Healthcare for the senior dog

'Healthcare for the senior dog' image

With better veterinary care and pet food, dogs are now living much longer than before. Old age will depend on the breed and the bigger the breed the shorter the life span. Giant breeds like the Great Dane and Newfoundland usually live about ten years while poodles and Yorkshire terriers now commonly live to 16 years.


Make sure your pet has an annual booster. This will also include a full health check to make sure any problems are spotted early. Have your pet weighed every 6 months to make sure it is not overweight.

Flea and worm treatment

Make sure your pet is wormed every three months against roundworms and tapeworms with either drontal or milbemax worm tablets . As tapeworms are transmitted by fleas carry out routine flea control all year round . We recommend Advocate because it kills not only fleas but also treats for lungworm - this is a parasite carried by slugs and snails and can be fatal if swallowed.


Higher quality pet food is helping our dogs to live longer. However as your pet ages its feeding requirements will change and many pet food manufacturers now produce diets specifically for the senior and mature dog.The senior pet is usually more sedentary so easily gains weight. They are also less tolerant of sudden dietary changes. Poor kidney and heart function will mean it needs a diet of high quality protein which is low in sodium and phosphorous. They also need increased vitiamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids to maintain coat condition. Higher fibre in the diet can help avoid problems with constipation

Old dogs cannot smell or taste as well as before and often have underlying dental disease. You can help by providing good quality digestible food and even warming it it slightly to encourage appetite. Older dogs often benefit from 2 smaller meals a day.

Weight gain

As yor pet ages it will lose muscle mass and become more sedentary. If it carries on having the same amount food as before it will gain weight easily. Overweight dogs have a higher risk of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes. Try to avoid this by cutting back on the calories the minute your pet starts reaches middle age. You can do this in various ways

Mild weight gain

Stop all titbits and only give vegetables and fruit as food treats. Increase the daily exercise by ten minutes twice daily. Encourage a less sedentary lifestyle by playing with your dog more and alleviating boredom.

Moderate weight gain

Start cutting back on your pets food intake and mix in vegetables instead. Consider trying a calorie-controlled diet.

Excess weight gain

Visit your vet and discuss putting your pet on a prescription calorie controlled diet like Royal Canin Obesity which is excellent for weight loss. This should be fed exclusively until you pet reaches its target weight.. Be patient as weight loss in dogs takes a long time.


As your pet ages it will still be mentally alert and love to go out for its walks. A walk to a dog is, as much about exercise as an outing to the world outside so you must not deprive it of these excursions. However if your pet is showing signs of stiffness on rising in the morning it may be getting arthritic so you will have to cut back on the amount of exertion it gets on walks.

  • Take your pet for lots of shorter walk rather than one long marathon
  • Drive your pet to the nearest park where it can enjoy a romp and get enough exercise without tiring the joints.
  • If you pet is overweight, weight loss will enable it to get more exercise.
  • Don't let it tire itself out. Let it rest if it shows signs of flagging or carry it back home.


Common Health problems in the Senior Dog

Firstly - don't forget to get your pet checked regularly! Owners often fail to seek veterinary advice if their pet is slowing down assuming it is just 'old age' . However many diseases of the elderly pet can be treated and much can be doen to help your pet's quality of life. Even small changes to your pets lifestyle will keep it fit and content.


This means an 'inflamed joint'. It can be a natural ageing change or could be secondary to an old injury or hip dysplasia. Your pet will be stiff on rising in the morning but may become more mobile as the joints warm up. You may find you have to carry it home after long walks.

 What you can do;

  • Frequent shorter walks to avoid tiring out the joints
  • Keep your pet slim
  • Give your pet glucosamine oral supplements like Arthri- aid or Royal Canin Mobility tablets
  • Provide a soft bed like a bean bag to ease tired old joints
  • Stop your pet climbing stairs or leaping into the car
  • Avoid slippery or polished floors
  • Keep your pets nail trimmed regularly
  • Groom you pet daily with a soft brush
  • Raise the food bowl if your dog has a stiff neck or back


If you notice your pet banging into objects and becoming disoriented on walks it may be going blind. Many owners find this very upsetting but your pet will have learnt to adapt to its diminished vision. In fact many owners only find out their pet is blind when they move house or take it in holiday! If the lens of the eye becomes cloudy it could be getting cataracts so take it to the vet for an eye check. Cataract surgery is now readily available although it can be costly. However most blind dogs lead very happy lives as have a very acute sense of smell. They also don't have to watch TV or read the newspaper like we do!

Living with a blind dog

  • Keep it on the lead on walks
  • Follow the same route every day
  • Avoid sudden changes to the furniture
  • Don't startle it with sudden loud noises
  • Make sure your dog is not in the driveway when reversing your car.

Heart Disease

Old dogs do not get heart attacks like people. Their heart problems often come on so gradually that owners often think it is just old age and don't realise it can be treated. A condition called Endocardiosis is common in the toy breeds like Cavalier King Charles, Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas. The heart valves get leaky stopping the heart from pumping properly. This can be treated with medication enabling these dogs to live happy lives for years.


