Common Health Problems in Senior Dogs

Pet care & safety
senior boxer dog on couch

Unfortunately, our dogs don’t live long enough. A sad reality that makes us wonder, how long do dogs live? At some point they are going to start showing signs of growing older. It’s sad, and no one has figured out immortality yet for our treasured dogs. But we can pay attention as they grow older for when signs of impending problems show up, and we can provide specialized elderly dog care at home and get them to the veterinary clinic when they need more help. Although we can’t stop the process of aging, old age issues can be treated and our older dogs can be helped to be more comfortable.

Lumps, Bumps, & Skin Issues

Your dog’s skin can, and often does, change as he grows older. It may be dry, flaky, and less elastic. Your veterinarian may recommend a change in food to ease some of the symptoms, or he may recommend some tests to discover if there is an underlying cause of the skin changes.

His hair coat often changes too, and some dogs will show hair loss. Some changes are normal but extreme thinning or hair loss needs to be brought to your veterinarian’s attention.

Lumps and bumps are also common. Many are benign fatty tumors that should be watched, but often need no treatment. However, some lumps and bumps may be more serious, there might also be a cyst or a tumor developing somewhere in your senior's dog body, so all should be checked by your veterinarian.


Arthritis is common in older dogs. Symptoms include slower movements, stiffness in getting up, limping, reluctance to jump, a lack of interest in normal activity, or even changes in mood as pain can be depressing.

Thankfully, there are a number of different treatment options for arthritis, so even though it can’t be cured, your dog can be helped to be more comfortable. Keep your arthritic dog moving, even if you both just go for walks. Swimming in a warm pool is also helpful as the non-weight bearing exercise is easy on the joints and warm water relaxes everything. Talk to your veterinarian about a plan to keep your dog as pain free as possible.

Teeth & Gums

Hopefully, you have been keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy throughout his life because that will help him keep his teeth as he ages. Regular veterinary cleaning, teeth cleaning at home, and giving your dog appropriate chews can all help to keep his mouth healthy.

However, your dog may still have problems with his teeth and gums as he grows older. Genetics play a part here too, as some breeds tend to have dental issues. No matter what the cause, pay attention to your old dog’s mouth. If he has bad breath, brown deposits on his teeth, red inflamed gums, or bleeding from the gums, take him to your veterinarian.

Infections in the mouth can stream through the bloodstream and settle in other organs, including the heart, causing serious damage.

Vision Issues

Not all older dogs have vision problems, but many do. Signs of vision impairment often include walking into things, being unable to find an object such as a toy on the floor, being unable to catch tossed toys or treats, or a reluctance to run. Red eyes, crustiness, and matter in the eyes also signals a problem.

There have been advances in eye care for older dogs recently. Your veterinarian may recommend you contact a vision specialist to find out what might work for your dog.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is usually quite gradual. Your dog may miss sounds in certain frequencies; often the lower frequencies first. You may realize something is changing when you talk to your dog and he doesn’t respond like he used to.

When their hearing changes, some dogs get worried or anxious while others get depressed. Emphasize visual contact with your dog, especially hand signals, in place of common commands. A few treats here and there will make him feel better too.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, an increased thirst, urinating more, and a break in housetraining. Kidney disease can be caused by many things, including other diseases (such as diabetes), medications, kidney stones, or problems with the bladder. Sometimes it is simply aging of the kidneys. If you see any symptoms out of the ordinary, or any that make you feel there might be a problem with your dog’s kidneys, go to the veterinarian right away.

Heart Disease

Heart disease, like other diseases of old age, may come on gradually. Your dog may just slow down a bit; you could attribute this to arthritis or simply old age. Other times heart disease may seem to appear overnight.

The most commonly seen symptoms include fatigue and not wanting to go for walks or do other normal activities. Your dog may have trouble breathing, may be restless, and may have trouble sleeping. He may lose weight and, at the same time, have a distended abdomen.

If any of these symptoms appear, alone or in conjunction with others, take your dog to the veterinarian right away.


No discussion of health problems in older dogs can avoid talking about cancer. Cancer is, unfortunately, the leading killer of old dogs. As there are a variety of types of cancer and all have their own symptoms, any change in your older dog needs to be reported to your veterinarian. Common symptoms include lumps or bumps, coughing, significant panting, blood or mucus in the feces or urine, unusual bleeding, tiredness, or difficulty swallowing.

Work with Your Veterinarian

There is no cure for old age as much as we might want one. Plus, few dogs reach the geriatric stage of life without needing some specialized health care. However, senior dog health care problems can be managed with your veterinarian’s help, and that help can hopefully allow your dog to live out his life comfortably.

The key is to keep communication open with your veterinarian. Talk to him about your worries, concerns, and any changes you see in your old dog.