what to expect with a senior dog
By Chewy Studios

Caitlin UltimoHealth / Wellness

Senior Dog Care: Changes to Expect with an Older Dog

Whether your pup is approaching her golden years or you recently adopted a senior dog, you probably have noticed some signs of aging. To promote health and longevity in your senior dog, you might need to provide a bit more care than a younger pup.

To make sure your senior dog’s quality of life is at its best, you need to know when a dog is officially considered a senior and what to expect as she get older.

When Is a Dog Considered a Senior?

Small breed dogs tend to age more slowly and live longer, while large breeds tend to age more quickly and have shorter life spans. One theory for this difference is simple wear and tear and the effect of gravity over time. Others believe genetics play a role. Therefore, the age when a dog is considered a senior differs between breeds, as shown below:

  • Small dog breeds, like Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, age more slowly and are considered seniors at 10-12 years old.
  • Medium dog breeds, like Border Collies and English Springer Spaniels, are moved into the senior category at ages 7-8.
  • Giant breed dogs, like Great Danes and Mastiffs, tend to be considered seniors at ages 5-7.

While age is a good determination of when a dog becomes a senior, you also might be able to notice through behavioral and physical changes. Click here to learn more about when a dog is considered a senior.

What Are Typical Senior Dog Behavior Changes?

A senior dog’s behavior changes can depend on the canine’s underlying health. Some senior dogs continue to behave like puppies and, other than a white muzzle, are indistinguishable from younger dogs. Other pooches might show more blatant behavioral signs of aging.

Older dogs might suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), otherwise known as doggy dementia. This age-related syndrome causes declines in canine cognitive function. Dementia causes behavioral changes that can range from loss of potty training to confusion. Other signs might include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Increased aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Inappropriate barking, whining or howling
  • Pacing
  • Staring at walls
  • Not responding to her name

Other noticeable senior dog behavioral changes might include slowing down, acting irritable or sleeping more as a result of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis in dogs is defined as inflammation and pain associated with loss or degradation of cartilage within articular joints in the body.

If you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior, your dog should be seen by a veterinarian.

What Are Common Physical Changes in Senior Dogs?

You might notice physical signs of aging as your pet gets older. These might include:

  • Increased opacity in the eyes due to age-related thickening of the lens
  • Loss of hearing
  • Weight or appetite changes
  • Hair/coat changes, including going gray
  • Gum inflammation from dental disease as a result of plaque and tartar buildup
  • A walking limp from joint pain

Note: Certain dog breeds can experience specific aging conditions. For example, Dachshunds, which have longer backs than most dogs, might develop back problems, such as disc disease. Larger breed or overweight dogs might be more prone to osteoarthritis.

Most behavioral and physical changes are normal. Some changes actually are warning signs that something is wrong.

Senior Dog Health Problems to Look Out For

Joint pain is a common complaint among older pets. This condition generally results in a lower quality of life as well as an increased risk of obesity. The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management lists these symptoms of pain in dogs:

  • Less social interaction
  • Anxiety
  • Whimpering
  • Growling
  • Less appetite
  • Howling
  • Refusal to move

Other signs that might be linked to senior dog health problems include:

  • Sudden changes in weight or appetite, which might indicate an underlying health issue, such as cancer or hormonal imbalances.
  • Increased water consumption, urination or loss of potty training, which can indicate kidney problems, Cushing’s Syndrome (an adrenal gland disorder) or diabetes.
  • Skin lumps or bumps, which might signal cancer.

If you notice any of these signs, contact your vet. While most changes are inevitable, there are ways to help your pup maintain both physical and mental health.

How to Keep Senior Dogs Physically and Mentally Healthy

When it comes to senior dog care, a healthy diet, exercise and regular veterinary visits are crucial to help keep an older dog healthy.

Senior Dog Diet

Diet includes everything that goes into your dog’s mouth, including dog food, treats and supplements. These days, many dog foods are formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition along with extra benefits. For example, Purina Pro Plan bright mind is formulated with DHA, EPA and antioxidants to help promote brain health.

Many older dogs are prone to joint disease, so giving your pet a veterinary-approved joint supplement, like Dasuquin, daily can help promote joint health and protect cartilage. If your senior canine already has mobility challenges, then help make it easier for her to get in and out of cars or on and off of furniture more comfortably with a ramp, such as the Pet Gear tri-fold pet ramp, which can be folded down for convenience.

Sometimes older dogs cannot digest their food as well and might not be getting all the nutrients they need from a conventional diet. Other times they may experience concurrent problems, such as hormonal conditions or joint disease. These dogs might benefit from a multivitamin to meet additional nutritional needs. Consider a daily multivitamin like Vetriscience Canine senior plus to help make sure your pooch is getting all her nutritional needs met.

Senior Dog Exercise

Playtime contributes to your senior dog’s physical health as well as her mental and emotional well-being. Older dogs who don’t play might become depressed and gain weight over time.

Play also helps with mental clarity, increases a sense of well-being for pup and parent, gets stiff joints moving, helps maintain muscle mass and generally helps keep older dogs young at heart. For a dog toy designed specifically for seniors, KONG senior dog toy is designed to be kinder to teeth and gums, and it can be stuffed with treats to encourage your fur friend to play.

Senior Dog Veterinary Care

Older dogs are more prone to certain diseases, such as osteoarthritis. Moreover, things can change rapidly in an aging dog’s body. That’s why it’s so important to have a good relationship with your veterinarian. Take your dog in at least once a year for a physical examination and any recommended tests.

With senior dog care, it is important to watch for any changes in your furry friend’s behavior, weight, appetite and hair/coat. By being mindful of this and your senior dog’s needs, you’ll help ensure she’s living a comfortable, happy life.


Sarah Wooten bio

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