Senior Dog Care
As your dog ages he will need
special care and special attention. Caring for your older dog will
require more involvement with your vet. You will need to have
increased patience and understanding for your older dog. You will
need to become more aware of what is normal for your dog and
notice when something changes. For example:
Increased or decreased
food or water consumption
Change in urination or
defecation - including frequency, amount, color, smell, or
Change in coat or skin
Decreased energy, lack of
desire to exercise or decreased tolerance to exercise
Weight gain or loss
Signs of pain
Lumps or bumps, notice if
they change in shape, size, color, or are new to appear
Sores that are slow to
Bumping into things
Change in sleeping pattern
Changes in respiration -
including coughing, panting, or sneezing
Change in the color of the
gums, loose or missing teeth
As your dog ages you will
notice some changes in his behavior. These could include:
Separation anxiety - this
is one of the more common behavioral changes seen in an older
dog. He will become more anxious when he senses that you are
about to leave. When you do leave, your dog may become more
destructive, bark or howl more frequently, or urinate or
defecate inappropriately. He may also become overly excited
when you return home.
Aggression - Older dogs,
even the most gentle and friendly, can become aggressive for
various reasons. It can be the result of pain, medical
problems, vision or hearing loss, lack of mobility, fear, or
stress. If your dog seems to be more aggressive you should
consult with your vet to determine what may be causing him to
act in this way. Your vet can help you determine how to help
you avoid the reason why your dog is aggressive.
Inappropriate urinating or
defecating - your dog may have been housetrained his whole
life and is starting to have accidents. There can be numerous
reasons for this. You should consult with your vet to help
determine the cause. It may be a medical problem, for example,
diabetes, infections, bladder stones, or kidney problems. Your
dog could be in pain, making it difficult for him to stand up,
walk, or go outside. It is important to note when the problem
started, amount, color, frequency, when the accidents happen,
and the dog's posture when eliminating.
Increased sensitization to
noises - your dog may become more sensitive to noises that may
not have ever even bothered him before. It is important to
determine what noise is causing him fear or stress. Treatment
of noise phobias can include medication or desensitization to
Increased barking - this
can occur because of separation anxiety, to get more
attention, pain, or because of canine cognitive dysfunction
(CCD). You should consult with your vet to determine
restlessness - some older dogs will become restless at night,
stay awake, or pace throughout the house. There may be several
reasons for this. He may have a medical problem, be in pain,
developing CCD, or need to go outside more frequently. Consult
with your vet to determine appropriate treatment.
Cognitive dysfunction -
according to Pfizer pharmaceutical, 62% of dogs age 10 and
older will experience at least some of the following symptoms
disorientation - the dog may get lost in familiar
places or get stuck in corners or behind furniture
sleeplessness at night or change in sleeping
housetraining abilities - a previously
housetrained dog will start having accidents
attentiveness or staring into space
recognizing family or friends
If your dog is
diagnosed with CCD, there is a drug available to help
alleviate some of the symptoms, although it is not a
cure. The drug is L-Deprenyl, brand name Anipryl. If
your dog is responding to treatment he will need to be
on Anipryl for the remainder of his life. There are
some side effects to this drug and it should not be
taken with certain diseases or medicines.
Many of the behavioral changes
that are occurring in your aging dog can be explained and treated,
although there may not be a cure for the problem, generally, many
of the symptoms can be alleviated.
Aside from behavioral changes,
we can also expect certain physical changes to occur in the older
dog. These changes can include:
Change in metabolism - in
older dogs the calories needed for maintenance decreases by
approximately 20%. Because of this the nutritional needs will
decrease. You will need to feed your older dogs less food. You
may want to consider switching to a food specifically
formulated for older dogs. These foods will contain less
calories and fat and more fiber. If you decide to switch to a
different food remember to do it slowly. You may not need to
switch foods, you may decide to stick with the same food that
you have been using for years. This is fine, however, you will
need to feed him less.
Skin and coat changes -
your dog may start to grow gray hair around his eyes and
muzzle. You may also notice that his coat becomes lighter,
thinner, or duller. Dry skin may also become a problem. The
skin may become thinner and less elastic, thereby causing more
injuries to the skin. Older dogs may need to be groomed more
Calluses - it is common
for older, larger breeds to develop calluses on their elbows.
Providing a bed can help prevent calluses. You may also want
to try to rub a small amount of lotion on the calluses.
Decreased mobility - arthritis
is a very common problem in dogs. As they age the likely hood
of developing arthritis increases. Hip dysplasia would also
cause a decrease in mobility. Dogs may have difficulty going
up and down stairs, jumping in the car, or walking.
