Older (Senior, Geriatric) Dogs: Normal Aging and Expected Changes


We anticipate certain changes to happen in an animal’s body as the animal ages. These changes might not be the same in each animal types. In some animals (e.g.; toy types of dogs) modifications in the heart prevail, whereas in other animals (cats), the kidneys might be one of the first organs to show signs of aging. We can assist older animals to adjust to these changes in a range of ways: detecting issues early, use of suitable medications and supplements, customizing the dog’s environment, and changing the way in which we connect with our older pals.

Older (Senior, Geriatric) Dogs: Normal Aging and Expected Changes

Modification in dietary needs and weight modifications

As dogs age, their metabolic process modifications and their need for calories decreases. In general, their maintenance energy requirement reduces by about 20%. Because their activity generally reduces too, their energy requirements are decreased by another 10-20%. If we feed older dogs the very same quantity we fed them when they were young, they will gain weight. As the body’s metabolic process changes, it is more common for the body to set fat. This propensity can likewise contribute to obesity in older dogs. Obesity is one of the primary illness of older dogs. In addition to calories, there are other nutritional requirements of older dogs, consisting of a boost in fiber and a reduction in fat. Specifically if an older dog is not eating as he should, or has particular medical conditions, supplements are often recommended.

Skin and hair coat changes

As with individuals, older dogs might begin to reveal gray hair; this most typically happens on the muzzle and around the eyes. The haircoat might end up being thinner and duller, nevertheless, this can also signify disease or nutritional shortage. Fat supplements may assist restore some of the appeal to the coat. If the haircoat of an older dog changes significantly, the dog ought to be checked by a veterinarian. Older dogs may need to be groomed more often, with unique attention offered to the anal area. Grooming is a fantastic method for you to spend some enjoyable time with your older dog. He will like the attention.

The skin of the older dog may end up being thinner, and thus more subject to injury. Some older dogs develop several benign tumors of the skin, which are normally not gotten rid of unless quickly distressed. Cancerous growths of the skin can likewise happen. Dry skin can be a problem for older dogs, and once again, fat supplements might be beneficial.


It is common for older, large breed dogs to develop calluses on their elbows. Part of the factor for this is the propensity of older dogs to be less active and set more. Particularly if they lay down on tough surfaces, calluses are likely to establish. Providing a dog bed, especially an orthopedic bed, can assist avoid calluses.

Fragile nails and thickened foot pads

Simply as we see modifications in the haircoat, we can also see thickening of the foot pads and changes in the nails of older dogs. They might have the tendency to end up being fragile. Care must be taken in clipping the nails of older dogs, and they might need to be clipped regularly, considering that older inactive dogs are less most likely to wear their pin downs through activity.

Reduced mobility and arthritis

Arthritis is a common event in older dogs, especially large breed dogs and breeds which have a tendency to have intervertebral (IV) disc disease such as Dachshunds and Bassets. Dogs who injured joints previously in their life likewise tend to develop arthritis as they age. As in individuals, arthritis in dogs may only cause a small stiffness, or it can become debilitating. Dogs may have problem fluctuating stairs, jumping into the car, or walking through snow.

Chondroitin and glucosamine can be advantageous to support healthy joints. Some anti-inflammatory painkiller such as aspirin and Rimadyl are frequently recommended for dogs with arthritis. (Do NOT offer your cat any kind of pain reducer unless recommended by your vet.)

Similar to muscles in people (if you do not use them, you lose them), older dogs who are non-active will lose muscle mass and tone. This may make it more difficult for them to move, so they move less, and so on, and a vicious cycle starts. Workout for an older dog is essential for the health of the muscles, in addition to the heart, digestive system, and mindset. Exercise regimens can be adapted according to the dog’s capabilities. Swimming and a number of short strolls a day might assist preserve and strengthen the dog’s muscles.

Ramps, elevated feeders, and orthopedic beds might assist a dog who has decreased mobility or pain on movement.

Dental disease

Dental disease is the most common change we see in older dogs. Research studies show that even by age three, 80 percent of dogs show signs of gum disease. Routine dental care consisting of toothbrushing, can help keep dental disease to a minimum. Dogs who have actually not gotten correct dental care can develop substantial dental disease as they age and might develop deadly complications. A dental care program ought to include toothbrushing, regular dental checkups, and professional cleansing as needed.

