Senior Dogs

Senior Dogs: Health Issues, Signs of Decline and What to Do

Senior dogs are dogs aged between 6 and 10 years depending on the breed and size. Senior dogs experience health issues such as arthritis, cognitive decline, and dental problems. Signs of aging in dogs manifest as decreased activity, changes in appetite, and difficulty with mobility. Vision problems  are a sign of decline and canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) in dogs is prevalent. 

Consult a veterinarian if a senior dog displays signs of decline. The vet diagnoses and manage the symptoms. Regular checkups, dietary adjustments, supplements like CBD oil for dogs, and tailored exercise routines ensure an old dog is comfortable and enjoys the quality of life.

What is a Senior Dog?

A senior dog is one that has reached the final stage of its life cycle. It is often characterized by cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), arthritis, vision problems, and mobility issues. 

Senior dogs develop a neurodegenerative disease similar to age-related cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease, causing a decline in learning and memory,” according to the study by Landsberg, G. titled “Therapeutic agents for the treatment of cognitive dysfunction syndrome in senior dogs,” 2005.

When is a Dog Considered a Senior?

A dog is considered a senior when it reaches around 6 to 10 years of age, depending on its breed and size. “Senior dogs are those aged 8-11.9 years and show changes in laboratory variables that indicate altered physiologies compared to younger adult dogs,” according to the study by Radakovich, L. et al. titled “Hematology and biochemistry of aging—evidence of “anemia of the elderly” in old dogs,” 2017.

Larger breeds age faster and are considered seniors around 6 to 7 years old, while smaller breeds reach senior status at 9 or 10 . 

Decreased energy levels, changes in sleeping patterns, noticeable gray hair around the muzzle and eyes, and decreased activity and mobility are ways owners tell if a dog is already a senior. 

Signs of aging in dogs include weight gain or loss, reduced hearing or vision, dental problems, and a decline in cognitive function, which manifests as disorientation or forgetfulness. 

What are the Signs of Aging in Dogs?

The signs of aging in dogs are listed below.

  • Decreased Energy Levels: Older dogs are less active and have reduced stamina.
  • Changes in Sleeping Patterns: Senior dogs sleep more during the day.
  • Gray Hair and Coat Changes: Dogs develop gray or white hair, around the muzzle and eyes. The coat loses its luster or becomes thinner.
  • Weight Changes: Older dogs experience weight gain or loss, indicative of metabolic changes or underlying health issues.
  • Dental Problems: Tartar buildup, gum disease, and tooth loss are common in aging dogs.
  • Decreased Mobility: Joint stiffness and arthritis are prevalent in senior dogs, making it difficult for them to move, climb stairs, or jump.
  • Cognitive Decline: Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a sign of aging in dogs. The dog shows signs such as disorientation, confusion, decreased responsiveness, and changes in sleep-wake cycles.
  • Changes in Appetite: Senior dogs eat less and show less interest in food. 
  • Vision and Hearing Loss: Aging dogs develop cataracts,  glaucoma and experience hearing decline.
  • Behavioral Changes: Irritability, anxiety, or changes in interactions with family members or other pets are signs of aging in some dogs.

What are Common Health Issues in Senior Dogs?

The common health issues in senior dogs are listed below.

  • Arthritis: Degenerative joint disease causing pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility, especially in weight-bearing joints.
  • Dental Disease: Accumulation of plaque and tartar leading to gum disease, tooth decay, and infection.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction: Cognitive dysfunction causes disorientation, confusion, changes in sleep patterns, and altered behavior.
  • Vision and Hearing Loss: Cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related hearing impairment are common health issues in senior dogs.
  • Heart Disease: Congestive heart failure or valvular disease impact heart function in senior dogs.
  • Kidney Disease: Decreased kidney function is a common health issue in senior dogs. It causes increased thirst and urination, weight loss, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Liver Disease: Hepatitis or liver tumors affect liver function and metabolism.
  • Cancer: Senior dogs are more prone to cancer, which presents as lumps, bumps, unexplained weight loss, or changes in behavior.
  • Obesity: Metabolic changes and decreased activity levels lead to weight gain, exacerbating joint issues.
  • Hypothyroidism: Decreased thyroid hormone production leads to weight gain, lethargy, and skin and coat changes.
  • Incontinence: A common health issue in senior dogs is loss of bladder control due to weakened muscles or underlying medical conditions.

How can You Manage Arthritis in Senior Dogs?

You can manage arthritis in senior dogs by following the steps below.

