Common Health Issues in Senior Dogs and How to Manage Them

Posted by Jackie Ly on

a senior dog relaxing at home

You like to think of your dogs as forever puppies who will be with you forever, no matter how big they get. But you have to accept that they get old. But senior dogs can still continue to have long, healthy lives!

That’s why it's crucial to watch out for senior dog health issues so you can help your dog live a better life. Just like how you trained them and took care of them when they were young, they also need you extra care now that they’re getting older.

Knowing the common health issues for senior dogs and how to manage them can help you improve your dog's quality of life in their golden years. 

Here are 7 common health issues in senior dogs, and how you can manage them.


As they have less playtime and exercise as they age and their metabolism slows down, senior dogs tend to acquire weight excessively because they consume more calories than they burn. 

An excessive amount of bodily fat leads to obesity.  Dogs are considered overweight if they are 15 percent over their ideal weight, and obese if they are 30 percent above their ideal weight.


  • Regularly weigh your dog. If your dog is tiny enough, you may pick it up and step onto your home scales. Most veterinarians are happy if you stop by and ask to use their scales.
  • Observe fat around ribs and abdomen. Ideally, you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs and not see them. Both from the side and above, they should have a noticeable "tuck" at the waist. If you cannot feel their ribs nor see a clearly defined waist, they are probably overweight.

Dental issues 

More than 80% of dogs older than 3 and almost all senior dogs suffer from periodontal disease. Not only would it hurt your dog's mouth and make eating more difficult, but it can also result in more serious problems including bone loss, gum infections, and organ damage if plaque and germs enter the bloodstream. 


  • Brush your dog’s teeth. Brush your dog's teeth every day, and use a dog-safe toothbrush and toothpaste. If you see any of the following symptoms, have them examined by a veterinarian: 
    • bad breath
    • having trouble eating, preferring one side of the mouth, or refusing to eat
    • pawing at the mouth
    • abnormal discharge, gum bleeding, or excessive drooling

Stiff and painful joints

The most typical indication that your dog is becoming older is a reduction in activity. According to Hyunmin Kim, DVM, Director of Veterinarians, Community Medicine at the ASPCA, dogs often start to exhibit noticeable age-related changes at around seven to twelve years of age. 

Kim added that some of this is a natural part of the transition from a young puppy to an adult. Yet it can also be linked to other degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis.

The weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders, are most frequently affected. Your dog might struggle to enter and exit cars or show less interest in playing fetch outside. 


  • Daily joint supplements - Daily joint supplements, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids are good for senior dogs as they help reduce inflammation.
  • Surround them with their favourite things - Your dog may become more irritated due to arthritis, so be nice and surround them with their favourite items, such as a warm blanket or special squeaky toy.
  • Build a cosy sleeping area - It's also crucial to offer a comfortable sleeping area with lots of cushion since pressure sores can develop in dogs with restricted movement.

Hearing and vision loss

As they age, dogs may experience hearing loss and visual loss. Your dog may feel disoriented because of weakened eyesight and hearing, but it is not painful.

Since dogs are skilled at adapting and can rely on things like floor vibrations, it is easy to overlook the early signs of hearing loss. Initially, your dog's hearing may not pick up on all frequencies.

Early indicators of vision loss include bumping into objects and hesitation when climbing stairs, among other things.


  • Consult the vet - It's important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the cause of vision loss since certain underlying disorders, such cataracts and glaucoma, may be addressed.
  • Don’t rearrange the furniture - Be careful not to move the furniture in your home if your dog starts to lose their eyesight or hearing since they will have problems navigating new layouts.

Gastrointestinal Issues and Incontinence

Your senior dog may experience gastrointestinal issues (GI) due to a variety of factors. Although gastrointestinal issues aren't always serious, they might indicate issues like kidney disease.

Age-related incontinence, or the loss of bladder control, can occur in older pets. This occurs when their organs, muscles, and nerves get older, making it difficult to "hold it in," even if they used to be able to go for extended periods of time without needing to use the restroom.

Also, when the muscles that regulate the bladder deteriorate with age, older dogs occasionally have accidents. But, incontinence can also be a symptom of more serious issues, such as a urinary tract infection.


  • Medications - There are several medications available to help control incontinence, depending on the kind. But remember that it's important to prevent faecal and urine scalding, which can cause skin irritation and infection.
  • Frequent potty breaks - If your dog needs assistance getting up to urinate or defecate, buy a sling or use a wide towel to wrap under their body and assist them. Just like their early puppy days, potty breaks may need to happen more often.
  • Consult your veterinarian - It's essential to consult your veterinarian if vomiting or diarrhoea doesn't go away right away. For incontinence, accidents can sometimes be a sign of possible dementia. It is recommended to speak with your vet if these problems persist over time.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)

Canine dementia, or Canine Cognitive dysfunction (CCD),  is similar to  the early stages of Alzheimer's disease in humans. About 14-35% of dogs over 8-years-old are affected,and it increases significantly as dogs continue to age. 

Dogs with CCD show a slow progression of behavioural symptoms, including aimless pacing and looking out into space. 

Signs of CCD include: 

  • less interaction with you, other people, and animals
  • excessive or improper vocalisation
  • change in their sleep-wake cycle
  • restlessness, disorientation, and confusion
  • anxiety
  • house-soiling
  • altered appetite 
  • irritability, aggression, and apathy


Although cognitive decline cannot be cured, the disease's progression can be managed with dietary changes and medication, which you can discuss with your veterinarian.

Other things you can do are:

  • Take more frequent trips outside or provide a potty area indoors
  • Keep them mentally stimulated
  • Maintain a regular schedule to help your dog feel comfortable and secure
  • If your dog has arthritis, try to avoid steps if possible

Growths, Tumours, and Cancer

Older dogs are more prone to develop lumps and bumps, but not all of them are serious. These could be benign warts, moles, or fatty tumours.

But as a dog gets older, they are more prone to cancer. The Veterinary Cancer Association estimates that one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer, making it the primary cause of death for pets older than 10 years. 


  • Tests with your vet - While consulting your veterinarian, your dog might undergo simple testing, such as a fine-needle aspirate to study certain cells from the tumour, or a complete removal and biopsy that will give a more conclusive diagnosis. 
  • Early and frequent body examinations - The earlier your dog is diagnosed with cancer, such as lymphoma, the better, as treatment options vary depending on its stage and type. Regular veterinary examinations and occasionally feeling your dog at home for bumps on the body might help identify problems early.

As your dog ages, they become more vulnerable to health issues and diseases. That’s because gradual changes happen in their golden years. 

The best things you can do for your senior dog is feeding good food, keeping up regular exercise, and going for regular wellness checkups to monitor and hopefully nip issues in the bud.  

Keep an eye on your dog at home and let your veterinarian know if they show any unusual behaviour. All of these help increase the chance that they'll live a longer and healthier life.

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