Reduced gastrointestinal motility (constipation)

As dogs age, the movement of food through their digestion systems slows. This can lead to constipation. Constipation is more common in dogs who might experience pain while defecating such as those with hip dysplasia or anal gland disease. Lack of exercise can likewise contribute to constipation. Constipation can likewise signify some major disease conditions, and a dog experiencing constipation must be assessed by a veterinarian. Laxatives or diets consisting of increased fiber may be prescribed. It is essential these dogs drink lots of water.

Some older dogs might likewise be more vulnerable to stomach upsets.

Reduced ability to fight off disease

As a dog ages, the body immune system does not operate as successfully and the older dog is more susceptible to develop transmittable diseases; and the infection in an older dog is generally more severe than a comparable one in a more youthful dog. It is essential to keep your older dog present on vaccinations.

Decreased heart function

As a dog’s heart ages, it loses some effectiveness and can not pump as much blood in a provided quantity of time. The valves of the heart lose a few of their elasticity and also contribute to a decreased pumping performance. The most typical valve involved is the mitral valve, especially in little breeds. Some of these heart changes are expected, however, more severe modifications can happen, especially in dogs who had minor heart issues when they were young. Diagnostic tests such as radiographs (x-rays), an electrocardiogram (EKG), and an echocardiogram can be used to diagnose heart disease. Numerous medications are offered relying on the type and seriousness of disease.

Lung capability decreased

Lungs also lose their elasticity during the aging process, and the capability of the lungs to oxygenate the blood may be decreased. Older dogs may be more susceptible to respiratory infections, and may tire more easily.

Decline in kidney function

As animals age, the risk of kidney disease boosts. This might be because of modifications in the kidney itself or arise from the dysfunction of other organs such as the heart, which if not working properly, will reduce blood circulation to the kidneys. Kidney function can be measured through chemistry tests on the blood and a urinalysis. These tests can identify a kidney problem well before there are any physical signs of disease. The most frequent sign of kidney disease first kept in mind by an owner would be an increase in water intake and urination, however this typically does not take place till about 70% of the kidney function is lost.

If the kidneys are not working usually, the diet and dose of numerous medications and anesthetics may need to be changed to assist the body in eliminating the breakdown items. Pre-anesthetic blood tests are advised to determine any possible kidney issues before anesthesia is administered.

Urinary incontinence and loss of housetraining

Urinary incontinence is involuntary or unmanageable leaking of urine from the bladder. In older dogs, specifically made sterile women, small quantities of urine may leak from the urethra while the dog is resting or sleeping. Treatment for incontinence is typically not difficult. Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) and estrogens, such as diethylstilbestrol, are commonly used.

Some older dogs who have been housetrained for many years, might begin having ‘accidents.’ As with other habits issues in older dogs, there may be numerous causes for this change in behavior. Any older dog with a house soiling issue needs to be examined by a vet and the owner need to have the ability to give a detailed history of the color and quantity of urine (or stool) passed, the frequency at which the dog needs to remove, modifications in eating or drinking routines, the dog’s posture while getting rid of, and whether the ‘accidents’ only occur when the owner is gone. Medical conditions adding to your house staining issue ought to be treated appropriately.

Prostate augmentation

When an unneutered male dog reaches 8 years of age, he has a greater than 80% opportunity of establishing prostate disease, but it is hardly ever malignant. In most cases, the prostate just expands. The prostate enlargement, nevertheless, can cause issues with urination or defecation. Older male dogs, especially those who are not neutered ought to have their prostate gland examined as part of the regular physical exam. The risk of prostate disease can be greatly decreased if the dog is neutered.

Reduced liver function

Although the liver has an extraordinary and special method of regenerating itself when hurt, the liver does age similar to all other organs in the body. Its capability to cleanse the blood and produce many enzymes and proteins gradually reduces with age. Sometimes, the liver enzymes determined in a chemistry panel might be abnormally raised in an apparently normal animal. On the other hand, some animals with liver disease have normal levels of liver enzymes distributing in their blood. This makes analysis of these tests really tough.

Since the liver metabolizes numerous medications and anesthetics, the dosage of these drugs must be decreased if the liver is not operating as it should. Pre-anesthetic blood tests are also suggested to identify any possible liver issues prior to anesthesia is administered.

Modifications in glandular function

Some glands tend to produce less hormones as they age, and other glands might produce more such as in Cushing’s Disease. Hormonal problems are a typical disorder in many older dogs, and the tendency to develop a problem is sometimes connected to breed. The Golden Retriever, for instance, has a much higher risk of developing hypothyroidism. Blood tests help to diagnose these illness and a number of them are treatable with medications.

