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General Practice Services

Your Senior Dog

Old age is not a disease

As a result of advances in veterinary medicine, more knowledgeable care and improved nutrition, dogs are now living much longer, healthier lives. But, just as for humans, the passage of time has its effects, and you may begin to notice that your once-frisky pet seems to have slowed down a bit. Being aware of the natural changes that can occur as your dog becomes older, as well as what you can do to help keep your dog healthy, active and comfortable, can ensure that you both enjoy your dog's senior years to the fullest.

How and when will I know that my dog is getting "old"?

As dogs move into the geriatric phase of their lives, they experience gradual changes that are remarkably like those of ageing humans: hair can turn grey, their bodies are not as supple and reflexes not as sharp as they once were. Hearing, eyesight and the sense of smell may deteriorate and energy levels, as well as attention spans, seem to diminish. In fact, the first sign of aging is often a general decrease in activity, combined with a tendency to sleep longer and more soundly. Such signs may begin to manifest themselves before 8 years in large breeds like Great Danes, while smaller breeds can remain youthful until 12 years and even longer. Furthermore, a healthy dog will most likely age later than one that has been affected by disease or environmental problems early in life. Again, as with humans, the ageing process will vary with the individual. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to judge when it's time to consider your pet a "senior."

Checkup time now comes twice a year

As your dog ages, regular checkups at our veterinary practice become more important than ever. In fact, at this stage of your pet's life, it is recommended that he or she receive a thorough examination every 6 months, as adult dogs can age as much as 3 years (in human terms) within the period of one calendar year. Besides the usual complete physical examination, our vets and nurses may conduct blood, urine and faecal analysis as well as ultrasound or other imaging tests. We can offer yearly blood screens for senior pets.

Keep us informed 

Most importantly, you should tell our vets about any noticeable change in your dog's physical condition or behaviour. A problem that you may assume is simply related to your pet's advanced age may actually be the result of a treatable medical condition. For example, your dog's reluctance to exercise may not stem from the normal decrease in energy that comes with age, but from arthritis or a heart condition - both of which can be managed with the proper treatment. Regular, semi-annual checkups can thus help your vet work out a suitable preventative health program for your pet and catch any problems sufficiently early to provide effective treatment. Working together, we can both ensure that your dog's senior years will be healthy and happy ones. 


As your pet ages, your dog's nutritional needs may also change. You may find that, although your pet is eating less, he/she still puts on weight. This could be due to a slowdown of metabolism or a decrease in activity. Excess weight can aggravate many canine medical conditions, including heart, respiratory, skin and joint problems. To help a portly pet lose weight, try feeding smaller quantities of food or gradually switch to a diet that is lower in calories. Other dogs have entirely the opposite problem - they lose weight as they age, sometimes as the result of heart or dental disease or diabetes. In either case, ask our vets and nurses for advice about your pet's individual nutritional requirements 

How old is your dog?


If your dog is...

In human terms, that's....

6 months

10 years

8 months

13 years

12 months

14 years

18 months

15 years

2 years

20 years

3 years

23 years

4 years

26 years

5 years

32 years

6 years

36 years

7 years

40 years

8 years

44 years

9 years

48 years

10 years

52 years

11 years

56 years

12 years

60 years

13 years

64 years

14 years

68 years

15 years

72 years

16 years

76 years

*Please note, these equivalencies refer to small breeds.

The top 10 health tips for senior dogs

  1. Bring your dog to us for twice-yearly checkups.

  2. Become informed about conditions and diseases common to senior dogs, be on the lookout for signs and, should they arise, inform us promptly.

  3. Consider feeding a 'senior' pet diet, nutritionally appropriate for the older dog and consult our vets on treatments for arthritis.

  4. Consider giving two small meals a day rather than one large one. 

  5. Don't overfeed or give table scraps or snacks between meals- obesity causes many health problems and may shorten your dog's life. 

  6. Make sure your dog receives adequate exercise, according to physical capacity. 

  7. Look after your dog's dental health. Brush teeth daily and have them cleaned professionally when your veterinary surgeon so advises. 

  8. Ensure vaccinations are kept up-to-date.

  9. Do your utmost to control ticks and fleas and make sure your dog and the environment (bed, play area, etc.) are always spotlessly clean. 

  10. Give your dog lots of love and attention and do all you can to keep them interested, active, happy and comfortable.

Common Problems

Obesity is as big a health risk to pets as it is to humans. An older dog is a less active dog, so adjustments to your pet's diet to reduce caloric intake are imperative. This will relieve pressure on the joints as well as manage the risks of a range of diseases as well as making a massive difference to an overweight dog’s quality of life. A range of diets to help with weight loss are available. These diets to have increased fibre, fatty acids and vitamins while decreasing sodium, protein and fat.

Diabetes is common especially in older dogs. It is a disease in which your dog's pancreas can no longer produce enough of the hormone insulin. More information can be found by clicking on the Diabetes section link.

Arthritis severity can range from slight stiffness and lameness, difficulty in rising to inability to exercise without pain and ultimately debilitation. Keeping animals as comfortable as possible is vital. Exercise is important to maintain muscle tone and mass and can be adjusted depending on the severity of arthritis. Anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve pain. Our vets can discuss your dog’s particular requirements and then prescribe any necessary medication.

Intolerance to cold temperatures is more likely as your dog ages. There can be a range of explanations including heart and respiratory disease, or metabolic and hormonal problems to name just a few. Move the dog bed closer to a heat-source and bring them indoors on cold days.

Tooth loss or decay not only makes it harder to chew but also increases the likelihood of other potentially serious health problems. Care with diet, the use of dental chews as well as brushing and cleaning the teeth will help keep these to a minimum.

Prostate enlargement and Mammary gland tumours are mostly diagnosed in unneutered dogs. Our vets can examine the prostate or mammary glands at routine checkups.

Separation Anxiety presents itself when older dogs can't cope with stress. A range of behaviours including barking and other vocalisatiom, destruction of the home, and loss of toilet control are common signs. We can give appropriate advice on this issue including a range of management techniques designed to accustom the dog to being comfortable when left alone. In some cases medication, supplements or pheromone products may be helpful in facilitating behavioural changes.

Skin or coat problems in ageing dogs means the skin loses elasticity, making your pet more susceptible to injury while the fur can thin, develop scurf or dandruff and become dry, dull or oily. This may occur as part of ageing but can also reflect underlying skin, metabolic or hormone problems. Veterinary advice should always be sought should such a change be noted. Regular grooming, appropriate bathing with suitable dog shampoos and essential fatty acid supplements are highly beneficial.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction manifests itself in confusion, disorientation or decreased activity. We can advise on appropriate medication to help manage some of these issues.