Senior Dogs: What to Expect as Your Dog Ages

Updated on August 19, 2017
DonnaCosmato profile image

Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

Although Bernese Mountain dogs typically have short lifespans, this one is 12 years old.
Although Bernese Mountain dogs typically have short lifespans, this one is 12 years old. | Source

Those bright eyes that were always so excited to see you return home may have dimmed or even gone blind. Waking up from naps may involve some painful stretching and limping, and that once handsome brown muzzle is now grey with age.

Romps at the dog park have been traded for sedate and leisurely strolls for short distances. Just like humans, as dogs' age, they begin to move slower. Hearing and eyesight may be affected and any number of chronic illnesses or health conditions could be starting to manifest such as diabetes or cataracts.

How do you tell if your dog is suffering from a serious health problem or simply showing the signs of an age-related slowdown? Dr. Cathy Alinovi, owner of Healthy PAWsibilities veterinarian clinic, offers tips for identifying what to expect as your dog ages.

Question 1: What should I expect as my dog ages?

Dr. Cathy: Our expectation is for our dogs to have great quality of life as they age. They should have fun; they should want to do their favorite things all the way until the end. Normal expectations are gray muzzles, some signs of arthritis, or dirty teeth. If we catch illness early, there is a chance we can provide a better quality of life as long as possible.

Noticeable Signs of Aging

Graying muzzles are one of the signs of any aging dog.
Graying muzzles are one of the signs of any aging dog. | Source

Q 2: Which breeds have the shortest life spans?

Dr. Cathy: Sadly, the larger the breed is, the shorter the lifespan is. For example, some genetic lines of Great Danes and St Bernard's are only with us for 2 years. See the table below for a list of the shortest-lived breeds.

Shortest Lived Dog Breeds

 
Bernese Mountain Dog
Dogue de Bordeaux
Great Danes
Irish Wolfhound
Neopolitan Mastiff
St. Bernard

Q3: Which breeds have the longest life expectancy?

Small breeds live the longest and their owners can expect their dogs to live up to 18 years. (See table below for some examples of breeds with long life spans.)

Long Living Dog Breeds

 
Beagles
Boston Terriers
Chihuahuas
Dachshunds
Lhasa Apsos
Maltese
Miniature Poodles
Miniature Schnauzers
Pomeranians
Pugs

Q4: What signs alert pet parents that their dogs are becoming seniors?

Dr. Cathy: The most common signs are graying muzzles and slowing down. While slowing down is not a positive sign for senior dogs, it is a sign that we need to take preventative measures.

Canine Life Expectancy

What's the oldest dog you've ever owned?

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Q5: Are urinary/elimination changes a sign of aging or behavioral problems?

Dr. Cathy: They can be a sign of either one. In aging, our dogs do become arthritic, which makes it hard to hunch and get all of the waste products out. Some dogs end up with bladder infections. Some dogs, walk and poop, some dogs leak urine. Some dogs lose the ability to know they have to go to the bathroom.

Q6: What are some of the most common health problems of senior dogs?

Dr. Cathy: Some typical health issues for geriatric dogs are

How to Exercise Senior Dogs

Q7: What types of medical problems do vets check for during a senior checkup?

Dr. Cathy: First, we check the dog's mental abilities by observing how he or she processes everyone in the room. Next, we check the mouth and evaluate the teeth. Listen to the heart and lungs and evaluate for heart murmur and lung sounds. Look at posture and for signs of pain. If anything is off, we recommend bloodwork, urinalysis, and x-rays to better identify the health problems.

Q8: How often should senior dogs see their vets?

Dr. Cathy: Senior dogs should have a checkup every six months. Remember one year of a dog’s life is comparable to seven years of life for humans. As we age, it would be ludicrous to imagine we would only go to our doctor once every seven years. The goal with routine health care is to catch problems early for better health and quality of life.

There's still life in those old dogs!

Even though your dog is getting older, he or she may still enjoy a short romp or roll.
Even though your dog is getting older, he or she may still enjoy a short romp or roll. | Source

Q9: Should aging dogs continue to receive vaccinations on a regular basis?

Dr. Cathy: Vaccinations do protect young dogs from disease; studies show the protection from vaccines last many years. Vaccines contain chemicals, dyes, and preservatives that may do more damage the longer they are used. Because older age diseases are not illnesses for which the dog can be vaccinated, that should not be the focus of veterinary visits. The only caveat is to make sure you are in compliance with local laws regarding rabies. If you have to get your dog vaccinated for rabies, do insist on three-year rabies vaccines, and ask for thimerosal-free vaccines. (Thimerosal is a preservative, which contains mercury.)

Q10: How do dietary and exercise regimens need to be modified for older dogs?

Dr. Cathy: Older dogs still need exercise, just not the rough, vigorous play they used to do. The more the body moves, the better it works, the better the body works, the better the brain.

Diet is not as complicated as pet food companies want us to think. Because our older dogs do not run and play as much as they used to, they need fewer calories.

However, quality protein should not be replaced with grains and fillers, so called fiber. Exercise helps dogs poop, not necessarily fiber.

Fiber is actually a misnomer because the dog’s body interprets fiber as carbohydrates. Carbohydrates lead to weight gain, which is the last thing an older dog needs.

Senior Pet Care

Q11: What suggestions do you have for caring for an aging dog?

Dr. Cathy: If you see a behavior change, just the slightest thing, because you know your dog better than any one, you know it is a sign of a problem. The sooner you act, the better your chance of helping your dog and having more quality time together. Most of the older age diagnoses are not end of life sentences.

For example, congestive heart failure means diet and medication, just as for humans. Kidney failure means diet. Liver failure means diet and medication.