Changes in mammary glands

Female dogs may develop some hardening of the mammary glands due to the infiltration of fibrous tissue. Breast cancer in unspayed dogs is common, simply as common as it is in humans. Mammary cancer is the single most common growth of the female dog, as well as the most typical deadly one. Older female dogs should have their mammary glands inspected as part of the routine physical exam.

Bone marrow replaced by fat

Previously, we talked about the tendency of older dogs to set more fat. Fat might likewise infiltrate the bone marrow. The bone marrow is responsible for making red blood cells, which bring oxygen, leukocyte that battle disease, and platelets, which assist the blood to clot. If the bone marrow is significantly changed by fat, anemia can establish. This is among the reasons it is recommended that older dogs have certain blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) carried out as part of their yearly test.

Changes in activity level and habits

Senior dogs may show a decreased activity level. This might be due to normal aging or be the first sign of a disease condition such as arthritis or senility. Routine veterinary exams every 6 months and monitoring your dog for other symptoms of disease will help differentiate normal aging from disease.

As animals age, nerve cells die off and are not changed. In some cases, particular proteins can begin to surround afferent neuron and cause them to breakdown. The interaction in between afferent neuron may likewise be changed. For some dogs, the changes in the nerve system are severe adequate to change their behavior. If specific signs exist, we call this behavior change ‘cognitive dysfunction.’ Inning accordance with Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the producer of Anipryl, a drug to treat canine cognitive dysfunction, 62% of dogs age 10 years and older will experience a minimum of some of the symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction. These include confusion or disorientation, uneasyness in the evening, loss of housetraining capabilities, reduced activity level, reduced listening, and not acknowledging good friends or family members.

Older dogs have actually a decreased ability to handle stress, and this can result in behavior changes. Separation stress and anxiety, aggressiveness, noise phobias, and increased vocalization can establish or aggravate in older dogs. Numerous medications combined with habits modification methods can assist fix a few of these habits issues.

Because older dogs do not manage stress well, getting a brand-new puppy when you have an older dog who is showing signs of aging might not be the best idea. It is usualy best to obtain a brand-new young puppy when the older dog is still mobile (can escape the puppy), fairly pain complimentary, is not experiencing cognitive dysfunction, and has great hearing and vision.

Increased sensitivity to temperature modifications

As dogs age, their capability to control their body temperature reduces. This implies they are less adaptable to temperature changes. Dogs who could deal with cold temperature levels when they were young, may not be able to as they age. Keeping track of the ecological temperature around your dog, and making adjustments will assist your older dog be more comfy. You might have to move his bed closer to a heat register, or keep him inside during heat.

Hearing loss

Some dogs will experience hearing loss as they age. Minor hearing loss is difficult to evaluate in dogs. Frequently hearing loss is severe before the owner becomes mindful of the issue. The first sign noticed may appear like aggressiveness. In reality, it may be the dog was unaware of an individual’s method, ended up being surprised when touched, and intuitively responded. Owners might also report the dog is not complying with commands (the dog no longer hears them).

The hearing loss typically can not be reversed, however some modifications in interaction with the dog can help reduce the impacts. Among the needs to teach dogs hand signals for different commands while they are young, is that these hand signals are very beneficial if the dog establishes hearing loss. The use of lights to signify dogs (e.g.; flashing the backyard light when you want the dog to come in from outside) can be beneficial. Dogs with hearing loss can still notice vibration, so clapping hands or stomping on the floor might alert the dog you are attempting to communicate with him.

Modifications in the eye and vision loss

Lots of dogs develop a condition of the eye called nuclear sclerosis. In this condition, the lens of the eye appears cloudy, nevertheless, the dog can typically see rather well. Many owners are concerned their dog has cataracts (which do impact vision) when the dog truly has nuclear sclerosis. Cataracts prevail in older dogs of specific types, though, as is glaucoma. Any sudden modifications in vision or look of the eyes could indicate an emergency situation; contact your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Ophthalmic examinations must belong to the physical examination in older dogs.


Older dogs can experience numerous changes in the functions of their bodies. Some dogs may have more noticable changes than others, and in some dogs, the changes might begin to happen at a younger age. Knowing what changes to anticipate can assist you and your dog adjust to them when and if they do come. There are numerous methods we can help the older dog adjust to these changes.

You will have to monitor your older dog more closely. Do not overlook a change in your dog’s activity or behavior as ‘simply being aging.’ Much of the changes can also be signs of a more severe disease. If you remain in doubt, consult your vet and be sure to talk about with her/him any concerns you have about your older dog during his regular physical exam.


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