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Signs of Old Age in Dogs: What You Need to Know

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You probably wish that your dog could stay young and vibrant forever, but that isn't reality — everyone ages, including your canine companion. While every dog is different, there are some common signs of old age in dogs.

Of course, "old age" means different things for different dogs and you can’t predict how long a dog lives. Large-breed dogs tend to have shorter lifespans and are considered seniors by the time they're about seven or eight years old. A small-breed dog like a Maltese, on the other hand, tends to live longer and is considered elderly at about 10 or 11 years of age. 

No matter what kind of dog you have, there are common signs of old age that will eventually appear. When you’re aware of what to look for ahead of time, you can take steps to make their golden years as comfortable as possible. 

Read on to learn more about the signs of old age in dogs. If you spot these changes, it's best to check in with your veterinarian. Even if your pet doesn't need immediate medical attention, your vet can tell you more about the changes that are happening with your dog and how to best prepare. 

Physical Changes in Your Senior Dog

Many changes that a senior dog experiences are physical, some of which can be seen with the naked eye. These include:

Weight Gain 

Many dogs tend to gain weight as they get older, which is typically due to a slowing metabolism coupled with lower activity level. Talk to your veterinarian if your dog's weight gain has you concerned. Some pet owners will begin feeding their senior pet low-calorie dog food or adjust the portion size. 

Bad Breath

Dog breath isn't always minty fresh, but exceptionally bad breath is a problem. It's particularly common in older dogs who haven’t had consistent dental care. If your senior dog's breath bowls you over, it could be a sign of gum disease (gingivitis) or full-fledged dental disease, known as periodontitis. If halitosis persists, it's time to check in with your vet. 

Cloudy Eyes

Many aging dogs experience cloudiness in the eyes, which is known as nuclear sclerosis. Often, this is a benign condition that doesn't affect your dog's vision at all. Sometimes, though, it can be a sign of more serious problems like cataracts, which can lead to vision loss. If you notice cloudiness in your pet's eyes, or if your dog seems to be bumping into things more often than usual, it's time to see the vet. 

Incontinence

Has your dog been potty-trained their whole life, but suddenly seems to go on your carpets and floors without warning? Incontinence is fairly common among older dogs, and so is straining to urinate. Urinary tract infections, kidney disease, or other health issues could cause this, so veterinary attention will be necessary. 

Lumps and Bumps

You'll probably notice a few more lumps and bumps on your older dog's coat while petting them. It’s easy to assume the worst and worry that your dog has cancerous tumors, but don’t panic. While that could be the case, it’s much more likely that these bumps are fatty lipomas, which are benign growths common among older dogs. Still, it's best to get your dog checked whenever you find a new lump.

Changes in Your Dog's Behavior 

signs of old age in dogs: hand tapping dog's head

Just as there are physical changes as your dog enters their senior years, there will also be behavioral and mental changes. While these are often a regular part of your dog getting older, it's worth asking your veterinarian if medical intervention could help your pet feel more comfortable. Here are some behavioral signs of old age in dogs:

Slowing Down

Dog owners often chalk up their pet's slower pace to a normal part of the aging process. And it is, to an extent. But it's important to be aware that there could be more going on with your dog's health. 

You'll probably notice your furry friend has more trouble getting up stairs or into the car, and prefers a shorter stroll to a long walk. But if your dog seems to be hurting, it could be because of joint pain caused by arthritis. Your veterinarian might recommend medications, light exercise, and dietary supplements for joint and mobility health, such as those with glucosamine. 

Increased Sleep

Your older pooch will likely be content to sleep most of the day, which isn't unusual or necessarily a sign of a health problem. However, pain from arthritis or another condition could cause your dog to stay off their feet more than usual. A healthy dog will sleep around 12 to 14 hours a day, so if your dog seems to be sleeping more than that, it’s worth checking with your veterinarian. 

Restlessness

Another behavioral change you may see as your dog advances in age is restlessness, particularly at night. If your pet seems to pace around in a disoriented or confused fashion, it could be an initial sign of canine cognitive dysfunction. Think of it as a dog's version of Alzheimer's disease. Talk to your vet — medication and behavioral modification could help your dog maintain a good quality of life moving forward. 

Not Responding to Commands

Sometimes, pet parents think their dog is simply being stubborn when they don't respond to a command. But if your dog is getting up in age, they may not be able to hear you. Hearing loss is among the common signs of old age in dogs. You might be able to use hand signals to direct your dog more effectively. Ask your vet or a professional dog trainer for more information on using hand signals to communicate with your pet.

Increased Anxiety

Senior dogs tend to have more trouble dealing with stress and anxiety than younger dogs. These problems may worsen as your dog ages, and things like sensitivity to loud noises, separation anxiety, and even aggression or avoidance of family members might occur. Check in with your vet to learn how to address these problems. 

How to Keep Your Older Dog Healthy

dog smiling in the grass

Some of the medical issues or behavioral changes listed above are inevitable — they're simply a part of getting older. Still, so much of keeping your dog happy and healthy in old age involves preventative care during their younger years, and throughout middle age.

Whether your dog is just entering their golden years or has been a senior for a while, be sure to:

  • Follow a nutritious, well-balanced diet. What your dog eats directly impacts overall health, regardless of age. Ensure that your pet is getting a high-quality diet that suits their age and breed. Senior dogs usually benefit from kibble that's been specially formulated for their unique needs.
  • Ask your vet about dietary supplements. Adding supplements to your older dog's diet can help immensely. For example, PetHonesty's Senior Hemp 3-pack can reduce joint inflammation and pain. These supplements contain glucosamine, collagen, and hemp oil and powder, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. You can also try the Senior Dog Health Booster 3-pack to give your dog's overall health an upgrade. 
  • Exercise regularly. Ask your vet about the best exercise methods for your pooch. Regular exercise without overdoing it is the best way to keep your older dog fit and trim. It's also good for keeping your pet's mind sharp. 
  • See the vet. Your vet will make sure your pet is up to date with essential vaccinations and parasite medications, and they can help you address any health problems that crop up as your dog gets older. 

Know the Signs of Old Age in Dogs and Take Quick Action

Now that you're familiar with many of the signs of old age in dogs, you won't be taken by surprise when your senior canine companion starts to experience age-related physical and behavioral changes. 

By working closely with your veterinarian, you can keep your dog comfortable as they get older and avoid as many health troubles as you can. A nutritious diet, natural supplements, and physical activity can also provide many more joyous years with your beloved animal friend. 

To learn more about your dog's care needs, visit the PetHonesty blog.