  1. Schedule veterinary consultation. Regular veterinary check-ups to diagnose arthritis and assess its severity.
  2. Make dietary Changes. Feed a balanced, calorie controlled diet to prevent weight gain, exacerbating joint pain. Diets supporting the joints are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants. 
  3. Give supplements. Provide supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, CBD oil for dogs and omega-3 fatty acids to support joint health and reduce inflammation.
  4. Implement exercise. A regular, low-impact exercise routine maintains muscle strength and joint flexibility and manages arthritis in senior dogs. 
  5. Do physical therapy. Consult a vet or canine physical therapist to develop a tailored physical therapy plan, including massage, passive range-of-motion exercises, and heat and cold therapy.
  6. Follow medications. Veterinarians prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain medication to manage arthritis in senior dogs. 
  7. Maintain ideal weight. Determine the correct weight for the senior dog and maintain it through exercise and diet to manage arthritis in senior dogs. 
  8. Provide a comfortable environment. Supportive bedding, ramps, or steps for easier access to elevated surfaces and non-slip surfaces prevent falls and manage arthritis in senior dogs.
  9. Monitor the dog regularly. Monitor the dog's condition and adjust management strategies based on changes in symptoms or mobility.

What are Dietary Changes for Senior Dogs?

Dietary changes for senior dogs include nutrient-rich foods such as low-calorie and high-protein sources with increased fiber, essential fatty acids, and joint supplements to support their overall well-being. “Senior dogs have an increased need for dietary protein and may benefit from diets with an increased protein-to-calorie ratio, providing a minimum of 25% of calories from protein,” according to the study by Laflamme, D. titled “Nutrition for aging cats and dogs and the importance of body condition,” 2005.

Senior dogs require lower-calorie diets to prevent weight gain due to decreased activity levels. Ensure the dog eats adequate protein to maintain muscle mass and support the immune system. 

Increased fiber aids digestion and prevents constipation, which is common in older dogs. 

Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, significantly reduce inflammation, support joint health, and maintain a healthy coat and skin. 

Incorporating joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate into the diet helps maintain cartilage health and improve mobility. 

How does Aging Affect a Dog's Behavior?

Aging affects a dog's behavior by increasing anxiety, disrupting sleep patterns, reducing activity levels, and possible cognitive dysfunction. “Apparent confusion, anxiety, disturbance of the sleep/wake cycle, and decreased interaction with owners are all common clinical signs of CCD,” according to the study by Dewey, C. et al. titled “Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment,” 2019.

Canine cognitive dysfunction, known as CCD in dogs, manifests as confusion, disorientation, and memory loss, similar to dementia in humans. These behavioral changes highlight the importance of understanding and addressing the unique needs of aging dogs to ensure their comfort and well-being.

What Signs Indicate Cognitive Decline in Senior Dogs?

The signs indicating cognitive decline in senior dogs are listed below.

  • Disorientation: The dog appears confused in familiar environments, getting lost in the house or yard, or staring blankly at walls.
  • Changes in Sleep-Wake Cycles: Senior dogs that sleep more during the day and are restless or awake at night are signs of cognitive decline in senior dogs.
  • Altered Interaction with Family Members: A Dog that is less responsive to commands, shows decreased interest in social interactions, or is irritable or withdrawn is a sign indicating cognitive decline in senior dogs.
  • House Soiling: House-trained dogs have accidents indoors, forget their training, or do not recognize the need to go outside, which is a sign of cognitive decline.
  • Decreased Activity Levels: Dogs show less interest in playing, walking, or other activities they once enjoyed, often appearing lethargic or uninterested.
  • Increased Anxiety or Agitation: Senior dogs with signs of cognitive decline exhibit heightened anxiety or restlessness, such as pacing, whining, or appearing nervous for no apparent reason.
  • Repetitive Behaviors: Repetitive actions, like walking in circles or incessantly licking surfaces, indicate cognitive decline.
  • Memory Loss: Dogs forget previously learned behaviors or routines, such as navigating the house or where its food and water bowls are located.

How can You Improve the Quality of Life for Senior Dogs?

You can improve the quality of life for senior dogs by following the steps below. 