One final thing to remember: there are many options besides conventional medicine to treat many of these conditions. CoQ10 and a low salt diet work as well or better than blood pressure medication in some cases of congestive heart failure.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help quite well in kidney failure. Animal chiropractic and elk velvet antler can work wonders on the arthritic dog. These examples are just a sampling to show there are more options than simply conventional medicine.

Disclaimer

This veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice about your pet’s health.

While this information is periodically researched and updated (under the guidance of veterinary input) in the attempt to be timely and factual, no guarantee is given the information is correct, complete, and/or up-to-date.

Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Donna Cosmato

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      • profile image

        Catherine 

        2 years ago

        We have a 14 year old female bullyx named cheeky. She has been the most wonderful family member to us all . Our youngest of 5 sons in now 10 and cheeky has been there right through every milestone . She has always been our farm dog , always in the go , always in the middle of our family gatherings, running through the middle of our crickey games or sliding down the waterslide with the kids at Xmas time. Now she is finding it hard to see , hear and differentiate night to day and is barking at the sky or the wall. We have to Bring her inside each night to lay by the fire as she barks for no reason . She is hard to wake and sometimes wonders. Cheeky also pee's on the back step when she wants to come in. It is getting awaful tiresome as I am up most of the night calming her to sleep . I also start work early hrs of the morn and taking care of my husband with chronic back injury and waiting for a knee replacement . I don't know what to do with our beautiful old girl , the thought of her getting worse is breaking our hearts- but my sanity is starting to break too. We love her so much but maybe the time has come to put her to gentle sleep . Can anyone shed some light on this situation for me please

      • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

        Donna Cosmato 

        3 years ago from USA

        Thank you for sharing your experience with your senior dog mhiki. We've been using bone broth for ourselves but I had not thought about giving it to my Chihuahua. I have her on a probiotic that "cured" the "pancreatitis" the vet thought she had. Best of luck to you in using natural, nutritious foods to care for your Corgi. May she live long and provide you with many more years of joy and companionship.

      • mhikl profile image

        mhikl 

        3 years ago from Calgary, Canada

        My Corgi Pem turned 14, 2015 Jan 20, and though her hearing is decreasing she can hear my loud high whistles. Her eyes look clear. She suddenly slowed down, age 10, when she slipped on ice and tore or hurt something in her right shoulder. She has a strong heart still.

        Last year the length of walking/running/snooping distance decreased.

        I had began feeding her beef bone and ligament/tendon broth four years a go to help her hurt/torn right front shoulder, but it did little if any good. Then, this past summer (2014) bored with crock potting the broth, I chopped up the kilo of beef ligament/tendons I had, very fine, dried them and then began giving Sadie about 40-50gr of them a day, reconstituted in warm water- but still raw.

        Within 3 days I no longer had to carry her up the stairs and she could finish a whole walk without every having to be carried home. It seems there is something in ‘raw’ as opposed to cooked ligaments, etc. for I am doing the same thing and my left torn hip (done age 30 whilst working overseas in Sarawak, no doctors in area) is no longer painful and I can walk further than before though I still limp.

        I want my little girl to last at least another 3 years (to age 17); then I shall be ready to say good-bye. My last part-Corgy lived until she got a rare liver cancer. I blame commercial dog food (best recommended, low cal dog food by my vet—great guy)

        Sadie began the BARF diet around age 9. Maybe she will make it to 17 on this better health diet.

        Her only problem is that her teeth are not good but I cannot afford the thousands to have them pulled and I also worry about the trauma it would cost her should I have them pulled.

        She, as I, is taking a natural diet with support for toxins, worms infections etc. which seem to really work. Borax is a vital part of detoxing both our bodies. Read Walter Lasts “Borax Conspiracy” on line to find out about it.

        Namaste and care,

        mhikl

      • tirelesstraveler profile image

        Judy Specht 

        4 years ago from California

        Good knowledge to have. Thanks.

      • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

        Donna Cosmato 

        4 years ago from USA

        Hello Aaron...I'm so sorry for your loss! Sixteen years is a long time to share with a faithful companion, and I cannot say I "know how you feel." You're right that one should consider a dog's longevity stats before making a decision to add him or her as a member of the family. Best wishes to you and your family for the future.

      • Aaron Sparks profile image

        Aaron Sparks 

        4 years ago

        My dog just died after being with my family for 16 years!

        it is very difficult to overcome his death...

        i guess what i'm trying to say here is mostly for those of you who don't have a dog but considering getting one- don't do that if you don't think you can cope the day he will be leaving tour family...

        i don't think i'll ever have another dog, the sense of loss was just to much the first time..

      • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

        Donna Cosmato 

        4 years ago from USA

        Thanks, Chatkat, for reading and commenting on this hub, especially since you mention you are a cat person rather than a dog person. I'm glad you found it informative.

      • Chatkath profile image

        Kathy 

        4 years ago from California

        Wow very informative reading. I have always loved all animals but recently, living close to my son and family I have grown to love their dogs. Always the cat lady, I have been learning so much about dogs lately and your hub really expands upon and confirms some of the doggy data I have heard. Thanks for publishing such a well organized and complete piece on a topic that commands attention!

      • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

        Donna Cosmato 

        4 years ago from USA

        Thanks for sharing about your precious pet, mary615. I hope she has a long and happy life as your loving companion.

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        4 years ago from Florida

        I have a Miniature Schnauzer and I' m glad to know her life expectancy is pretty good. She is 7 years old and still loves her daily walks and plays fetch with her tennis ball for at least 1/2 hour every evening.

        Very interesting Hub. Voted UP, etc.

      • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

        Donna Cosmato 

        4 years ago from USA

        Thank you, eirevet, for reading and voting on this hub on dog health!

      • eirevet profile image

        eirevet 

        4 years ago from Ireland

        Good insight into some of the changes in elderly dogs. Voted up and useful

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