How do I know if my pet has heart disease?

  • A dry cough
  • Getting tired on exercise
  • Breathless
  • Blue gums

How can I help my pet?

  • Keep your pet slim
  • Give your pet shorter walk
  • Avoid strenuous exercise
  • Regular check ups with your vet
  • Keep it cool in hot weather
  • Do not feed salty foods like crisps and bacon

Dental problems

As you dog ages it needs to have its teeth checked every year by your vet. Good oral hygiene is very important for your pets comfort and well being and to prevent the classical case of 'dog breath!' . Even if your pet eats a hard diet it will still get plaque forming on the teeth. This leads to build up of brown cement called tartar, tooth decay and bad breath.

Signs of dental disease

  • Bad breath ( halitosis)
  • Painful eating
  • Brown tartar on the teeth
  • Reddened and inflamed gums

Once tartar has formed it cannot be removed by a toothbrush. We will need to give your dog a general anaesthetic and remove the tartar with an ultrasonic dental scaler. Any rotten teeth will have to be extracted. Once the teeth are clean you should try and brush your pet's teeth daily using circular movements along the gum margins. A canine dental kit and meat flavoured toothpaste are available at reception.


If you think your pet is going deaf get your vet to check the eardrum is not blocked by wax. Many owners think their dog has gone deaf practically overnight. In fact what has actually happened is that the dog has been going deaf over a period of time but suddenly can no longer hear the pitch of the owners voice when they call him.

Living with a deaf dog

  • Always approach your pet from the front
  • Never disturb him while he is asleep or he may get a fright
  • Deaf dogs can sometimes snap at young children
  • Keep them on a lead on walks as they could easily get hit by a car
  • Make sure your dog is not in the driveway when reversing your car.


Old dogs can suddenly lose their balance as though they have had a stroke. This is not caused by a blood clot to the brain like in humans but in fact is due to inflammation of the vestibular or balance canals. The cause is still unknown. Although the signs can be quite dramatic and very upsetting this can be treated and many dogs recover within 2 weeks.


  • Complete loss of balance and falling over
  • The head may tilt permanently to one side
  • The eyes will be flickering from side to side
  • They may not be able to eat because they cannot reach down to the food bowl.
  • Your pet may appear very confused and disorientated

How to help

  • Hand feed your dog
  • Keep you dog rested and in one room so he cannot hurt himself
  • Take it to your vet immediately - sometimes a course of steroids can help
  • Be patient - often these case take a few weeks to get better
  • Some dogs get left with a permanent head tilt but often cope amazingly well

Rapid weight loss

If your old dog starts to lose weight suddenly this should be check immediately by your vet. There are many causes of weight loss in the older dog but diabetes, kidney problems and cancer are common causes. Your vet may need to do a blood test to investigate further.

Increased thirst

This is common as your pet ages and can be caused by kidney and liver problems or diabetes. If your dog is female and not spayed it could be a womb infection (pyometra). Your vet may ask you to bring a urine sample and may do some routine blood tests to get a diagnosis. It is helpful if you keep a chart of exactly how much water your pet drinks every day.

What to do:

  • Never deprive your dog of water
  • Keep a chart of your pets daily water intake for your vet
  • Collect a fresh urine sample before you go to the vet


Older dogs often wet the bed or leave puddles on the floor. If your dog is also showing increased thirst your vet will have to investigate for kidney problems with blood tests.

However overweight large breed dogs commonly get a leaky bladder valve. This can easily be treated by weight loss and medication to help tighten the bladder sphincter.

What you can do

  • Take your pet out frequently to let it urinate
  • Make your pet lose weight
  • Give medication regularly
  • Never scold you dog - it's not their fault!
  • Put waterproofing under its blanket for easy cleaning

Prostate problems

If your male dog isn't castrated then the prostate gland will enlarge with advancing age. This could be a natural ageing change or it may become enlarged with an abscess or cancer of the prostate. The enlarged prostate may press against your dogs bladder and colon causing straining on urination or defecation. Occasionally your dog may also pass blood in the urine.

If you see your dog straining get it checked out quickly because if he continues to strain he will rupture the muscles and cause a hernia. Your vet will need to do a rectal examination to determine what type of problem he has. X-rays of the prostate or an ultrasound scan may be necessary. Many types of prostate problems can easily be treatd by castration.

Lumps and bumps

  • The older dog can get skin tumours on the eyes, legs and flanks. If you spot a new lump get it checked out immediately. Some are benign fatty lumps but many lumps may need a biopsy and if malignant, rapid surgical removal.
  • Older dogs often get little growths called papillomas on the eyelid. Although these are usually benign, surgical removal is advised to prevent them rubbing the eye and causing eye infections.
  • If your bitch is not spayed you should check her belly every week for lumps on her mammary glands. If one appears take her to the vet as if may need surgical removal.