Older Dog Health Problems

senior golden retriever in grassy field
Older dogs’ health is better maintained by staying active

As dogs age, they are more at risk for developing specific health issues. Like humans, normal degenerative processes occur over time and health problems arise. Thankfully, with modern medicine, many of these older dog disease problems and symptoms can be identified early, and in some cases, can be slowed or stopped with treatment or diet to help our dogs live longer, better quality lives. The definition of a “senior” dog is one that has lived two-thirds of their life expectancy. Because there is such variation of type across dog breeds, the age of a senior is highly variable. In general, small dogs tend to live longer and would be considered senior by age 9 or 10. Large breed dogs have shorter life spans on average, and would be considered senior at the age of 6 to 8.

The Most Common Diseases in Old Dogs

Old dogs are at risk for many health problems, but the ones we see most commonly are:


Osteoarthritis is a very common disease in older dogs. This usually comes with joint pain, which presents with symptoms of lameness or stiffness getting up. Another, often unrecognized symptom of arthritis in a senior dog, is lethargy or reluctance to exercise. The cartilage lining of joints degrades as dogs age, which leads to pain and inflammation. Dogs that have had joint injuries in their younger years are even more likely to experience this  degenerative joint disease.  Thankfully, there are a number of medications for the treatment of arthritis that can be. safely used in older dogs. 

Blindness and Deafness

It is very common for old dogs to lose their hearing and sight. Age-related changes to the  lens in the eye will lead to impaired vision. Owners will often notice that night vision is affected first. The lens in the eye can look cloudy due to age related changes and/or the development of cataracts. If you notice any difference in the look of your dog’s eyes they should bechecked by your veterinarianto determine if it is just age related change or if there is a more serious problem. Senior dog owners may also notice that their dog does not respond to being called as well as they used to. This is often due to loss of hearing in their senior years. Dogs with hearing loss should be monitored more closely and kept on leash as they may not be able to hear things in their environment that could be hazardous.

older grey poodle
Vision or hearing changes are common health issues in older dogs.

Organ Dysfunction

The kidney and liver can become less efficient with age and so we may see organ dysfunction in senior dogs. These changes can be identified with routine blood work. If caught early, these changes can often be treated with medications and diet. Heart disease is another risk as dogs age. Routine exams are necessary to identify heart disease. It is a good idea toschedule senior pet check ups with your veterinarianin order to identify these
problems early.


The risk of cancer increases as dogs get older. Senior dogs are at higher risk of developing all types of cancer. Cancer can affect any body system and some are more obvious than others. Any new lumps and bumps anywhere on the body should be checked by your veterinarian. Senior dog blood work may also be helpful in identifying cancers that are less obvious.

Dental Disease

Tartar buildup and gum disease occurs over time and happens faster without routine brushing. Over the life of your dog, periodontal disease can lead to infection and tooth loss. Infections in the mouth can also affect other organ systems like the kidneys, liver and heart. Dental disease in older dogs as well as younger dogs is a preventable problem and should be addressed. Routine dental care and dental cleanings are the best way to prevent problems as they age.Talk to your veterinarian about dental issuesthat may be affecting your senior dog.


Older dogs will experience a slow down in metabolism and activity levels. Weight gain is a common problem that follows. Obesity predisposes old dogs to other diseases like diabetes, and arthritis. Your veterinarian can be a valuable resource to help you determine the nutritional requirements of your senior pet. They can help you treat obesity with weight loss diet plans or prevent weight gain with appropriate calorie intake. If you are concerned about your dog’s weight,contact your veterinarian for advice.

obese boxer dog
Old dogs are at higher risk of weight gain due to decreased activity levels..

Metabolic or Endocrine Disorders

These are disorders that occur when there are imbalances in the body’s metabolic and endocrine functions. Examples of these include diabetes and hypothyroidism. Symptoms of these health problems in older dogs, like any dog, are very specific to the disease itself but diagnosis usually occurs with blood work. Routine senior blood panels will check for the most common metabolic and endocrine disorders. Treatment is often available if the condition is identified early.

Keeping your Older Dog Healthy

close up of older small dog
Routine exams are important for avoiding many older dog diseases.

There are many health issues that can afflict older dogs. The ones listed here are just a few of the most common ones we see. The importance of senior wellness exams and blood testing is clear. Early detection of any disease process gives us the best chance at successful prevention and treatment. If you see any symptoms of disease in your older dog that concern you or you want to be proactive before you see symptoms,please contact your veterinarianand ask about senior wellness exams.


  1. Photos Courtesy ofPixabay