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Senior Dog Care - Important Information For Pet Owners to Keep Senior Dogs Happy and Healthy



Dr. Sudeep Wahla
Prestige Animal Hospital

What is the most important thing to know about caring for a senior dog?

The most important thing about caring for a senior dog is still lots of love. Yeah, they might not want to do as much as they used to when they were younger, but they are still active. Their brains are still going and they need regular exams. You're going to have to start bringing them into the vet a little bit more often just to help them stay healthy and prolong their vitality.

What is the life expectancy of a dog?

So this is a very broad question because it can range. Generally smaller dogs tend to live longer than the larger giant breed dogs. If you have a really giant breed dog, like a St. Bernard or Great Dane, average life expectancy can be eight to 10 years. But you get down to the smaller dogs and you can see maybe 14 to 16 years.

How does getting older impact the health of my dog?

So as dogs age, just like people, nutritional needs change. Maybe they need some changes around the house because they're developing some arthritis. Maybe they can't walk as far as they used to go. They still want to do those things, because mentally, they want to do it, but physically, sometimes they might have some limitations.

How can wellness care extend the life and vitality of my dog?

Wellness care is really a pillar of our practice. And we also have wellness plans just for that reason, which are geared towards the age range of your pet. They help give them optimum care. So wellness will help extend your pet's life because we're being proactive and preventative rather than reactive. So essentially we want to make sure that they're doing well. We want to make sure their blood work looks good. We're not detecting any early kidney disease. We don't see any stones or underlying infections in the bladder after doing a urine test. Sometimes we listen to their heart.

Giving them good, proper, well-balanced nutrition will help meet their nutritional needs and maybe slow down some medications and slow down that arthritis that can occur in a lot of pets. Regular dental cleaning is important, as the dental exams will help clean the tartar and plaque and remove the bacteria that can get in the bloodstream and affect the liver, kidney, and heart. A lot of people overlook this or don't think it's necessary, but that's a big step in wellness and vitality in the dog.

What are the most common problems in senior dogs?

I would say the most common problems in senior dogs are arthritis and weight gain. A lot of times, those two things go hand in hand because they're moving less, but people are feeding them just as much. And they tend to gain weight, which makes it worse on the joints, so it can be a vicious cycle. A lot of times we'll see underlying kidney issues and heart disease, but dental disease is also a very common one. We’ll also have dogs come in with vision loss and cataracts. So these are some of the common problems we tend to see in some senior pets.

Does my dog still need regular wellness exams as they get older?

Yes. After the age of seven, we consider dogs to be seniors. On a larger dog, like a giant breed, it might be after five if their average life span is about eight to 10. The smaller breeds, they might be a little bit later, but generally, you should get wellness exams every six months on dogs throughout their whole life, which is biannual. But it's more important as they age and become seniors because six months to them can be two to three years, sometimes even longer based on their life expectancy.

Are there any signs and symptoms that my dog may be slowing down?

Sure. You might start to notice they don't want to play as much, they’re not eating as much, and they’re dropping food out of their mouth. They’re slow to get up, especially in those winter months, and that can indicate some arthritis. They might not want to run, jump, play, and maybe walking two blocks is hard where they used to walk six. So there may be some of those signs or some of the general things that we can see.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing if my dog is slowing down or whether they are actually sick?

Well, Dr. Google, a lot of times people think is the right way to go, but it's not. If you think you have to Google a symptom or sign in your pets, I tell people if you're even having that thought, call your veterinarian and bring them in. Because in pets, they can't communicate. So as veterinarians, we're trained to help communicate what they're demonstrating to us, and what we find on the physical exam to the clients. So you might be noticing very subtle changes, but we can detect things that are more important in regards to their health, and whether they are actually sick or not.

What will my veterinarian be looking for when examining my senior dog?

We always do thorough examinations. So we start with the face. We take a look at their teeth. Do they have any dental disease? Are their eyes starting to get any cataracts or nuclear sclerosis, which is like a greyness of the eyes? How's their hearing? Do they have any underlying ear infections? Do we notice any reactive lymph nodes or enlargement of lymph nodes? We continue down the body to check their heart, lungs, listen for heart murmurs, and any difficulty breathing. We feel their belly for any abnormal tumors, move their joints, and see if they have any pain and if we can isolate any arthritis.

So on top of just our physical exam, we also recommend some testing to help tell us how they're doing internally ... Blood tests, urine test, x-rays, these are all part of a good senior workup. We do regular fecal testing as well.

FAQ - Senior Dog Care


Dr. Sudeep Wahla
Prestige Animal Hospital

At what age is my dog considered a senior?

As we all know, dogs can vary from tiny little toy breeds to the giant Great Danes and Saint Bernard breeds. So really, the larger breeds tend to have a shorter life span in general. A giant breed dog may have a life span of eight to 10 years, so five years old is considered more senior. Whereas a smaller dog who has a lifespan of 14 to 16, it might be around the seven to the nine-year range that they become a senior. So it depends on what size and type of breed of dog you have.

What are the health needs of my senior dog?

So, nutritional needs will change as they age. Caloric intake or how much food they consume may also change because they're less active. Some senior dogs also need some medications or joint supplements to help with their joints as they age. And they need more regular doctor visits, just like people, as they age to prevent and catch things early if they are going to happen.

Is there a difference between a mature, senior, and geriatric dog?

Sure. We generally call mature dogs adult dogs. We tend to keep it simple and bulk them under seven, between three and seven years or two and seven years old. Now, again, it all depends on the size and breed of your dog. But a senior pet may be between seven to 10, or even in big dogs, between six and seven. And then you get to the geriatric pets who tend to have more issues like arthritis, are more fragile and slowing down, and who have different needs than your mature and senior pets.

Should I encourage my senior dog to exercise?

I am a big proponent of exercise, so yes, I would encourage you to exercise them. How many of us love it when our dogs, we have to spell W-A-L-K, but then they turn their head real quick, and all of a sudden, you think, "Can my dog spell or read?" I don't know, but they love that walk that they get. And so I always tell people, you’ve got to let a dog be a dog. That's probably the highlight of their day other than seeing you. Even if you're gone for five minutes and you come back, they go crazy seeing you again. So I would say continue to exercise. It's good for cognitive abilities and is good for physical activity.

What nutritional or dietary changes do I need to make for my senior dog?

A lot of times you'll need to add some glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, MSM—these are all good for the joints. Sometimes fish oils are needed, as they are used for the joints and brain health. And calorie restriction should be considered because, as seniors, we don't need as many calories as a growing puppy. We've reached our full potential.

How can I make my home more senior dog friendly?

A lot depends on what your senior dog is exhibiting. If they're fairly healthy and they're running around, still playing, great. But some dogs tend to slow down because of that arthritis, which is a common illness in senior pets, and you've probably heard me mention it many times during the questions. But they used to jump off that couch; now you’ve got to get some steps to help them step up. Maybe your food bowl was on the floor. Let's get a raised platform so they don't have to bend down to eat it.

If they're having some vision problems, just be careful if you have a pool or anything else so they don't fall in. Try not to move things around the house too much. Sometimes if they do have arthritis and they're slipping, you should put runners on laminate or tile floor so they don't slip as much.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (909) 329-2860, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook.

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