Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.
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 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.
Questions This Article Answers
- What should I expect as my dog ages?
- Which breeds have the shortest life spans?
- Which breeds have the longest life expectancy?
- What signs alert pet parents that their dogs are becoming seniors?
- Are urinary/elimination changes a sign of aging or behavioral problems?
- What are some of the most common health problems of senior dogs?
- What types of medical problems do vets check for during a senior checkup?
- How often should senior dogs see their vets?
- Should aging dogs continue to receive vaccinations on a regular basis?
- How do dietary and exercise regimens need to be modified for older dogs?
- What suggestions do you have for caring for an aging dog?
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
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
3. 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
- Boston Terriers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Miniature Poodles
- Miniature Schnauzers
4. 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
5. 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.
6. What are some of the most common health problems of senior dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Some typical health issues for geriatric dogs are
- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Dental disease
How to Exercise Senior Dogs
7. 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.
8. 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!
9. 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.)
10. 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
11. 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.
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.
© 2014 Donna Cosmato
Catherine on June 04, 2016:
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
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 15, 2015:
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 from Calgary, Canada on February 12, 2015:
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,
Judy Specht from California on September 23, 2014:
Good knowledge to have. Thanks.
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on July 03, 2014:
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 on July 02, 2014:
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..
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 29, 2014:
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.
Kathy from California on June 28, 2014:
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!
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 25, 2014:
Thanks for sharing about your precious pet, mary615. I hope she has a long and happy life as your loving companion.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 24, 2014:
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.
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 24, 2014:
Thank you, eirevet, for reading and voting on this hub on dog health!
eirevet from Ireland on June 24, 2014:
Good insight into some of the changes in elderly dogs. Voted up and useful
Feed an age-appropriate diet
As your dog gets older, the foods they eat play a huge part in their health, wellbeing, and enjoyment of life. As the owner, you’re in full control of what your pooch eats, so if you’re the type of person who gives in to your dog’s demands and feeds them more treats than you care to imagine, it’s time to change your habits. Your dog must follow a healthy, balanced diet, especially during their senior years, as the more weight they carry, the more they will struggle to get around.
Whatever you do, make sure you pick a dog food that is low in fat and contains fewer calories. Any treats you give your dog should be packed with vitamins, nutrients, and protein that will keep them feeling fuller for longer. You can also purchase supplements from YuMove that can go hand in hand with your dog’s diet to support their joints. YuMove is regarded as the best joint supplement provider for dogs, helping to keep your senior pooch leading an excellent quality of life.
Here's how your mature dog's age translates into human years:
|Appropriate Age in Years||Equivalent Age in Humans|
Change is a normal part of the aging process. Not every dog will experience every possible age-related change, of course. As I write this, I have two 10-year-old male Australian Shepherds lying beside my desk They are aging differently. The way your individual dog ages will be affected by his general health and environment, and his family heritage. His breed or combination of breeds will also play a role in the changes you should expect. Some breeds tend to be more prone to heart problems, for instance, while others are susceptible to cancer.
You and your veterinarian can help your aging dog as changes occur. Regular checkups to diagnose problems early, and changes in your dog's care and environment, may help him live longer and healthier. Even if he seems to be in terrific health, when your dog reaches about five and six years old, talk to your vet about early screening in addition to regular examinations.
Schedule a visit to the vet if your dog has any of the following:
- Sudden loss of weight or appetite
- Increased food intake without weight gain
- Increased drinking
- Diarrhea or vomiting lasting more than a day
- Coughing after exercise, or lasting more than a few minutes
- Excessive panting
Screening tests can detect subtle changes, and help prevent some age-related problems . Recommended tests will depend on your dog's breed, current health, and health history. Your vet may suggest blood tests, x-rays, or even an electrocardiogram. Sudden weight gain or loss, increased appetite without weight gain, increased drinking, diarrhea or vomiting, coughing, or excessive panting all call for a trip to the vet. Remember, too, that arthritis, thyroid imbalance, excess weight, and other conditions can cause symptoms similar to aging, and treatment may give your dog several more good years.
Changes in Nutritional Needs
An older dog generally requires fewer calories than he did when he was younger. If you continue to feed him as much as you used to, he'll get fat. Don't let that happen! Obesity is a serious health threat and can contribute to many problems, including heart disease, arthritis, and other debilitating conditions.