  1. Schedule regular veterinary check-ups. The veterinarian monitors health, manages chronic conditions, and detects and treats early signs of aging in dogs .
  2. Provide a balanced diet: A diet tailored to senior dogs, focusing on lower calories, increased fiber, essential fatty acids, and supplements for joint support.
  3. Maintain appropriate exercise: Maintain a consistent, low-impact exercise routine to keep muscles strong and joints flexible. Activities such as gentle walks and swimming are ideal for senior dogs, helping to manage weight and improve mobility.
  4. Engage mental stimulation. Engage senior dogs with puzzle toys, interactive games, and new experiences to keep their minds active and reduce cognitive decline. Mental stimulation is crucial for preventing boredom and maintaining cognitive function.
  5. Ensure comfortable living conditions: Ensure the dog has a comfortable and safe  environment. Provide supportive bedding, ramps for easier access to elevated areas, and non-slip surfaces to prevent falls. A calm, quiet space helps reduce anxiety and promote better sleep.

What are the Best Exercises for Senior Dogs?

The best exercises for senior dogs are listed below.

  • Gentle Walks: Short, leisurely walks on flat terrain help maintain cardiovascular health, muscle tone, and joint flexibility.
  • Swimming: Swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise that reduces joint stress while providing a full-body workout.
  • Indoor Play: Light indoor play with toys like softballs or stuffed animals provides gentle exercise.
  • Stretching Exercises: Gentle stretching helps maintain flexibility and reduce stiffness. Simple stretches, like extending its front legs while gently pushing its back, keep joints limber. 
  • Nose Work Games: Scent-based games where dogs use their noses to find hidden treats or toys provide mental stimulation and light physical activity. 
  • Balance Exercises: Activities that focus on improving balance and coordination, such as having the dog stand on an unstable surface like a balance disc or wobbleboard, strengthen core muscles, and improve stability.
  • Slow, Controlled Fetch: Controlled fetch minimizes potential injury in senior dogs. Use soft toys and throw them shorter distances to prevent abrupt stops and turns that strain joints.

How Often Should Senior Dogs Visit the Vet?

Senior dogs should visit the vet every six months. “42% of dogs and 34% of cats over the age of 10 were taken to the vet less than once every two years, with owners not being prepared for health problems,” according to an article published in The Veterinary Record titled “Owners ‘worryingly unprepared’ for health problems in older pets,” 2012.

Regular check-ups allow veterinarians to monitor for signs of aging, such as arthritis, dental disease, and cognitive decline, and to adjust care plans that improve the quality of life and longevity of senior dogs. 

What are the Benefits of Regular Grooming for Senior Dogs? 

The benefits of regular grooming for senior dogs include helping maintain skin and coat health. Regular grooming removes dirt, debris, and loose fur, preventing matting and reducing skin infection risk.  “Regular pet grooming helps maintain skin and coat health and provides comprehensive healthcare for animals,” according to the study by Hai-yan, T. titled “Pet Grooming and Healthcare,” 2010.

Regular grooming sessions, including brushing, stimulate blood circulation, promoting a healthier coat. Grooming allows for early detection of lumps, bumps, and other skin issues, enabling prompt veterinary evaluation and intervention. 

Cleaning the ears and trimming nails during grooming prevent painful infections and ensure proper foot health. 

How do You Care for A Senior Dog with Vision or Hearing Loss?

You care for a senior dog with vision or hearing loss by following the steps below. 

  1. Create a Familiar Environment. Keep furniture and important items in consistent locations to help the dog navigate familiar spaces despite vision loss. Scent markers and textured surfaces indicate important areas for senior dogs with vision or hearing loss.
  2. Modify the Home Environment.  Install baby gates or barriers to prevent falls or access to stairs and provide non-slip rugs or mats to help vision problems in dogs.
  3. Use Verbal and Physical Cues. Hand signals or vibrations to communicate commands and cues help dogs with hearing loss. Incorporate consistent verbal cues with clear gestures to reinforce communication to care for a senior dog with vision or hearing loss.
  4. Safety Measures. Ensure the yard is securely fenced to prevent the dog from wandering off, especially if it has vision and hearing loss. 
  5. Maintain Regular Veterinary Check-ups. Schedule regular visits with a veterinarian to monitor the dog's vision and hearing.
  6. Provide Mental Stimulation: Engage the dog with interactive toys and games that stimulate its other senses, such as scent-based puzzles or noise-related toys. Mental stimulation helps keep the patient's mind active and compensates for sensory losses.
  7. Offer Comfort and Support: Give the dog plenty of affection and reassurance to help the vision or hearing-impaired senior dog feel secure and loved.

What are the Signs of Pain in Senior Dogs?

The signs of pain in senior dogs are listed below.