Dental problems - studies
show that by age three, 80% of dogs exhibit some form of
dental disease. To help keep dental problems to a minimum, a
regular dental routine should be incorporated. Dogs who do not
receive regular dental care can develop severe, life
Constipation - as your dog
ages, the food that he eats moves through his digestive tract
slower. Constipation can be a sign of a serious problem. You
should have your dog examined by his vet. Your vet may
prescribe a laxative or more fiber in your dog's diet. It is
important that a dog with constipation have plenty of water to
Decrease in immune
function - in aging dogs their immune system does not function
as well as it did. Your dog is more prone to develop
infectious diseases; and the infection can be more severe.
Decreased heart function -
as the heart ages it can not pump as much blood at one given
time. The heart valves also lose some of their elasticity.
Diagnostic tests such as x-rays, electrocardiogram, and
echocardiogram can be used to diagnose heart disease. Some
heart disease can be treated with medicine.
Decreased lung capacity -
during the aging process, the lungs lose their elasticity and
the ability to oxygenate the blood may be decreased.
Decreased kidney function
- the risk of kidney disease increases with age. Kidney
function can be measured through blood work and urinalysis.
They can identify kidney problems before any physical signs
appear. The most frequent sign of kidney disease is an
increase in water consumption and urination. However, this
sign generally does not occur until more than 50% of kidney
function is lost. Medications and diet changes can help the
kidneys breakdown waste products easier.
Decreased liver function -
the liver's ability to detoxify the blood decreases with age.
Blood tests can identify potential liver disease.
Increased sensitivity to
temperature changes - the ability of a dog to regulate their
body temperature decreases with age.
Hearing loss - some dogs
will experience hearing loss as they age. This may be hard to
notice until a severe loss of hearing has happened.
Vision loss - The are many
eye conditions that your dog can be affected by, for example,
cataracts, glaucoma, or uvetis. It is recommended that your
dog's eyes are examined at every vet visit to diagnose earlier
As your dog ages there are
some disease that he may be more prone to developing. These can
Cancer - signs can
include: abnormal swelling or growths; sores that do not heal;
weight loss; loss of appetite; offensive odor; difficulty
breathing, urinating or defecating
Dental disease - signs can
include: bad breath; difficulty eating, particularly dry food;
- signs can include: difficulty in rising, going up or down
stairs; inappropriate elimination; noticeable pain
Kidney disease - signs can
include: increased urination and thirst; weight loss;
vomiting; loss of appetite; weakness; pale gums; diarrhea; bad
Cataracts - signs can
include: eyes having a cloudy appearance; bumping into things
Hypothyroidism - signs can
include: weight gain; dry, thin haircoat; lethargy; depression
disease - signs can include: thin haircoat; thin
skin; increased thirst and urination; pot-bellied appearance;
Urinary incontinence -
signs can include: dribbling urine; urinating while sleeping
Diabetes - signs can
include: increased thirst and urination; increased appetite;
weight loss; weakness; vomiting
Liver disease - signs can
include: vomiting; loss of appetite; behavioral changes;
yellow or pale gums
As your dog ages there are
many changes taking place within his body. Recognizing some of the
signs and changes can help make his transition a little easier. It
is important to remember that just because your dog is showing
symptoms for a disease, that does not automatically mean that he
has it. It is very important to get him to the vet so that proper
diagnostics and treatments can be prescribed so that your older
friend can stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible.
by Christy Caballero
"What do we do when our loving pets face the last leg of the race? We do
all we can to help them finish well, of course. We take time to read
the unspoken needs of the friends we've come to know so well.
We give the simple reassurance of a loving touch when the old boy seems
confused for no reason.
We groom them faithfully, but more gently, as age brings muscle wasting,
and the arthritic bones aren't so well padded.
We learn to slow down for their sake, as they enjoy the scent of the
wind, or track a visitors trail across their yard.
We expect to be inconvenienced, and aren't angry when it happens.
We watch for pain and treat it, watch for changes in vision and hearing
and do what we can to help preserve those precious senses for as long as
We take care of their teeth, and make sure their food is a manageable
texture for them.
We remind them of the need for a potty walk when they seem to forget.
We remember the little rewards. We scratch the graying ears and tummy,
and go for car rides together. When the pet we love has an unexplained
need for comfort, we give it freely. When infirmities bring a sense of
vulnerability, we become our old guardian's protector.
We watch their deepest slumbers, when dreams take them running across
long-forgotten fields, and we remember those fields too. When they
cannot stand alone, we lift them. When their steps are uncertain, we
And if their health fails, it falls to us to make the choice that will
gently put them to rest. But until that is absolutely necessary, we
pause to let the autumn sun warm our old friend's bones. And we
realize, autumn is not a bad time of year at all.
Old age is not a disease or a reason to give up. It is a stage of life
that brings its own changes. Autumn can be a beautiful time of harvest.
And, sometimes, the harvest is love."
This site and its contents are intended to
serve as basic informational purposes
--not a substitute for--
professional veterinary care!