Some older dogs require nutritional supplements. Speak to your veterinarian and read about canine nutrition to determine which, if any, supplements may help your dog age more comfortably.
Changes in Skin, Coat, and Nails
Many dogs get gray hair as they age, particularly on the muzzle and around the eyes. Their coats may also become thinner, although that can be a sign of problems other than advancing age. If your dog's coat changes suddenly or substantially, tell your veterinarian. Regular grooming will let you check for lumps, bumps, and other signs of potential trouble. Benign tumors and fatty deposits are common in older dogs, but cancerous tumors can also occur. Have any new bumps or suspicious areas on the skin checked by your veterinarian.
Your dog's nails may become more brittle as he gets older. If that happens, speak to your vet about nutritional supplements that may help. You may need to trim your dog's nails more frequently as he becomes less active. If your dog's nails are very brittle, be careful when clipping or consider learning to use a grinder. You don't want a nail to split into the quick. Ouch!
Arthritis and Muscular Problems
Arthritis is common in older dogs. Its effect on your dog's life can vary from mild stiffness after sleeping to debilitating pain that keeps him from doing many things he used to do with ease.
Many people find that glucosamine and other supplements seem to make their arthritic dogs more comfortable. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers are often recommended as well. Consult your veterinarian before treating your dog, though, as some medications may interfere with one another or be harmful if your dog has other medical conditions. Special “egg-crate” orthopedic beds designed to distribute weight evenly may make your dog more comfortable.
Dental disease is common in older dogs. Routine dental care is more important than ever for dogs as they age . Don't assume that your dog should have bad breath—he shouldn't. Bad breath often indicates gum disease, which can affect the heart, lungs, kidney, and other organs and contribute to life-threatening complications.
Proper oral hygiene will protect your aging dog from gum disease and also give your veterinarian a chance to examine your dog's mouth for telltale signs of disease. Professional tooth cleaning should be scheduled at least once a year or more frequently if necessary. Regular brushing at home will also help maintain your dog's oral health, as will chew toys designed to help keep teeth and gums clean and healthy.
Heart, Kidney, and Liver Problems
As your dog ages, his internal organs may lose some of their ability to function properly. His heart will probably become less efficient, and the heart valves—particularly the mitral valve—will lose elasticity. Some changes are a normal part of aging, but if your dog had indications of heart problems when younger, or if his breed is prone to heart problems, talk to your vet about screening and care as he ages. Radiographs (x-rays), electrocardiograms (EKGs), and echocardiograms are used to diagnose heart disease.
The risk of kidney and liver disease also increases as your dog ages. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms of a kidney or liver problem become noticeable, the disease may be well advanced. Speak to your vet about including screening tests for kidney and liver functions as part of your aging dog's regular exams. If your dog needs to be anesthetized for any reason, pre-anesthesia screening is also advisable.
Their Joints are Stiff and Painful
One of the most common signs that indicate to dog owners that their canine friends are getting older is when their body starts to slow down. When you first brought your new puppy home, they will have been quick and fast-paced, but as your dog gets older, their joints and muscles can stiffen and cause them considerable amounts of pain.
Arthritis is a very common problem for older dogs, but by noticing the condition early on, you can ensure that your dog gets the nutrients that he or she needs to live without pain or discomfort. For example, the joint supplements available from YuMove contain vitamins C and E, as well as hyaluronic acid for dogs. You should be sure to consider hyaluronic acid for your dog as it helps to cushion your dog’s joints and aid joint function. The YuMove joint supplements reach your dog’s joints within two hours of consumption, meaning they can feel the benefits as soon as possible.
When Is It Time to Say Goodbye?
This is a question that no one can really answer for you. Not all dogs will pass away gently in their sleep when their time has come (though we wish they all could). Because you know your dog better than anyone else, you will probably have a gut feeling when the end is approaching.
One general guideline is to look at "good days" versus "bad days." If your dog is experiencing more bad days than good days, and your vet cannot offer any treatments, then the time is near. Or, if treatments for a disease are so hard on your dog that they are hurting his quality of life, it may be time to consider humane euthanasia. This will be a difficult time that requires a lot of soul-searching.
Know that any decision you make out of love for your dog is the right decision. If it could, your dog would thank you for being its advocate.