Making Your Dog’s Senior Years Golden

Making Your Dog’s Senior Years Golden

May 2011

By Jeffrey F. Duke, DVM, Head of Pilchuck’s Companion Animal Department

“So, when is my dog considered ‘old’?” This question comes up a lot during office visits. A dog’s size and breed affects how he ages, along with the care he receives and his environment. In general, larger breed dogs are considered to be senior at 6 or 7 years; smaller breeds reach the senior milestone by 9 years of age. Certainly, by the time your canine friend reaches 7 years old, he is beyond the youngster stage and has probably begun showing signs of getting older.

Signs of Aging: Aging dogs show many of the same signs as aging humans. We dog guardians must be especially observant of changes in movement, appetite, behavior and weight. Common signs of aging in dogs include:

  • A general “slowing down” or energy loss
  • Difficulty getting up or lying down, or going up and down stairs
  • Graying around muzzle
  • Changes in food or water consumption
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Loss of lean muscle mass
  • Loss of balance
  • Changes in urination or defecation
  • Bad breath
  • Hearing loss
  • A dull, dry coat or flaky skin
  • New lumps and bumps

Common Diseases in Senior Dogs: Unfortunately, getting on in years – whether dog or human – increases the chances of certain diseases and health conditions. Commonly seen in geriatric dogs are:

arthritis, cancer, hypothyroidism, obesity, dental disease, cataracts, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, cognitive dysfunction and kidney disease.

These are conditions we as veterinarians work to prevent and/or identify at their earliest stages, so you and your friend can enjoy many more years together.

Special Care for Senior Dogs: One of the most important things you can do for your aging friend is to establish a relationship with a veterinarian whom you (and your pup!) trust. Schedule regular visits so your vet can talk with you about your dog’s changing nutritional and physical activity needs, perform comprehensive physical and oral exams, and screen for common problems in seniors with lab work and other diagnostic testing. During these visits, the vet will ask you about changes you have observed in your dog (see above). Just as in humans, finding out about pet health issues early versus later makes a significant difference, increasing treatment options and improving the comfort and quality of life experienced by your older dog.

Geriatric Canine Care at Pilchuck: At Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital, we strive to make your pet’s geriatric years golden! Contact us at 360.568.3113 with questions about your dog’s senior care plan, or to schedule an appointment with one of our companion animal veterinarians. Online: