8 Common Health Problems in Senior Dogs

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No matter how big they get, we like to think of our dogs as eternal puppies who will be with us forever. As much as you may wish to deny that your pup is getting older, it's important to keep an eye out for senior dog health conditions so that you can help improve his quality of life. Keep reading to learn about common health problems in senior dogs that might one day affect your pet.

When Is a Dog Considered Senior?

Senior dog laying in the grass in a backyard smiling at the camera
On average, a dog is considered senior when they reach seven years of age, although it really depends on the size and breed of the dog, says the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Very large breeds age more rapidly than small breeds. While a Great Dane would be considered a senior by age six, a tiny Chihuahua may not reach that status until eight or nine years of age. Of course, other factors, such as genetics and environmental conditions, can affect how an individual dog ages. Once your dog starts showing signs of age-related health issues, they can be considered a senior dog regardless of their true age.

Here are eight common health problems in senior dogs:

1. Hearing and Vision Loss

Tissue degeneration in the eyes and ears can cause varying degrees of deafness and blindness in older dogs, says The Spruce. Senior dogs are also prone to developing cataracts, which Pet Health Network defines as a cloudy layer that forms over the lens of the eye that can cause partial or total blindness. Even without surgery to remove the cataracts, dogs can still manage to get around well due to their good sense of smell and excellent hearing. A number of issues from genetics to chronic ear infections can cause hearing loss and deafness.  While deaf dogs may not be able to hear you talking, they will be able to feel vibrations on the floor when you approach and you can use hand signals to communicate with them.  Always take precautions when you are outside with a dog who can not hear or see well.   You don’t want them wandering away and getting into trouble!

2. Joint Problems

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain and stiffness in dogs, says The Spruce. This is a progressive degenerative disease that causes loss of lubrication and the wearing away of cartilage in the \joints. Although there is no cure, there are a number of treatments that can help reduce pain and slow the progression of this disease. Nutrition, especially omega-3 fatty acids, play a strong role in supporting dogs with joint issues. Ask your veterinarian about foods available to support joint health and if a therapeutic food would be beneficial for your dog. 

3. Dementia/Cognitive Dysfunction

Like people, dogs can lose cognitive function as they age, resulting in symptoms similar to those of senility or Alzheimer's in humans, says The Spruce. Confusion and disorientation, whining or barking for no apparent reason, appearing to get lost in familiar surroundings, and bathroom accidents can all be signs of cognitive dysfunction. These symptoms can also indicate other conditions, so it's best to talk to your veterinarian if you notice these behaviors in your dog. Like arthritis, there is no cure for dementia, but it can often be helped with certain medications and antioxidant enriched foods. 

4. Cancer

Older dogs are prone to getting lumps and bumps, and luckily, not all of them are cancerous. But age increases the risk of cancer in dogs, so it's best to get any strange lumps checked out, says the AVMA. Regular checkups and cancer screenings can help catch tumors that aren't easily seen or felt.

5. Heart Problems

Heart disease can also develop as dogs age. One condition in dogs is congestive heart failure, which occurs when the heart isn't able to pump blood efficiently and fluid backs up in the heart, lungs and chest cavity, says the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, loss of consciousness and unexplained vomiting are all signs of possible heart disease and should be checked out by a vet right away.

Older mixed breed boxer with white face wearing orthotic brace swimming in swimming pool.

6. Obesity

Your dog's weight can have a significant impact on their health, especially as they age and become less active. Older dogs carrying excess weight are more prone to illnesses, such as diabetes. Obesity can contribute to and complicate the treatment of heart disease and joint problems , says the American Kennel Club. In addition to providing as much exercise as your older dog can safely tolerate, it's important to feed your dog age-appropriate meals to make sure they are getting the right balance of nutrition, as well as the correct amount of daily calories.

7. Gastrointestinal Issues and Incontinence

A number of problems can cause gastrointestinal (GI) issues in your aging dog. While not always serious, GI problems can point to problems, such as kidney disease, so if vomiting or diarrhea doesn't clear up quickly, it's best to talk to your vet, says the AVMA. Also, older dogs sometimes have urinary accidents as the muscles controlling the bladder weaken, but again, incontinence could be a sign of a bigger problem like a urinary tract infection. Accidents can also be an indicator of possible dementia. If these issues are not a one time occurence, it's best to talk to your vet.

8. Kidney Issues

Aging kidneys tend to lose their function as dogs get older. While chronic kidney disease can't be cured, notes The Spruce, it can be managed with proper treatment, prolonging your dog's life and improving their quality of life. Routine blood work for your senior pet can catch kidney disease in the early stages and improve your dog's chances. Proper nutrition is also extremely important for maintaining healthy kidneys , so if you have any concerns about what you're feeding, be sure to consult your veterinarian.

Getting older is as hard on your senior dog as it is on you. One of the best things you can do for your aging pup is to take them for regular wellness checks every six months to screen for these common health problems. Keeping an eye on themat home and reporting any unusual behaviors to your vet can also help catch these illnesses early, improving your dog's chance at a long and healthy life. They may not be a puppy anymore, but they will always be your pup!

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.