9 Health Problems Seen in Senior Dogs

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Senior dogs can live happy, healthy lives. However, as our canine companions age, we are sure to notice some health changes. Owners tend to observe an overall "slowing down," lower endurance when exercising, decreased agility and mobility, and sometimes personality changes. Some dogs become less enthusiastic about toys, games, and food. Dogs may appear confused, disoriented, or less responsive than they were in their youth. They may even urinate or defecate in the house. These signs are not necessarily the result of the aging itself; instead, they may be symptoms of various health issues. Learn about age-associated diseases and disorders now so you can care for your senior dog properly. The following health problems are commonly associated with geriatric dogs:

  • 01 of 09


    Man and his dog
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    Just like people, many dogs develop arthritis as they age. The most common form of arthritis seen in aging dogs is Osteoarthritis, also called Degenerative Joint Disease. This condition mainly affects the weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, elbows, shoulders), causing loss of lubricating fluids, wearing away of cartilage, and abnormal bone growth. These joint changes result in pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Osteoarthritis is progressive, meaning it gets worse over time. Though there is no cure, there are treatments that can slow progression and ease the pain.

  • 02 of 09

    Kidney Disease

    Young veterinarian examining dog with stethoscope in clinic

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    Aging can take a toll on the kidneys, so it is common for older dogs to develop kidney disease. Chronic kidney (renal) disease is usually a gradual process that begins as renal insufficiency and progresses to full renal failure. There is no cure for this disease, but there are fortunately many ways to treat it, prolonging quality and quantity of life. The sooner kidney disease is caught, the more that can be done to slow the progression. Early kidney changes may be picked up on urinalysis and blood work. Signs of kidney disease include increased thirst and urination, loss of appetite, nausea, and lethargy. If there are concerns for underlying kidney disease, starting dogs on a prescription kidney diet can be very effective.

  • 03 of 09


    Deaf collie puppy posing

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    It is common for older dogs to lose their hearing gradually. Older dogs typically experience gradual hearing loss due to cell and nerve degeneration. Nothing can be done to stop the deafness, but much can be done to help the dog adapt. Many owners will at first mistake hearing loss for dementia, as dogs may display a similar type of confusion. Fortunately, deafness in dogs is fairly easy to handle. Because it doesn't happen overnight, it gives you time to adapt. Try specific methods for deaf dog training, like the use of hand signals. Soon, you will find that the hearing loss hardly affects your dog's day-to-day life.

  • 04 of 09


    Close-up portrait of white dog standing in a field

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    Like deafness, many older dogs experience a gradual loss of vision. This is usually due to degenerative changes in the eye but can be caused by an eye disease like cataracts. If you think your dog is going blind, be sure to visit your vet. If the blindness is simply due to old age, nothing can be done to reverse it. Fortunately, dogs have other senses that help them adjust to the loss of their eyesight. Just be sure to take it slow with your dog, keep him on a leash at all times if outdoors, and try to avoid moving around the furniture in your house. Once your dog knows the layout, he will probably get around well using his other senses. Note: Sudden blindness can be an emergency.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Dementia/Cognitive Dysfunction

    old dog

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    Dogs can exhibit developmental changes as they age that are similar to dementia and Alzheimer's Disease in humans. The signs are subtle at first but can become very severe, resulting in poor quality of life. Signs of dementia in dogs include disorientation, confusion, pacing/wandering, standing in corners as if lost, going to the wrong side of an opening door, vocalization, withdrawal/not interacting with family as much, urinary/fecal accidents, change in sleeping patterns, restlessness, and more. Many of these can be symptoms of other diseases, so be sure to see your vet. There is no cure for dementia or cognitive dysfunction, but there are medications and supplements that may help in some cases.

  • 06 of 09


    Close-up of dog in a hospital

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    Unfortunately, cancer is all too common in dogs. Though younger pets can get cancer, it is seen much more frequently in older pets. Different cancers cause different symptoms, so it can be easy to dismiss certain signs as simple old age changes. This is why routine wellness screening with your vet is so important. An exam, lab work or diagnostic imaging can pick up on something unseen by the naked eye. Cancer treatment options vary depending on the type of cancer and the stage. The sooner it is caught, the better the chance of survival.

  • 07 of 09

    Growths and Tumors

    A dog with a medical collar

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    Older dogs tend to get various lumps and bumps. These should be checked by a vet to rule out cancer. Fortunately, many growths are benign warts, moles, or fatty tumors. Generally, they will not need to be surgically removed unless they are bothering the dog.

  • 08 of 09


    Veterinarian with a dog

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    Old-age changes to the organs, muscles, and nerves in the body can make it harder for your dog to "hold it" the way he used to. Incontinence can be a sign of many different diseases, so it is essential to have your vet rule out things like kidney, bladder, or neurological disease. If there are no other health problems found, you will need to adjust your schedule to let your dog out for "potty breaks" more often.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09


    Close-up of a labrador sleeping

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    A dog can become overweight at any age, but the effects of aging make weight gain more likely in seniors. Obesity can cause or complicate health problems like arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. To prevent obesity in older dogs, decrease calorie intake as your dog slows down. Also, make sure to keep up with exercise. If endurance is an issue, consider going for multiple short walks in a day rather than one or two very long walks.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
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  2. Chronic Kidney Disease and Failure (CKD, CRF, CRD). Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

  3. Understanding the causes of age-related cloudiness in your dog’s eyes. Cornell University Veterinary Specialists

  4. Prpar Mihevc, Sonja, and Gregor Majdič. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction And Alzheimer’S Disease – Two Facets Of The Same DiseaseFrontiers In Neuroscience, vol 13, 2019. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.00604

  5. Stephens, Tanya. The Use of Chemotherapy to Prolong the Life of Dogs Suffering from Cancer: The Ethical Dilemma. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI vol. 9,7 441. 14 Jul. 2019, doi:10.3390/ani9070441

  6. Urinary Incontinence. Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

  7. Senior pet care FAQ. American Veterinary Medical Association