  7. senility
  8. weakness

I know my dog is getting older. How do I help them stay happy and healthy for as long as possible?

Talk to us about how to care for your older dog and be prepared for possible age-related health issues. Senior dogs require increased attention, including more frequent visits to the veterinarian, possible changes in diet, and in some cases alterations to their home environment. Here are some basic considerations when caring for older dogs:

Increased veterinary care: Geriatric dogs should have semi-annual veterinary visits instead of annual visits so signs of illness or other problems can be detected early and treated. Senior pet exams are similar to those for younger dogs, but are more in depth, and may include dental care, possible blood work, and specific checks for physical signs of diseases that are more likely in older dogs.

Diet and nutrition: Geriatric dogs often need foods that are more readily digested, and have different calorie levels and ingredients and anti-aging nutrients.

Weight control: Weight gain in geriatric dogs increases the risk of health problems, whereas weight loss is a bigger concern for geriatric cats.

Parasite control: Older dogs’ immune systems are not as healthy as those of younger animals; as a result, they can’t fight off diseases or heal as fast as younger dogs.

Maintaining mobility: As with older people, keeping older dogs mobile through appropriate exercise helps keep them healthier and more mobile.

Vaccination: Your dog’s vaccination needs may change with age. Talk to your veterinarian about a vaccination program for your geriatric dog.

Mental health: Dogss can show signs of senility. Stimulating them through interactions can help keep them mentally active. If any changes in your dog’s behavior are noticed, please consult your veterinarian.

Environmental considerations: Older dogs may need changes in their lifestyle, such as sleeping areas to avoid stairs, more time indoors, etc. Disabled dogs have special needs which can be discussed with your veterinarian.

Reproductive diseases: Non-neutered/non-spayed geriatric dogs are at higher risk of mammary, testicular, and prostate cancers.

My older dog is exhibiting changes in behavior. What's going on?

Before any medical signs become apparent, behavioral changes can serve as important indicators that something is changing in an older dog, which may be due to medical or other reasons. As your dog’s owner, you serve a critical role in detecting early signs of disease because you interact and care for your dog on a daily basis and are familiar with your dog’s behavior and routines. If your dog is showing any change in behavior or other warning signs of disease, contact us to provide a list of the changes you have observed in your dog. Sometimes, the changes may seem contradictory – such as an older dog that has symptoms of hearing loss but also seems more sensitive to strange sounds.

Is my dog becoming senile?

Possibly. Once any underlying or other disease causes have been ruled out, there is a chance your dog may be experiencing cognitive dysfunction. Studies conducted in the early 1990s were the first to identify brain changes in older dogs that were similar to brain changes seen in humans with Alzheimer’s disease. Laboratory tests were also developed in the 1990s to detect learning and memory deficits in older dogs. Recently these studies have started on younger dogs in order to fully understand the effect of aging on the canine brain. Similar studies in young and older cats are also ongoing.

While researchers are still not able to identify any genetic cause of why certain animals develop cognitive dysfunction, there are drugs and specific diets available that can help manage cognitive dysfunction in dogs. If you think your dog is becoming senile, discuss it with us.

What are the common signs of disease in an older dog?

The signs you might see will vary with the disease or problem affecting your dog, and some signs can be seen with more than one problem. As the dog’s owner, you can provide your veterinarian with valuable information that can help them determine what is going on with your dog.

How common is cancer in older dogs?

In dogs, the rate of cancer increases with age. Cancer is responsible for approximately half the deaths of pets over 10 years of age. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans, while cats tend to have lower rates of cancer. Some cancers, such as breast or testicular cancer, are largely preventable by spaying and neutering. A diagnosis of cancer may be based on x-rays, blood tests, the physical appearance of tumors, and other physical signs. The ultimate test for cancer is through confirmation via a biopsy.

Top 10 Common Signs of Cancer in Dogs:

  • Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
  • Offensive mouth odor
  • Difficulty eating/swallowing
  • Hesitation to exercise/loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness/stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating

My dog seems to be in pain, and isn't as active as they should be. What should I do?

First, talk to your veterinarian and have them examine your dog. Your dog might have arthritis. Older pets, especially large dogs, are vulnerable to arthritis and other joint diseases, and the signs you see can vary. This chart provides the basic signs you might see if your pet has arthritis; you might see one or more of these signs in your dog.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

  • Favoring a limb
  • Difficulty sitting or standing
  • Sleeping more
  • Seeming to have stiff or sore joints
  • Hesitancy to jump, run or climb stairs
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased activity or interest in play
  • Attitude or behavior changes (including increased irritability)
  • Being less alert

Signs of arthritis often are similar to signs of normal aging, so if your dog seems to have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, the best thing to do is to have your veterinarian examine them, and then advise you as to what treatment plan would be best to help your dog deal with the pain. Arthritis treatments for dogs are similar to those for humans, and may include:

  • Healthy diet and exercise to help maintain proper weight.
  • Working with your veterinarian to find a drug treatment that helps relieve the pain.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): the most common treatment for arthritis in dogs. These drugs are similar to ibuprofen, aspirin, and other human pain relievers.
  • Over-the-counter pet treatments, such as pills or food containing either glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate or Omega fatty acids. Both have shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis in dogs.
  • Over-the-counter pet treatments, such as pills or food containing either glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate or Omega fatty acids. Both have shown to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis in dogs.
  • A veterinarian-prescribed NSAID and an over-the-counter treatment that together may help decrease pain and disease progression.
  • Diets with special supplements may also help decrease the discomfort and increase the joint mobility

Do not give human pain medications to your dog without first consulting us. Some human products, including over-the-counter medications, can be fatal for dogs.

When should we euthanize a dog? How will we know it's the right time?

This can be an incredibly difficult question for both the owner and the veterinarian and is often a very tough decision to make. Sometimes, euthanasia is obviously the best thing to do for your dog. At other times, however, it can be less clear. An open discussion with us, including an honest evaluation of your dog’s quality of life, should help you make the decision.

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