  • Changes in Behavior: Increased irritability, aggression, or withdrawal are signs of pain in senior dogs. 
  • Decreased Activity: Senior dogs experiencing pain are less active, showing reluctance to play, walk, or engage in usual activities.
  • Limping or Difficulty Moving: Limping, stiffness, or difficulty rising from a lying down  are signs of pain in senior dogs.
  • Changes in Eating Habits: Loss of appetite or decreased interest in food is a sign of pain or discomfort, especially if accompanied by weight loss.
  • Restlessness or Panting: Dogs exhibit pacing, restlessness, or excessive panting, which indicates discomfort or anxiety caused by pain.
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Difficulty settling or finding a comfortable position to sleep is a sign of pain in senior dogs.
  • Vocalization: Whimpering, whining, or yelping unexpectedly, especially when touched or moving, indicates acute pain in senior dogs.
  • Licking or Chewing: Excessive licking or chewing at specific body areas is a sign of localized pain or irritation.

How can You Keep a Senior Dog Mentally Stimulated?

The ways to keep a senior dog mentally stimulated are listed below. 

  • Interactive Toys: Provide toys that dispense treats or require problem-solving to access rewards, encouraging mental stimulation and physical activity.
  • Training and Tricks: Teach the senior dog new tricks or reinforce existing commands to stimulate its mind and maintain cognitive function through positive reinforcement.
  • Scent Games: Hide treats or toys around the house or yard for senior dogs to sniff out, engaging their natural scenting abilities and providing mental stimulation.
  • Puzzle Feeders: Use puzzle feeders or interactive food-dispensing toys that require the senior dog to work to access its meals, promoting mental activity.
  • Rotate Toys: Rotate toys regularly to keep them novel and interesting, prevent boredom, and encourage senior dogs to explore.
  • Obedience and Agility Exercises: Adapt obedience training exercises or set up low-impact agility courses to keep senior dogs mentally stimulated.
  • Social Interaction: Arrange playdates with friendly dogs or supervised interactions with familiar humans to provide senior dogs with social engagement and mental stimulation. 
  • Daily Walks and Exploration: Take leisurely walks in different environments to expose senior dogs to new sights, smells, and experiences, stimulating their senses and keeping them mentally alert.

What are Adjustments Necessary for A Senior Dog's Home Environment?

The adjustments necessary for a senior dog's home environment are listed below.

  • Use non-slip flooring. Use rugs or mats with non-slip backing to provide traction and stability, reducing the risk of slips and falls for senior dogs with mobility issues.
  • Position accessible food and water: Ensure food and water bowls are accessible and easy for the senior dog to reach, minimizing strain on its neck and joints.
  • Provide comfortable bedding. Provide a soft and supportive bed in a quiet, draft-free area to cushion joints and  a comfortable resting place in the senior dog’s home environment.
  • Install ramps or steps. Install ramps or steps to help senior dogs safely access higher surfaces like beds or couches, easing the strain on their joints and muscles.
  • Adjust temperature control accordingly. Maintain a comfortable room temperature to keep the senior dog comfortable.
  • Ensure good lighting. Ensure adequate lighting at home to help senior dogs navigate easily.
  • Maintain clear pathways. Keeping walkways and common areas free of clutter, and obstacles are adjustments necessary to prevent tripping hazards and allow dogs to move around safely.

Why is Weight Management Important for Senior Dogs?

Weight management is important for senior dogs to maintain optimal health and well-being. “Effective weight management for dogs and cats involves caloric restriction, diet selection, exercise, and behavior modification strategies to reduce risk of disease, prevent malnutrition, and improve quality of life,” according to the study by Brooks, D. et al. titled “2014 AAHA weight management guidelines for dogs and cats,” 2014.

Excess weight exacerbates age-related conditions such as arthritis by placing additional stress on joints, leading to discomfort and reduced mobility. Maintaining a healthy weight minimizes the risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders, which become more prevalent with age. 

Maintaining a healthy weight improves the health of senior dogs by reducing pain and inflammation, maintaining muscle mass, supporting joint function, and promoting longevity and vitality. 

How can CBD Oil Be Essential to Senior Dogs?

CBD oil can be essential to senior dogs because it manages pain and reduces anxiety.  “CBD oil is most frequently used by veterinarians for pain management, anxiety, and seizure reduction in dogs,” according to the study by Kogan, L. et al. titled “US Veterinarians' Knowledge, Experience, and Perception Regarding the Use of Cannabidiol for Canine Medical Conditions,” 2019.

CBD oil helps improve comfort and well-being of senior dogs by reducing inflammation, promoting better sleep, and supporting joint health. CBD oil for dogs is essential for senior dogs dealing with arthritis or other age-related conditions that cause discomfort.